A family friend, Mrs. Reilly, passed away last December. She has been at many of our family gatherings. She would often accompany her daughter Maureen to many of our Veras and Vrtis functions. Mrs. Reilly’s children all attended St. Willibrord High School (her daughter Marty was in my class,) Maureen who was a co-teacher with Rosal at St. Isodore’s, and has since become a “relative-by-friendship”.
The last 9 months Mrs. Reilly’s life found her becoming increasingly weak and frail. She was hospitalized much of the last month or so. From what I understand, her hospital room was often filled to overflowing with off-spring, music, and laughter. I had written her about a week before she died, promising to come soon for a visit. I wish so much I could have kept that promise.
The last time I had seen Mrs. Reilly was at a gathering of friends at my cousin Mary Celine’s house last Memorial Day weekend, where a bunch of us had gathered to meet distant relatives visiting from Canada and Holland. Among the “locals” were my cousins Joe (from Missouri) and Rosal (from Texas) and Rick (who brought his mandolin) and Aunt Helen (who, at 91, drove all the way from South Holland to Worth and back), and one of my fellow workers, Rich Stell, who‘s a “Dutch-nut,” and begged for a chance to meet and talk to REAL Dutch-speaking people. (That was the infamous “Mike’s Roseland Tour” that was reported here last summer.) I sat next to Mrs. Reilly throughout most of that day, thoroughly enjoying her company.
When I received news of Mrs. Reilly’s passing in early December, my thoughts harkened back to that last gathering. “Gatherings” are so very important. Even if it’s just a gathering of two. The older I get, the more important they become. So much can happen between each “good-bye” and the next “hello.”I was not asked to compose a eulogy (“an” eulogy???). She had such a large family, I didn’t feel that would be necessary. Besides, I generally have a hard time getting off work for funeral services. But my St. Nicholas Day shoulder injury made it possible for me to attend. And the night before the funeral, I felt the desire to write down my thoughts as an “informal” eulogy ---just in case. (As it turned out, her son-in-law composed and presented an wonderfully touching eulogy, which included so many family moments & memories.) The service also included members of the Southwest Symphony Orchestra (with whom Mrs. Reilly played as a flutist), and ended with a bagpipe honor guard salute.
I did get to attend Mrs. Reilly’s funeral mass, and I handed Maureen my hand-written notes during Mass. At Easter time, she sent me a copy of it, which she had typed up and sent to her siblings. Her brother Jay called me on Holy Thursday to say how much he been touched to receive it at that time. (My brother Ray commented that the messages he received in the months after his step-son’s funeral seem much more comforting that those received during the immediate burial period. The pain continued, but comforting support dwindled.)
Much of what I present to you here, I have said before in other writings, especially other eulogies. That is because of the nature of the occasion. Still, I hope you’ll catch a glimpse of the wonderful person whom I wish all of you could have met. It’s a tribute to her, in gratitude for the part she played in the story of my own life. I hope that I contributed to the story of her life as much and as well.
The following is my informal eulogy to Mrs. Reilly, written from the deepest , warmest part of my heart.
There are an awful lot of instructions and rules and advice on how to live right. But there’s a phrase in the Book Of Micah in the Bible that - to MY mind seems to put it simply - and well.
“This is what God wants.
to live justly,
to love tenderly,
and to walk humbly with your God.”
It’s kind of neat to think that God wants US to WALK with HIM!
And that is the type of person Mrs. Reilly was:
Someone who lived justly, loved tenderly, and took long walks with God. A warm, sweet, wise, quiet woman with a bright, shy smile and an easy laugh.
I got to know Mrs. Reilly DECADES ago, through her daughter Maureen, who is a close friend of my cousin Rosal.
(You know you’re getting old when “decades” becomes a unit of measuring time.)
Over the years, Maureen and her parents became “relatives-through-friendship” and they joined my clan at scores of gatherings - from casual game nights to milestone celebrations. At these gatherings, I always tried to sit next to Mrs. Reilly as much as I could. Partly because she was VERY generous with her compliments. (And who doesn’t like to receive compliments!)
Partly because she always laughed at my jokes. Even the silly ones. Even the STUPID ones!
And partly because she had a delightful sense of joy.
A - and I know I’ll misprinted this - “joie de vivre”.
(Which the dictionary defines as “a hearty or carefree enjoyment of life.”)
Her conversation was filled - not only with wisdom and compliments - but also with a kind, insightful, and somewhat MISCHIEVOUS humor about the world around her.
She would often quietly follow my own jokes with a comment that would get ME laughing and THINKING at the same time. A wonderful, admirable attitude toward life.
There are two brief Gospel stories that I’d like to share.
The first is from Matthew, and finds Jesus being asked about the afterlife by a group of Sadducees, who denied the possibility of a resurrection. This group stressed strict interpretation of Scripture.
Jesus took them directly to their own source - the Book of Exodus. He said, “As for the FACT that the dead are raised, have you not read what God has said to you? ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.’ Then Jesus makes a statement on his OWN authority. “God is the God of the living, not of the dead.”
I had heard that passage scores of times before I realized the implications.
