This is a week of mixed emotions for me. Prior to two years ago this week meant celebration to this man of Irish heritage. My family…thanks to the enthusiasm of my father has always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with incredible zeal. As a boy I watched my parents dress in they’re best green and roam the neighborhood carrying an empty pitcher and a tube of green food coloring. Over my fathers shoulder there was a large green flag on a pole that seemed to reach the treetops. They’d make their way door to door filling the pitcher with beer as they canvased the un-expecting neighbors porches finishing each pitcher then on their way to the next green victim. Many a friend would join them like pied pipers until they finished at the house of the Cloonan’s. Happy and lets just say at least three sheets to the wind.
As years went by the door-to-door leprechauns slowly outgrew their loins and moved to settling on riding their grandkids around on golf carts still downing the green of course (minus the adult beverages).
You see the Cloonan’s came from a small Isle located in the farthest west point of all of Ireland. An island called Innis Shark. If you google it you’ll note that it is in the shape of a shark’s tooth…thus the name. Fisherman by trade…people of grit and wit. Built with a heritage of strength, love and laughter all of which my father instilled on his family.
As I grew older I tended to create my own Irish tradition for St. Patrick’s hosting a grand Céilidh (Gaelic for celebration) for my friends and employees with live bands and plenty of folly. As my business moved on so did I with my traditions and settled into a humble celebration with friends and family at small gatherings at the nearest pub raising a glass or two of Guinness. Which, I’ll most likely end up doing today as well.
But two years ago today I found myself in the most unpredictable of situations. I received a phone call on March 15th from my brother that my father who was traveling home from a cruise had a heart attack while boarding his plane back to Ohio. He had fallen ill with no prior history of heart disease. No signs. No indication.
I immediately boarded a flight to Ft. Lauderdale to meet he and my mother. I was the first of my brothers and sisters to arrive…still in my suit from work. My mother stood atop the atrium of the hospital and called down to me as I entered the sliding glass doors.
When I went into ICU my father looked fine as he smiled at me. Still holding his sense of wit and calm presents. He asked how I was doing and was bothered that I took off work to fly down to see him. He always worried about others before himself. We talked for an hour about many things before he needed to rest.
As time went by the rest of my family started to arrive. Two days passed and the doctors felt he was doing well after his surgery. Along came St. Patrick’s Day as my father suggested we all go out and celebrate on his behalf and ease our minds of the situation. My three brothers and my niece took a visit to Waxy O’Conner’s a traditional American Irish pub and blew off some steam.
The next morning we arrived at the hospital and continued our vigil. This particular day my father made a turn for the worst and fell unconscious. Four days later we lost him. Stunned with pain and disbelief we watched him slip away as he took his last breath my father gasped with my mother’s head on his chest – I’ve been numb ever since. We’ve all been numb ever since as this once strong infallible Celtic warrior was gone.
Somehow St. Patrick’s Day has changed for me…shadowed by the death of an Irishman. Perhaps it was fitting that my Dad passed away this week some two years ago.
As the son of an Irishman you always look for a chance to laugh at adversity. One odd but funny story, which sounds as though I invented it, but I did not. When we knew my father was close to being gone we summoned a priest which he would have wanted. Ironically, who shows up? A short gray haired Irish priest who most likely still was wiping his palette from a glass of Guinness. I couldn’t make this up. It was as if I were watching a Frank Capra film. An Irish priest said his blessings over my father’s body at the hospital. My family all huddled together clutching in disbelief and cried. But oddly enough I could not. I looked around the room as others shed tears of love and loss and I listened to this Irish priest who never knew my father speak Gaelic among us all. His eyes twinkled and his mouth bellowed with a Gaelic tongue as words of reassurance filled the room in Irish. An Irish priest who we had never met eased the family of an Irish warrior.
If you believe in heaven or the after life perhaps my father is carrying a green flag upon his shoulders going person to person sharing his Irish wit and charm.
St. Patrick’s Day brings memories and mixed emotions…some of which I cherish others I just assume to forget.
Perhaps it’s time for a Guinness raise your glass my friends and toast with me one William Patrick Cloonan. A father who’s love and strength changed many a life. And this man’s life.
I love you Dad.