He was in hospice for 10 days. We, as a family, were preparing ourselves for what was inevitable. It was difficult seeing a man who has been a true force in the family, wither away. And I could see he hated it too. He fought hard, never wanting to take medicine to diminish the pain because he loathed how it fogged his mind. Eventually the pain got too unbearable, so he finally agreed to take morphine. It wasn’t long after that he passed away.
During the wake, I met many people from my past that truly adored my dad. It was touching to see how his legacy was being recognized and honoured. People who gave me condolences would share unique stories that reflected his “joie de vivre”.
With every story people shared, I began to see how my dad’s character was a big part of me. And somehow, that consoled me.
I was responsible to give the eulogy in Italian so that his extended family could watch, in real time, from Italy (an upside of the pandemic is the access to funeral services through video feeds).
I thought I would share the English version of the eulogy with you, as a way of honouring his legacy, hoping his soul will continue to feel the resonance of my message.
Eulogy in honour of Giuseppe Contenta
My dad was a man of few words with a big presence. He was a resilient, strong, charismatic man who had a passion for gardening, dancing and maintaining Italian traditions.
These characteristics were reflected throughout the 91 years of his life.
He was born in Patrica, Frosinone, Italy in 1930, one of 8 children. As a young man who only went to grade 3, he learned to work the land, build things from scratch, cultivate a garden and while his parents slept, he would sneak out of his bedroom window late at night to meet friends to go out dancing – a reminder to me how the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
He met Maria in 1955, got married 2 years after and had 2 children, Anna and Luciano. After 6 years of raising both children in Italy, they decided to immigrate to Canada to pursue a better life. The country where I was born.
It wasn’t all rainbows and white picket fences, as they needed to learn a new language, work long hours and adapt to a new culture
My dad’s heart was always in Italy, so much so that he bought a house there, while he built a home for his family in Canada, to be able to go back and forth yearly so his kids could experience their heritage.
With every trip, my dad always brought back a piece of Italy. Our backyard is evidence of that with fig trees and prune trees grown from the seeds he brought back hidden in his suitcase. He figured out a way to allow these tropical trees to flourish in the cold weather of Canada.
This resilience came from his ability to problem solve. He always saw challenges as opportunities to be inventive and proudly display his creations.
Even during his last 12 years of battling cancer and dealing with constant lung infections, his pride would never allow him to stop solving problems on his own.
As he was losing some of his physical strength, his determination to continue making wine, allowed him to build a “shoot” for the grapes to land in the cellar without having to carry the crates downstairs himself.
When he had difficulty putting up the outdoor tempo to prepare for winter, he contrived a pulley system.
When my mom needed a place to hang her home-made pasta to dry, he built her a rotary system.
Most recently, in September, while he was battling cancer and my mom was healing with a fractured arm, he still wanted to have a traditional Sunday dinner with the family, where his kids and grandkids got to enjoy our Italian traditions. He got up at 3am, went outside to boil the tomatoes and make the sauce. When my mom got up at 6am, it was all done.
These are just a few examples of his tenacity.
Then there is his passion for dancing which was known throughout the small Italian community here in Montreal.
I remember as a young girl being in awe of the weekly dance parties my parents held in our kitchen. All the Italians in the neighbourhood gathered there. I remember asking my mom, “Aren’t you concerned about making noise?” And she said, “No, that’s why we bought the apartment building!”
My dad’s dignity to look good and feel good was part of him into his late 80’s, as he would ride his 10-speed bike and take off for the day, just to feel free and healthy.
His resilience helped him beat cancer several times, a reflection of his strength and pride to not let it get the better of him.
In the end, he couldn’t win every battle and unfortunately, this last one was just too much for him.
People say we should celebrate a life more than mourn one’s death. His life is worth celebrating.
Dad, in the end cancer may have gotten the best of you, but what a life you lived. Rest assured your tenacity, strength, and vitality for life have been passed down and well instilled in your kids and your grandkids.
Knowing your likes and dislikes, your passions and pleasures, your dreams and ambitions. But it doesn’t end there, with the pretty things. It applies to the ugly things, too. Knowing your weaknesses, your shortcomings, your habits of doubt, your tendency to fall into turmoil at the thought of whatever scares you. Through all of this, consistent millimetre shifts create greatness.
Perhaps greatness can be accessible to all of us?
Something to think about.
Thank you for reading this tribute to my Dad. I hope this inspires you in some way to be great.
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