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A Duty July 13, 2008

Posted by gregquill in Uncategorized.
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I got an email from the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association last week that one of my classmates had died. It said that while he lived and worked in Kansas, the funeral Mass would be held at his parents’ church in Florida. I decided to take some time off last Friday, and drive to the funeral north of Tampa. I don’t agree with all of the recent policies of the Naval Academy, but the classmate bond is very strong.

Joe (not his name) was my friend, in a small-town sense of friendship. We never double dated, or had more than a passing conversation about anything. I had 700 classmates in a Brigade of about 4,000, so it was like living in a small town. We spent 11 months a year for four years leading the very active lives of Midshipmen, including classes, intramural sports, social events, cruises on ships and exercises with the Marines, parades (called P-raids), and so on. I was active in the drama group (set design and construction), eventually as president of the group. I can’t tell you specifically the occasions Joe and I interacted together, but thinking back those 39 years, I find I knew him better than I thought. He may have sung in the Catholic choir with me, but I’m not sure.

We had no contact since graduation. I left the Navy at nine years after early promotion and command of a ship to raise my three sons (and later a daughter). Joe stayed in for 23 years, getting a master’s degree and command of a ship. He got married, and they had two sons and a daughter. He retired as a Commander, and got a job in charge of manufacturing for a building supply company in Kansas. There were some family problems, and he and his wife broke up.

The boys were grown, his wife was gone, and Joe fell in love and married again. His brothers were not too friendly with wife #1 when she was around, but when I met them they were very critical of wife #2 for not being warm or close with Joe. I didn’t meet her, because she decided to go to her parents’ home in Albuquerque rather than attend the funeral.

Three years ago, his daughter contracted leukemia, and instead of going off to college at the age of 19 as planned, she died two years ago.

Joe had a difficult time coping after the death of his daughter. He said that he had made a lot of mistakes raising his sons, but he had gotten it right with her. He stepped down from the vice-president job at work to a job in their training department. His Navy pension and benefits surely helped in that decision.

The Catholic Mass of Christian Burial is very good, and there was only a small congregation. I am glad that I went. His elderly parents were both there. Burying a son or a daughter has to be among the hardest things to do in life. Joe did it for his daughter, and now they had to do it for their oldest son.

Fortunately, I had a dark blue suit coat and a Mass card in the trailer, so I fit in, and I took the time afterwards to talk to Joe’s brother and his parents. I asked the brother how Joe died (before I knew all of the details, which he then told me). He said that Joe had hanged himself on June 30th.

I don’t think I could have been more stunned.

Trying to recover, I said that I was glad that the Church now allowed a Catholic funeral in these cases (it was prohibited for centuries), and that the Church honored Joe’s wishes to be cremated with the ashes scattered over the Pacific. It turns out that the Church now considers that a person who commits suicide during extreme anguish (and in a few other circumstances) may have reduced responsibility for that decision. The Church acknowledges that God may decide to forgive the mortal sin in a manner not prescribed by Church doctrine, and so out of respect for the dead and particularly as a comfort to the living, the funeral Mass is now allowed. In this, I see the hand of Pope John Paul II, who was strict, fair, but most of all deeply compassionate.

As we left the church, the organist played “Eternal Father”, the Navy hymn. Here’s the first verse, in Joe’s memory:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm has bound the restless wave.
Who bids the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep.
Oh hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea.

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Comments»

1. Greg Finnegan - July 13, 2008

Thanks very much, Sandy. I wasn’t sad when I drove up to the funeral; I have been painfully sad ever since!

2. Brenda Love - July 13, 2008

Greg, I hope your friend is surrounded by peace now. I admire you so much for taking the time to go there and attend his funeral. Thats a really special thing

3. gregquill - July 14, 2008

Thanks, Brenda. I was surprised at how few people were there, but then he didn’t live in Florida so I guess there were more at the memorial service in Kansas. I hope.

4. Jackie - July 15, 2008

Thank you for the opportunity to read such a memorable account of a friend. I hope he has found peace and he surely knows the love and respect that you have for him.


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