It's hard to express the range of emotions that I've experienced in the past two weeks. Two weeks ago my fiance Patrick lost his father. The loss of a parent is a grief that truly can't be measured with an adequate understanding, I suppose, unless you have walked the path. Yet, in an odd way I am both on the outside and the inside of the loss. I only met my father in law to be Neil Noonan once. On a road trip back to his hometown Patrick and I met Neil and his wife Judie for our favorite meal in a restaurant outside Milwaukee. Over pancakes and coffee I met the man who raised the man I love. I never thought it would be both the first and last time I would meet him.
When we became engaged two months ago Patrick's father was quite excited, but as I later learned he not only gave this union his blessing...he shared it with many of his friends. As the stream of friends and family walked through the church where he was laid to rest many came up to me. Sometimes before Patrick had had a chance to introduce me some of their eyes would light up with recognition from just that one picture we had taken. The one Neil insisted we take at the restaurant with he, Judie, Patrick and I. Thank God we have that picture. Several friends wasted no time in putting their hands in mine- as if they knew me right away. " Well, you must be Leah."
They told me how much Neil talked about his son's wife to be. Holy cow! That's me!
One of them told me his eyes twinkled when he spoke of me. As I heard these recollections I couldn't help it...my eyes filled with tears. I began to see how deep the bond would have been in our coming years. But that bond has not broken- not really.
For me, there could be no greater honor than to have held a place in the heart of a man who I would never officially get to call my father in law. I did not have the pleasure of knowing him very long before his time on earth ended. Yet, there were Christmas gifts exchanged, cards, phone calls and I was privy to a few of his trademark playful jokes.
Patrick and I looked forward to having his presence at our wedding.
Though he will not be there with us on that day- I feel somehow that I can still call him my father in law and carry him with us...because the absence of his earthly presence is mere technicality. I loved Neil Noonan, not only for who he was to Patrick, but for his heart and his open welcome of me into his heart. There will never be a picture of us together on our wedding day (with me in the white wedding dress). Yet at our wedding a year from now...I know he'll somehow find a way to be there.
'Till we meet again.
Below is a video I made for all who loved Neil Noonan. It features a song performed at his service this past Monday. The song is the beautiful trio of voices of his children singing his favorite song- about a racehorse whose legend carried throughout Ireland.
Hope it provides some comfort.