Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Eulogy for My Father

My father died on January 2 of this year. Today would have been his 80th birthday. Below is the eulogy I wrote for the funeral back in January.

I will always remember my father for one amazing gift he gave me in the course of our time together. My dad was born in 1938 in a small Hungarian village called Tiszakürt. His name was Ábrahám Ferenc at the time. He lived through some tumultuous times. He witnessed factories exploding as the occupying Nazi soldiers were withdrawing from the country at the end of World War II, blowing up everything that could be of use to the Red Army then sweeping through Eastern Europe. He saw Hungary’s incorporation into the Communist bloc, as the hammer and sickle flag was raised by the Soviets, the new conquerors, throughout the country.

But my dad did not succumb to the lure of Communism. Instead he turned to his Catholic faith for guidance and direction, and he became active in the Church. As he grew older, his spiritual director persuaded him to join monastic life, and he became a Franciscan, although he did not feel a specific calling to this life. After several years with a monastic community, he discerned that the time had come for him to leave. He met my mom at the university, they got married, and they settled down in Budapest, the beautiful capital of Hungary. Three children were born of their union, my two sisters, Kati and Margit, and myself.

During the early years of my childhood, my dad worked as a journalist. But because he refused to join the Communist Party, his career was sabotaged, and, once again, he set off in a new direction with his life. He started a private business selling auto parts. The Communist ban on private property was just then beginning to thaw, but still my dad took a huge risk by starting a business of his own.

One day, in 1986, two weeks before Christmas, when I was thirteen, my dad and I planned to spend a weekend at the vacation home my family owned near Lake Balaton in Hungary. He picked me up after school on Friday, and as we were driving through the country, he told me some truly unexpected news. He said that he had gotten in political trouble with the Communist government, and he had to flee the country at once. He asked me to go with him, but he said we couldn’t tell anyone because then the government might find out, and his passport would be taken away. I said yes. The next day we left Hungary, and I wouldn’t return for fourteen years.

We went to Austria, where we were accepted into the elaborate refugee system the country maintained. We applied to receive asylum in the United States, and eight months later, we arrived in Seattle. At this time, my dad changed his name to Frank Abraham, and once again he started a new chapter of his life. As we moved into our first apartment, in Kirkland, he said, “If a year ago someone had told me that next year I would be painting my apartment in America, I would not have believed him.” But here we were.

He soon got a job here at St. Anthony Parish, and we moved to Renton, into a small rental house on Burnett Avenue, where we were to live for the better part of a decade. He started out as the custodian here at the parish, and in time he became the facilities director. He also took on the role of the St. Anthony IT guru, and he built and maintained the parish computer network, which, I understand, has been named after him in his honor. Our living room, in those days, would often be full of computer parts as he was building the latest machine for the parish.

In time, however, my dad was ready for yet another direction. He decided to start a new business, this time a private accounting firm. His marriage to my mom having been annulled, he also decided to seek a new partner. He met Melinda through an online dating site. He went to see her in China, and soon they were married. At this time, he changed his name to David Abraham.

His accounting business flourished over the years, keeping him constantly busy with work. But then, less than a year ago, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. While he sought treatment for the symptoms, he did not fight the underlying illness. He made peace with his imminent passing. He worked on setting his affairs in order, and he prepared for the end – or, we should say, for the ultimate new direction that his life would take. The same faith that brought him help in those dark days of Communism now empowered him to face death without fear.

In his final days, I would sit by his bedside and pray the Rosary for him quietly. When he still could, he would join me for parts of the prayer, just like we had often recited the Rosary together when I was younger, and we still shared a home. My dad always had a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary. As death approached, he took great comfort in knowing that he would soon see our Blessed Mother. In his final weeks, we would sometimes talk about the state of the world and the future of humanity. I told him my view, and he strongly agreed, that God has sent the Virgin Mary as his special instrument of healing for our broken world today. He agreed with my belief that the Rosary, Our Lady’s specially chosen prayer, is the key to overcoming the innumerable problems besetting humanity today.

In these final weeks, I also introduced my dad to a special Marian devotion, the Seven Sorrows Rosary, which is a prayerful reflection on the suffering of Mary, the Mother of God, who, given her special connection to Christ, participated in a unique way in the suffering of her Divine Son. My dad instantly connected with this devotion, taking comfort, as I do, in knowing that our Holy Mother, who suffered more than any other human, other than the human nature of Christ, always knows the depth of our pain and anguish and always hastens to help us in our hour of sorrow, whenever we call upon her. As the end approached, my dad was very weak, but still he managed to get for me a beautifully crafted Seven Sorrows Rosary, which consists of a unique arrangement of beads, as his Christmas present, his last gift to me.

In the evenings, when I would say goodnight to him, I would always tell him, “Remember, the Queen of Heaven is waiting for you.” On his last night, I kept vigil by his bedside, praying the Rosary, all 20 decades, followed by the Seven Sorrows Rosary. Just after I finished reciting my prayers, he passed on from this life. I am confident that the Queen of Heaven, the Queen of Peace, did come to meet him to take him to our Lord.

Many have told me what a great blessing it was for my dad and for me to be able to share this time in his final hours. Many have said what a great gift I gave to him by spending so much time praying for him during his last night on earth. But I feel that I received the greater gift from him. True, throughout his life, my dad made many mistakes. He often frustrated me, or upset me, or even hurt me, sometimes deeply, sometimes in ways that were hard for me to forgive. But despite his many flaws and shortcomings, he gave me one excellent, extraordinary gift, for which I will be forever grateful. He fostered within me a love of Our Lady, our Immaculate Mother. In his final hour, I was able to share with him the fruit of his gift by praying for him fervently to the all-holy Queen of Peace.

I am confident that my dad is now feasting with Our Lady at the heavenly banquet of Christ, so beautifully described in the Book of Revelation, together with my sister Margit, who preceded him in the transition to eternal life, and with his brother Sándor, and their parents, and their many loved ones who had gone before them. One day we will join them there, resting and rejoicing with them in unending bliss, unending peace, unending and absolute contentment.

When the cancer came for my dad, his body succumbed rapidly. But I believe, as the Church does, that the death of our body is not the end of our story. Not only does our soul live on for all eternity, but just as Christ rose from the dead, and our Blessed Mother was assumed body and soul into Heaven, so also we will be made whole, our body and soul reunited in the resurrection of the dead. In the words of Job, proclaimed in our first reading, and so beautifully put to music by Handel in his magnificent work, the Messiah, which my dad dearly loved:

I know that my Redeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.
And though worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh shall I see God.
(Job 19:25-26)