Death is the last thing a person knows of life. At least, I think that is so.
After death, a person’s life is their legacy; the people and things they left behind. It’s the actions, memories, and lessons that we attribute to that person that contribute to who we are, how we think, and what we pass on. It’s quite beautiful really, especially when the one departing has moved on to the place we are not privy to until it is our own time.
If I’ve learned anything, it’s that death is a constant; a process that everyone will go through. How it happens, what it means, and in what environment it will happen is the variable that makes the concept so disconcerting.
As we get older, we experience more death around us. The more it happens, the more we understand its constancy. I have certainly seen my share: my father, my grandparents, my mother, my husband’s grandparents, pets, friends. I’m not numb to it, but I have been close to it, and while the weight of such finality is never lost on me, I have a deeper understanding of the end-of-life process than I once had. I had the honor of being present as my mother went through it and watched her take her final breath. And yes, it was an honor, sad and traumatic as it felt.
Now, the honor is from my father-in-law, a man who I’ve known since I was 14. A man who, when my father died, stepped into the father-figure role, not as a replacement, but as a support and guide as I moved through my adult life. He has been a constant. He held my children in the hospital the day they were born. He participated in all of the holidays, school events, rites of passage, and personal challenges that we lived through. He led our family with love and a quiet grace, by example. He taught us that family is the foundation, it is the home we can always come back to, no matter where we go. He is Papa to my children, the other half of Nana and Papa, who they have known as the driving family force in their lives. He is the bedrock of our foundation.
I say “is” because even though the line between life and death, present and past, is concrete, the impact of his life force always remains with us. Our relationship with him will never change, even though he does not walk this earth anymore.
To me, he is the man who eats chocolate chip cookies without the chocolate chips. He is the one who drove my mother home from the hospital when my father died. He loves olives, coffee with half and half (no sugar), and carrot cake, and always makes me feel like I am a great cook. He loves Doowop music and knows how to cut a rug at weddings. He loves the beach. He loves his wife. He is the first son, eldest cousin, father, grandfather and friend that everyone looks up to. He takes pride in the life he built, because of the people who lovingly surround him. Again, I refer to this man in the present tense, because these memories of him will always be alive. Death of the body does not change that.
If there’s any question as to his legacy, let me answer with this: who we are, what we do, how we think is all seen through the lens of his loving influence. Who we are, is the result of his presence. What we do, we always look to share with him. How we think, is the sum total of the good sense, good natured-ness, fighting spirit when things are unjust, and the undying love that he showered upon us. He taught his children how to be partners in love and life, and paved the way to be good parents, for better or worse. His legacy is his family and through us, his spirit will never die.
I am grateful that I was there to be a support for him as he took his last breath. I am grateful to have been a part of his life, his family, his legacy. I am grateful to carry the honor of his name, as do my children, another truth that is not lost on me. He joins the ranks of angels who are watching over us from the great somewhere. By now, my parents, his parents, and all of those who went before him have ushered him to eternal peace with open arms (wings?). No more pain, no more fighting, just bliss.
Peter Tirro, my dear father-in-law and in life, rest in eternal peace. I love you.
April 10, 1943 – July 23, 2022