From the editor: In memory of my father
My father, George Garzilli, died Sept. 28, 2015. He was 71. My dad battled through two cancer surgeries and fought until the end. He was a great father. He was also a devoted reader of the Jasper County Sun Times. In his memory, here’s the text of the eulogy I gave at his funeral on Oct. 3.
I did everything I could the last few days to avoid writing a eulogy. I did laundry. I vacuumed. I went to work. I cleaned our kitchen counter. I listened to music. I read. I renewed my driver’s license. And then I got my oil changed.
That’s when I knew it was time. Phone conversations with my dad were never without a quick update about my car. The Saturn. 234,000 miles. Dad, the car’s good. Got the oil changed. Still going.
The little things were always important. Taking care of the car. Making sure we had extra batteries for a flashlight. A blanket in the trunk or a warm hat, an extra sweater. Money for gas. Game tickets in hand.
Just in case.
My dad’s diligence I’ve learned was a longstanding trait. I know it was appreciated even 50 years ago by Army captain James Buckley. Sgt. George Garzilli was an armorer for Company C, 1st Battalion, of the 7th Infantry.
In 1965 Captain Buckley wrote my father a letter of appreciation. My dad’s duties included keeping the weapons in a “high state of readiness.”
I proudly read the letter for the first time last week.
Buckley lauded my dad for working extra and long hours. He said my dad’s willingness to do a “little extra” was appreciated.
Sounds like my father.
He continued to do a little extra for the next 50 years. Especially for his children. He’d do anything for me and Jess. He’d drive to the city in the middle of the night to pick us up, or drive cross-country to help us move, or he’d come home from work — after waking up before the sun that morning to drive his school bus — and take us that night to Yankee Stadium. Sometimes we watched Don Mattingly homer or the Yankees celebrate a division title.
And one night we watched from the upper deck as Dwight Gooden threw a no-hitter.
We watched the Yankees play from almost every vantage point at the old Yankee Stadium. Upper deck behind home plate, left field, right field, the mezzanine. Way out in the left field bleachers. The nonalcoholic section in right field. And we managed to find our way back to the car, which was always parked blocks from the Stadium for quick access to the Deegan Expressway.
My dad knew all the secret spots. Sometimes he gave a guy on the street a couple of dollars to “watch the car.” The guy likely never kept his eyes on the car, but my dad gave him some money anyway. I remember my dad’s thoughtfulness and hope I’ll always be willing to give somebody a dollar.
We should never underestimate the effect we have on other people. It’s especially important to remember the small things: holding a door, saying please and thank you. Just being kind to others. It doesn’t go unnoticed and might brighten someone’s day.
Last week in New York I talked about my dad with family friends I’ve known for years and people who I met for the first time. Nurses. Doctors. EMTs. Neighbors.
And after these talks, I can guarantee you this: My dad held a lot of doors. He said thank you to hundreds and hundreds of people. He was genuinely kind.
It took five minutes last week for an EMT from Yonkers to notice his kindness. I met Gustavo when he helped bring my dad from White Plains Hospital to Calvary Hospital. My dad was weak and needed help getting from the bed to the stretcher. But my dad sat up and tried to make Gustavo’s job just a little bit easier.
I rode to Calvary with Gustavo, my dad in the back, as we rolled through some of the familiar Bronx streets: Pelham Parkway, Eastchester Road. Gustavo said somberly that he’d driven many patients to Calvary, but as we talked about my dad he brightened. He said in just the few minutes with him, he felt an inner strength and could tell he was a great guy.
Five minutes and he said my dad was a great guy. Dying of cancer. Couldn’t talk. Daily head pain. Too weak to walk. Five minutes. Great guy.
How many indelible five-minute (or less) encounters did my dad have with people in 71 years? How many people left that experience and did something nice for someone else or always remembered him for his kindness? Look at all of you here today. You’re here for him.
He was always there for you.
I watched my dad fight hard to the end in an attempt to fend off the aggressive cancer that just wouldn’t quit. But my dad wouldn’t quit, either. The cancer should have known my dad’s toughness.
He endured a heart attack 20 years ago and for five years he’d thrived after the first cancer surgery. Last week he often struggled to breathe and endured searing head pain, but always managed to come through asking us if we were OK.
I remember a Calvary nurse in tears a few days before he died. My dad was only there for a week. “We love Georgie here,” she said.
My dad was a great father. A great father. We’ve had great parents. We still have great parents. My dad will always be alive within us because we’ll continue to make decisions with his advice in mind. We’ll remember to set our alarms and turn back the clocks and get the oil changed.
And we’ll remember that he loved us and was proud of us.
As painful as today is, let’s please celebrate my father. We can mourn — we will always mourn — but we shouldn’t forget all the great times that have brought us here together.
Today is one sad day, but it will not erase 71 years of compassion and kindheartedness. We’ll cry, but we should also laugh today and share stories and take comfort in knowing that he’s no longer suffering.
He’s probably taking our dog Madison for a walk right now, actually. Maybe he’s even whistling again. And my grandmother, Babcia, is making him dinner. It’s a beautiful thought.
I’ll end with this: The morning of his first cancer surgery, I was with him at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He was getting prepped for the surgery, which was expansive and risky. It was tense in the room, but we joked a bit before he was called in to begin the process.
We hugged and he turned and told me to take care of mom. You know my dad: just in case.
He survived that surgery, but mom, we’re going to take care of you. Your great friends and neighbors will take care of you and daddy will always be with you.
He was a great husband, a loyal friend, a man who put others first. My dad was a gentleman. I’m proud to have been his son. He was the best father.
We’ll always love you, dad.
Editor Anthony Garzilli can be reached at 843-726-6161 or firstname.lastname@example.org