Memorial Service for Pat Donohue

Eulogy by Jimmy Donohue
Saturday, July 18, 2015

I was going to start with a joke by saying, “Oh my god. Look at all of you . You look like your best friend died.” but then I realized it wasn’t really a joke. I can’t tell you how many people have been described to me as “one of Pat’s closest friends.”

It seems like he knew everybody in Trenton, and Bordentown, and beyond. He was often so busy that he often fell into “meeting speak” when talking to us, his immediate family. We actually gave him the nickname “Agenda” after he told us he had to see if he could “carve out some time” to make it to one family event or another. So Pat, I’m pleased to tell you that I have managed, somehow, to “carve out some time” to say a few words about you today. And I’m glad you carved out the time to be here with me. 

You know, for me, the hard part of doing a eulogy, other than the fact I’m doing a eulogy,  is that it’s easier to just tell a few funny or touching anecdotes about Pat and leave it at that, but I can’t stand up here and do that. I can’t just tell you some hilarious stories about Pat (although I certainly will) or just describe some of his remarkable accomplishments (I’ll certainly do that too) without trying, somehow, to find some kind of meaning, some kind of explanation, if you will, for the fact that my 50 year old younger brother is no longer with us. And perhaps I’m the wrong person to stand before you today, because, to be honest, I’m not a particularly religious person. And maybe it’s because of that personal failing that I can’t accept that it’s God’s plan that Pat is dead simply so that I can experience God’s spirit and love in the incredible response of my friends and family.

In my mind, Pat COULDN’T have died to teach us a lesson because no lesson could ever equal the good Pat would have accomplished with the rest of his life. At the same time, I refuse to believe, I absolutely refuse to believe that Pat has died in vain. So I’m going to ask you a favor. I’m going to ask you to take a solemn vow, right now in this church. I’m asking you to tell someone, today, before the sun sets, that if you are ever in so much pain that you feel you might do harm to yourself, you will tell that person, that you will make one simple phone call and say “I don’t trust myself right now.” I would like to ask you to raise your hand if you promise you’ll do that today. 

Thank you. You see, this has been a theme for the Donohue family this week.  We have had countless discussions exhorting one another to continue to share our feelings, anybody, at any time, in any place….NOT YOU MARY (some of us are just too good at this already). If you’ve seen the SNL skit in which Kristen Wigg’s character is told over and over again, “Sit down Judith!” you’ll understand the week that my sister Mary has endured. 

So let’s get back to Pat.  I think I’ll get the dirty words out of the way first, so cover the ears of your children: PROGRESSIVE……LI-BER-AL…….BLEEEEEDING HEART! (I’m sorry Father Vince.)

My brother loved these dirty words. He lived them. You see, he WAS religious, as is his wife Donna, and to him, there was simply no possible way that he could walk through life pretending that the inequity, the racism, and the poverty around him didn’t exist. Nor could he deny that he had been born, by pure serendipity, into incredibly fortunate conditions. As a result, his huge heart and his quick intellect had no place for the phrase “It’s their own fault” when it came to the less fortunate.  You know, people think I’m a pretty nice guy. Pat was a better human being than I could ever hope to be. I’m not going to go through a list of his accomplishments. Just eavesdrop on any conversation you hear this afternoon, and you’ll hear everything you need to know. Just look at the rainbow coalition that is here in his name, and you’ll understand. Google his name and you’ll wonder when my brother slept. But you’d be mistaken if you thought he was some kind of reclusive, bookish monk, because Pat LIVED life at the same time that he was trying to improve it for everybody else. 

Every year, the night before opening day at Fenway Park, all of us would get a phone call from Pat. “Let’s go scalp tickets. “ “Ah, Pat, that’s a long way to go if you don’t even know we’ll get in…” “So we’ll go to a bar and watch the game outside of the stadium!” 

Inevitably, we’d all beg off, and he and Patrick James would get on the Amtrak, head to Boston, and spend the rest of the afternoon texting us pictures from behind home plate. 

