Just look at that smile.
That is what I will always remember about Rick Donovan. The father of one of my dearest friends, he died at home on July 25, 2011 of esophageal cancer.
I was a frequent visitor at the Donovan home when I was in high school, and I could always count on being greeted with that smile whenever I saw Mr. Donovan. That was something that never changed. Once we grew up, and my friend Kris moved away, I saw him only seldom, once every few years perhaps. And the smile was always the same. It was a smile of surprised delight, as if I were the one person whom he would be the happiest to see in all the world. Yet there was a certain familiarity to it, as though he had seen me only yesterday. It was a welcoming smile, with a kind of calm exuberance about it. And he smiled that way for everyone.
I’ve mentioned before that I love a good funeral. Not only that, but I think that planning and/or attending a good funeral is a vital part of the grieving process for family and friends. Mr. Donovan’s services rank right up there with my favorites of all time. The Rosary service and the funeral Mass the next day both struck just the right note of mourning our loss and celebrating Mr. Donovan’s life and legacy and his release from suffering and entry into glory.
Father Michael Woods was the celebrant for both services and what could have been more fitting than to have an actual Irishman with his lovely accent offering the prayers for someone who was proud of his Irish heritage? His rosary service was like nothing I have seen before, as he invited each of the Donovan siblings to lead half a decade, and related each mystery to the life of their family. He sang “Danny Boy” before the funeral began, and even though he had not known Mr. Donovan for very long (he was called upon to minister to him while another priest was away), he was able to convey that personal feeling that is so often missing from funerals–there was nothing “canned” about his words.
The funeral was a celebration. The family solved the eulogy problem–Catholic funerals are not supposed to have them–by placing a reflection by child number 9, Patrick, before the Mass began. Father Woods then spoke of gathering in Patrick’s words and offering them up as part of the Mass.
And what words they were. It might have been a homily or an essay. Patrick’s words, while personal, and frequently laced with humor, were not the syrupy platitudes that many offer at such times. He spoke eloquently of what his father had taught about life. family, and marriage, and made Mr. Donovan’s presence and influence felt through his words. I was particularly moved by what he said he had learned about marriage from his father, and I may be getting the words a bit wrong, that “love is a conscious decision you make over and over again.”
Other family members were involved as well, doing the readings, bringing up the gifts–a collection of Mr. Donovan’s hats among them. Youngest daughter Meghan sang. I had intended to share more about the details of the service, but unfortunately I did not write this immediately afterwards and my copy of the program was lost in our fire. I could never forget, though, Danny Murphy, a friend of the family, who came up just before the end of the Mass to lead the congregation is “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.
Just look at that smile.