When I wrote a eulogy for my father, I relied heavily on the Internet for historical information. My father was born in Cuba and major political events of the 20th century shaped his life at every turn. Thanks to Wikipedia and Google maps, I got my facts right. I’ve copied my remarks below.
When the hospice nurse told us my father would die very soon, I realized that if he made it through the night, he might end up dying on a Sunday. I told my mother it would be the perfect ending to one of his favorite stories, the one about his first name, Domingo, which means, of course, Sunday in Spanish. My father was no longer conscious, but he may have been able to hear me and I know he would have enjoyed the coincidence of his dying on a Sunday.*
My father’s parents had planned to name him Fernando, after his mother’s father, but three coincidences occurred on the day of his birth. He was born on a Sunday. It was May 12, the day of Santo Domingo, Saint Dominic, and the midwife who delivered my father was named Dominga. One of my father’s uncles told my grandparents: “Tiene que ser.” It has to be. And so my father was named Domingo.
I don’t know if my father knew this, but there was one other coincidence relating to his name. My entire life, I assumed he was named for the famous St. Dominic who started the Dominican order. In preparing my speech for today, I wanted to be sure of my facts: I was raised Jewish, I don’t know my saints.
So, I looked up St. Dominic on the Internet and discovered that St. Dominic’s day is in August, not in May. For a moment I was so disappointed that this nearly 100-year-old family legend was completely false! Fortunately, I thought to search for the calendar of saints’ days, and I discovered that the life of another St. Dominic is celebrated on May 12.
This St. Dominic, or Santo Domingo de la Calzada, as he is known, was born in the 12th century in Burgos in northern Spain. It is not far from the town of Andosilla, where my father’s mother’s family came from when they immigrated to Cuba.
Most of us here today haven’t heard of this Santo Domingo, but my father’s family would certainly have known of this saint, who came from their region of Spain and who is famous for building a hospital for poor people. The building still stands, and named for the saint, it is a tourist hotel on the pilgrims’ road to Santiago.
I think the reason my father liked the story of his name so much is that it is a story of destiny. Tiene que ser. It has to be. My father had a very strong sense of his purpose in life. He often told people his parents said everyone knew by the time he was three years old that he would become a doctor. I’m not sure what signs indicated he would grow up to be doctor; this is just a story I accepted as fact. It never occurred to me to ask my father, how did your parents know?
As many of you know, my father was not religious. But he did have a religious sense of awe towards life, a deep appreciation for how both wonderful and inexplicable life is. He lived life fully and took great joy in living, but he didn’t feel that way because life had been so easy for him. He experienced many hardships and losses – he was born into a family that had lost their home and land in the destruction of the Spanish-American War; he was a medical school student at the University of Havana when the revolution of the thirties shut down the university for seven years; and he started his career all over in the late fifties in another country and in another language. Instead of making him bitter, though, these experiences just seemed to reinforce his ability to find great pleasure in every day and in everyone he knew. He made us laugh about everything.
When I was growing up, my father worked about 12 hours a day, Mondays through Saturdays. Sundays were the only day he spent at home. He didn’t go to church or to a country club to play golf or tennis. What he did every Sunday morning after we finished breakfast was tell my sister or me to go get his “libro de telefono” – his phone book. He’d flip through the pages, saying “A quien puedo llamar?” Who can I call? Then he would be on the phone for the next two hours. When people asked me what my father’s hobby was, I answered, “talking.”
As much as he loved to talk, he was a good listener. My husband remarked that what struck him about my father was that he was genuinely interested in what people had to say. He listened with care and attention and remembered everything. He never forgot a name, a face, a place or a story.
Most of the people in this room today have known my father for more than fifty years. In the past weeks and today, you’ve visited and called to share your stories with us. As well as I knew my father, I have been so moved by the number of lives he touched. The great lesson of his life is the importance of connecting with people.
My mother and my sister and I thank all of you for your friendship to my father, but we want to mention three special friends who helped my father in more ways than I could possibly explain here. Thank you, Tony P., Armando C. and, “el Commandante” Jose C.
*Domingo O’Cherony passed away Sunday, September 27, 2009.