Every Memorial Day weekend, after a long day at the beach and a huge meal at Marlene’s table, Pat would start the drumroll for all of us to head over to our cousin Adele’s house. We’d roll our eyes. “Pat, it’s late, they’re probably asleep blah blah blah” and Pat would say “Well I’m going over, she said we should come by any time. We have to keep the family together!” and off he’d go on some rusty old bicycle.  We’d go to bed like practical adults, and he’d stay up all night solving the world’s problems while floating around the pool with Adele and drinking all of her husband Greg’s beer. 

It goes on and on. 25 years ago, during a routine check up, our father was told “Don’t move, don’t blink, you need bypass surgery yesterday” and they put him in an ambulance bound for Cornell Medical Center in the city. Apparently, he was one micro-globule of cholesterol away from the great hereafter. The family piled into cars and tried to keep pace with the ambulance. Pat got there first it seems, for as the ambulance made it’s final turn into the hospital bay, Pat was seen by several witnesses on the corner enjoying a huge sausage sandwich he had just purchased from a street cart. It wasn’t that he wasn’t worried about my dad,,he later explained,  he was just hungry. 

Just weeks ago, he called me to come down to the Trenton Pork Roll Festival, which was a celebration of an only-in-Jersey food product. Pat knew everyone involved, of course, got Patrick James a job doing security (what kind of security is needed at a Pork Roll Festival?) and later gave me an excellent t-shirt that commemorated the day. If you like irony, symmetry, or mysticism, I want you to know that Pat’s final resting place will be in what is know as the Pork Roll section of the cemetery because the Taylor family that founded the Taylor Pork Roll company is buried there. I am not kidding. 

My friends, I learned so much from my younger brother. He pulled off the neat trick of living life to it’s fullest while simultaneously being the least self-oriented person I’ve ever met. But I’ve also learned a lot in the days since he left us as well. I’ve learned about unbreakable bonds from watching my sons, and my nieces and nephews form a physical circle around Pat’s daughter Cate that has only been broken when she absolutely had to use the bathroom. I’ve learned about the power of pure love by watching Pat’s son Patrick comforting my parents in the minutes after the terrible news was delivered that they’d lost a son. I’ve learned about strength from watching my brother Pete, Pat’s identical brother, putting aside grief to become an almost terrifying raging bull, calling detectives, insurance agents, Pat’s former employers and on and on in an effort to make sure that Pat’s family will be treated fairly in the weeks, months and years to come. Perhaps most of all, I’ve stood in awe as my 81 year old father absorbed the punch to the gut no parent should ever have to absorb, gather himself, and say “What needs to be done to keep Pat’s vision alive?” And my mother, my god, my mother, who must be made out of some kind of iron that was in the coal dust her father came home covered in after a day in the Scranton coal mines, is the unbreakable backbone that keeps us all standing. I’ve also learned that my brother loved and married a woman that matched his kindness and empathy, and, despite her size, outmatched his strength. Donna, who lost her partner, seems to have become twice as strong, twice as effective, twice as powerful, almost as if she and Pat were now one person continuing on with the same mission. It’s been incredible to watch. 

Patrick, Cate: I’m not going to say that your father loved you. I won’t use the past tense. He LOVES you now, and will continue to love you every day, through your mother, through Grandma and Grandpa, Aunt Mary, Aunt Meg, Aunt Tess, Danny, Debbie, Diane, your Grandpa DiVece all of your cousins, and, I promise you, through Uncle Pete and me, your dad’s brothers. Brothers have their own unique bond, and that bond comes with an unspoken vow to stand up for one another, and to stand in for one another. 

 And I promise you I know that he continues to love ME every time I look at you. 

Finally, I want to say something that might help all of us who are struggling with the devastation of Pat’s death, or some other unmentioned or hidden pain that we might be feeling right now:  Imagine that you had your adult mind at the moment you were to be born, and you were offered a kind of a contract: 70, 80, 90 years of life on Earth, and that the contract guaranteed that the majority of your time would be full of love, wonder, laughter, excitement, friends, adventure, peace, and fulfillment,  while a much smaller percentage would require that you feel some pretty excruciating pain. Would you sign up for the ride? 

Even after the worst 2 weeks of my life, I can say without hesitation that I would. 

I love all of you in this room because you loved my brother. I know that he would want you to leave here, have a beer, and look forward to the rest of your wonderful lives.