Sunday, December 2, 2007

Remembering Michael Muldoon

A little over a year ago, I stood in front of fellow mourners and shakily eulogized my dad. I was still numb from shock, just relying on my inner need for efficiency and to do something - anything - helpful. I just needed to cope somehow. Mom asked me to speak for the family, and I did.

I miss him so much every day - it's like a slowly burning feeling in my heart. It's not so much that it gets easier with time as you just don't notice the pain as vividly. A year ago today, I called home to make holiday plans for my parents to come to south Florida, where I was planning to take my dad fishing, cook for them, and have them meet my great boyfriend. Instead of my dad picking up, my mom answered, hysterical from grief. Paramedics had just pronounced my father dead. He had gone to sleep the night before, and had just never woken up.

We don't know why. We just know that it was an excruciating loss.

I comfort myself by telling myself frequently that I am incredibly fortunate to have known him so well that I could miss him this much. I tell myself that he knew how much I loved him, since the last time I saw him was when I surprised him with a trip to Colorado Springs to see Air Force take on the Fighting Irish (booo). We had an amazing weekend, and the very last time I saw him, we hugged goodbye, and he told me how much the trip had meant to him.

Here's what I told people about my father:

Just a few weeks ago, my dad and I stood together on the field of Falcon Stadium at the United States Air Force Academy, breathing in the crisp air and marveling at the soaring falcons as they practiced their halftime show with their cadet handlers. Dad had a look of pure joy on his face as he watched Yeti, a gyrfalcon and peregrine hybrid, reach like Daedalus for the sun.

Today, we grieve our loss, but I think it's important to realize that Dad, that stubborn, generous, hilarious, and infuriating man, has soared away from us, aching to reach the clouds. Though we mourn, we should celebrate that he has reached the end of his journey, and that he is home. We should celebrate the life of this wonderful man – Mom's devoted husband, an intensely protective father of Michael and me, and a doting grandfather to Kayla and Meagan.

He was a loyal wingman to his Air Force family, and a smiling neighbor to others. He was a career Air Force Officer who was ruthlessly efficient and tough, but who mentored young cadets and would-be pilots like a gentle older brother. He was a hero who saved his fellow pilots from enemy fire during combat, resulting in his Silver Star, and he was a dad who attended every speech competition. He was a son, a brother, an uncle, a cousin, a colleague, and occasionally—only JUST occasionally, a prolific debater. Michael Muldoon was many things to many people, but more than anything, he was a friend to all.

Seriously—Dad had an uncanny ability to meet people in line at the grocery store, and walk out with a new friend. I've often joked that Dad could probably start a conversation with a tree, and it would be so charmed by his Irish wit and warm heart, it would probably talk back. Sadly, that gigantic heart of his finally wore out. Our daddy-daughter trip to Colorado was the last time I saw my father, and I'm grateful for it. I'm glad that our last time together was spent with laughter, snowball fights, and oh-so-gently heckling Notre Dame fans. I'll safeguard those memories for the rest of my life.

Like many of you, I'm deeply shaken. I'm shocked at the passing of my father. He was my rock, and he was the one person I always turned to for guidance. He listened lovingly when I would cry about a breakup with a boyfriend – and occasionally threaten to drive out of state to make them disappear for hurting me, he would offer advice on how to live a good life, and most of all, he would constantly hug me and tell me he loved me very much. Mom and Dad were to spend this Christmas with me, in south Florida. I had excitedly planned a menu for Christmas dinner, and I had planned a drift fishing trip with Dad.

I'm floundering a bit now, to be honest, because:

-Who is going to look at me, shake his head, and make fun of the fact that I'm left-handed? Dad's favorite thing to do to torment me was to wait until I was hard at work cooking for my parents, and then raise an eyebrow at me, and snark that I was cooking with a right-handed skillet, and I'd better turn the handle in the opposite direction.
-Who's going to one day walk me down the aisle and kiss me on the cheek and tell me that I'll always be his little girl?
-Who's going to sit and banter about politics with me over beer and wings?
-Better yet, who am I going to chat about Air Force football vs. FSU football with?

I, like many of you, feel robbed. Robbed of his vibrant presence, the instant impact on a life he could make with just a welcoming smile. I'd gotten so used to speaking to Dad pretty much every day that I'm a little lost. But as my friend Roxana reminded me this week, I'll hear Dad's voice every day when I'm making decisions. I'll know what he would say on the topic of the 2008 Presidential Election, whether or not my car needs new spark plugs, and Steve Spurrier's uncanny visor-throwing ability from the sidelines of SEC football games.

It's a pale facsimile of Dad, but what's important is that I, like you, carry him with me in my heart – and that will never fade, because I'll keep his
memory alive. In the end, we're not robbed. Dad just got called home a little earlier than we had hoped, and because he was such a wonderful human being, we hoped for more time with him. But what we each shared with him was precious in its own way, and we should rejoice in a life well lived and well loved.

My father was so incandescently happy when he was strapped into a fighter, soaring above the dappled dreamscape of the clouds. And so it's only fitting that I pay tribute to my beloved daddy with the giddy words of another combat pilot, John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.
Hov'ring there, I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.

And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

19 comments:

CDLavie said...

*hugs Caiti*

It was a beautiful eulogy. Perfectly fitting for your dad.

If you need another ear, I'm here for you.

C. (He really was a hell of a guy.) Lavie

Sar said...

Cait, you were so eloquent amid grief. That was beautiful, it painted a picture of love that is not often expressed that well. You and your family are in my thoughts.

-Sar

Sarah said...

Caiti-

What you have been able to overcome this last year has been amazing. The eulogy made me cry when you shared it then and it did again now. I wish I had a way with words like you do. You and your family are in thoughts.

Rebecca said...

I didn't know your dad well, but from what I did know and what you have told me, your eulogy captured him perfectly. And you delivered it beautifully.

You're in my thoughts and prayers.

Krista said...

That was a beautiful and touching eulogy. I admire how much strength you have shown in the last year. I don't know if I could overcome half of what you have gone through in such a short time.

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Andrew Raines said...

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Pensacola, FLA

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