It doesn’t read: I WAS the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
NOR does it read, “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob adored me while they were ALIVE.”
It uses the present tense:
I AM their God.”
They still HAVE a God.
They are still worshipping.
Think about it.
The second Gospel story relates to the suffering in this world.
Mrs. Reilly had a rough time. Especially the last few months. And she was, by everyone’s standards, a “saintly” woman. So why did God allow her to suffer so much and so long??
I wrote to Mrs. Reilly about the comment of “St. Catherine of Somewhere”, who said, “God, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them.”
And another complaint attributed to Mother Therese, who commented, “I know God never gives us more than we can handle, I just wish wouldn’t trust us so much!”
The Gospel passage that always seemed to me to have the best answer to the problem of the suffering of the good and the innocent is in the Gospel of John.
The disciples point out to Jesus a man who had been born blind. They ask, “Was it HIS sin, or his PARENTS sin that caused him to be born blind.?” They couldn’t imagine a good God who would allow an innocent child be born blind. Jesus answered, “NEITHER! It was so that God’s work COULD be shown through him.”
God permits suffering - even among the innocent - as an OPPORTUNITY for US to do GOD’S work.
Mrs. Reilly’s suffering was an opportunity for each of us to do God’s work - with a visit or a card or a prayer or some other kindness.
Through her suffering, she became an “instrument” of God. A “Flute” in God’s hand. Allowing us to play a sweet melody of kindnesses.
Throughout our friendship, I always respected her and enjoyed her companionship. But ten years ago she did something which made her very “precious” to me. My Mom had passed away, and Mrs. Reilly attended Mom’s funeral mass. In Mom’s eulogy, I mentioned that what I would miss MOST about her was her habit of “blessing” her children and grandchildren whenever we left her home. Mom would trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads with the thumb of her right hand. When I was in grade school and high school, it seemed kind of embarrassing - especially when friends were around. But as I became older, the practice became more and more important to me.
And as I cared for her during her final illness, I knew just how priceless that practice was. Well, Mrs. Reilly came up tome in the parking lot right after the service. And, naturally, the first thing she did was COMPLIMENT me on the eulogy. Then she said, “Mike, I know that I can’t replace your mom. But, with your permission, I would like to continue her wonderful habit of blessing you.”
And I bowed my head.
And she blessed me.
And I can’t tell you how “blessed” I felt. As lucky as a kid who found some favorite thing that he thought he had lost forever. And ever since then, whenever we parted ways, we made sure we shared that gesture. And like every manful gesture, every time it was repeated, it touched me deep inside.
I had written a letter to Mrs. Reilly last week. In it I promised to visit her and bring my harmonica. (You have to understand. The Reilly clan is VERY talented musically. They seem to all know how to play at least one instrument, And they can sing! Together!! In harmony!!! At the same tempo!!!! My clan - the Vrtis family - is…let’s say…. MUSICALLY CHALLENGED. So I had been struggling to learn how to play a harmonica that I had gotten from a dear friend. And it WAS a struggle. It still IS a struggle. Like swimming upstream against the current of our tone-deaf Vrtis gene pool.
But over the past several months, I’ve managed to learn a half-dozen songs. Practicing alone in the car, or at the lake, or in a cemetery. One tune in particular I had learned well enough to try to play “in public“. I knew the melody from childhood, though not the words. And I was pretty excited about the chance to play it for Mrs. Reilly. Kinda like a kid performing for his mom, but more so. ‘Cause Mrs. Reilly was a REAL musician! She was a flutist in the Southwest Symphony Orchestra!
But she passed away that weekend. And I never did get a chance to play for her.
But I looked up the words to the song. “Oh, Shenandoah”. And I found it to be a sweet and soft and sorrowful song. About parting and the pain of separation. In what I found to be a wonderful coincidence, I read the final line…
“How I miss your lovely daughter.”
There’s a wonderful quote from Clarence Kelland that goes,
“My father didn’t tell me how to live.
and he let me watch him do it.”
And I know that quote applies to all of us here - Mrs. Reilly’s children and grandchildren, and great grandchildren. And her friends and relatives as well.
She never told us how to live, but…
She lived justly.
She loved tenderly.
And she walked - humbly - with her God.
And she let US watch her do it.
And as for this tie that I’m wearing to this funeral Mass…
It’s a from the comic strip “Calvin & Hobbs” and it shows a mischievous little boy named Calvin and his wise and witty stuffed toy tiger-slash-imaginary friend named Hobbs. DANCING together to a joyful tune.
And it’s my private way of paying respects to a woman
Who loved music
(Ironically, the bagpipe honor guard at the procession out of the church played a song that sounded (to my tone-deaf ears) remarkably like “Oh, Shenandoah” . It took almost a day of thought to realize that it was probably “Oh Danny Boy”. But the initial thought gave me quite a pause. And when Maureen and I recently got together for the first time since her mom’s funeral, she awkwardly confessed that her mother asked her to promise to continue blessing me. It’s a little awkward for both of us.
But it’s a high compliment for me to have been remembered during her final days. And I still practice on my harmonica. Just don’t ask for a performance yet. Mike