Eulogy for my father, Mark A. Latkovic
(March 18, 1942—October 1, 2006)
By Dr. Mark S. Latkovic
St. Mark’s Catholic Church,
October 5, 2006
As the oldest child and the theologian in the house, I have assigned myself the task of delivering my father’s eulogy. These personal characteristics do not, however, make it any easier to give a eulogy for your father…
Some men come to Jesus Christ on the battlefield. Some come to him in prison. Still other men do so through the drama of disease and suffering. Indeed, my father met Christ in cancer – his constant companion this past year and the crucible of his daily conversion.
My father passed away from lung cancer on October 1, 2006 – Respect Life Sunday. It is fitting that my father would die on this day and not only for the great respect that he showed for life. You see, my dad was born during World War II in mid-March 1942 on the cusp of spring – a symbol of rebirth and new life. His death on an early fall day was just as appropriate – for autumn symbolizes the fact that living things must die before they can be reborn…
I have reflected much on my father’s life and legacy these past few days. He was at once complex – he was after all an intelligent mathematician and chemist, his major at John Carroll University; and yet ordinarily simple – his greatest passion in recent years was simply watching his children and grandchildren grow up! I remember him telling me years ago that his love of equations and formulas and everything having to due with numbers was due to the “perfection” that he found in them. Oh how he loved working on his budget! And oh how I loved him helping me with my math homework! But my father was far from an abstract, absent-minded professor type. He lived life to the fullest.
For those of you who knew my dad, you know that he was, like each of us, full of imperfections. He could swear, smoke, and drink with the best (or worst!) of them! He could be stubborn, complaining, and unapologetic. In recent years, however, my father had greatly mellowed. His greatest pleasures were simply being with his beloved wife, Jean, his family, his friends, and his brothers (Ken, Pete, and John): Visits to Dearborn Heights, MI – to see my wife Christine and I – were really “excuses” to see our four children play sports! Dinners at my brother Chris’ and his wife Julie’s home – more “excuses” for him to be with the ones he loved. Time spent with my younger sister Anne watching “24” and giving away the ending – yes also an “excuse” to be with his only daughter, who he doted on. Or breakfasts with the brothers and the gang and then over to D&K Auto for one more “oil change” – yet even more “excuses” to be with those he cared about most.
For all of my dad’s faults, he worked hard in his own way at overcoming them. He quit drinking 12 years ago. He gave up smoking over a year ago. But more importantly, my father’s great generosity covered over a multitude of sins. There are not too many more self-less people that you could meet in your lifetime. He was a friend who knew how to be a friend. Just ask some of them. My dad was also full of courage and stamina. When he called me last February to tell me that he thought he had finally beat lung cancer and that he would soon visit us, I told him through my tears that he was my “hero.” And that he was in that moment…
The way my father dealt with his many recent sufferings was truly an inspiration to us all. Knowing how much my dad prized his independence, it was nothing short of truly astonishing to me to never hear him utter a word of complaint or anger or question “why me, God?” With each new loss of functioning – and there were many such losses – my dad would take it in stride, with grace, patience, and perseverance. Of course, he had a faithful spouse and others to accompany him through these dark nights of the soul and body…
Some say that when they die, they want to go quickly. My dad had always expressed the same sentiment. “Don’t let me be bedridden with a bunch of tubes sticking out of my body. That’s no way to go!” But with his illness, something changed in him. I got the sense that he wanted to live not so much for himself, but for the others who loved him and whose love he returned. And that he would willingly suffer to accomplish this goal. Oh sure he wanted to live as much for himself as anything – as we all do. But what kept him going, what assured him that the difficult treatment path of chemo and radiation that he had taken was the right one, was the knowledge that it might buy him more time to be with us – to be a husband, to be a father, grandfather, brother, uncle, cousin, godparent, neighbor, and friend for a few more years in this “veil of tears.” If the treatment was not successful, then at least it would buy him more time to prepare to meet Christ.
I sensed another profound change in my dad this past year: Christ had become his wisest and best friend, as St. Thomas Aquinas calls him. Last December at Christmas he said that, if God chose to take him, he would be ready to “see the face of God.” He spoke recently in his bed at Renaissance Hospice of how he had been born for this; how he had been born to die. That this is what his mission was, that this is what we are all here for. Not exactly “Seinfeld” material! At first I thought this sounded awfully morbid. But after all, he would only have, in turned out, some ten days to live at that point. Why begrudge a dying man his last words! But then the Scripture passage from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians popped into my mind and onto my lips: “This treasure we possess in earthen vessels, to make it clear that its surpassing power comes from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way possible, but we are not crushed; full of doubts, we never despair. We are persecuted but never abandoned; we are struck down but never destroyed. Continually we carry about in our bodies the dying Jesus, so that in our bodies the life of Jesus may also be revealed. While we live we are constantly being delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor 4:7-11).
My father was afflicted, but never crushed. He was full of doubts, but never despaired. He was struck down, but never destroyed. Taking up his cross, he continually carried about in his own body the dying Jesus so that Jesus’ life might be revealed. He was constantly from his birth being delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, so that Jesus’ life would be revealed in his mortal flesh…
It is good that all of us have gathered here today in this church to celebrate his funeral Mass. By doing so, we commend Mark to our God in heaven. We also keep alive his memory. As the Southern American writer Eudora Welty wrote, “When friends meet…to pay tribute to one of their number who has died…they are drawing a circle around that friend. Speaking in turn one after the other, joining themselves together anew, they keep what they know of him intact.”
Let us speak often of Mark these next few days and weeks and in the months and years ahead. Let us share his love of gardening, grilling hamburgers, humor, sports, cars, puzzles, and the “perfect lawn.” Let us speak of his years with St. Mark’s parish athletics, the Croatian Fraternal Lodge, his days at home on Normandy Ave. in Cleveland, OH, and his years of work at various companies in the paint business from which he retired in May of 2005.
I shall get us started with this sharing of memories by closing this eulogy with the story of my very last conversation with my father. I told my dad, as I was saying goodbye to him, that this would probably be the last time that we would ever speak to each other in this life. He struggled to say, “Oh no, I will still be here.” I responded by saying that whatever happens, I wanted him to know that I loved him deeply, that I was grateful that he had been my dad, and that he had always been there for me and my siblings – whether it be birthday parties, baseball games, or graduations. Soon he would be seeing his deceased parents and loved ones again, and being closer to us now than we could ever imagine. His last words to me after telling me how proud he was of me and then thanking me for giving him grandchildren were, “Stay close to Christ!”
May my father’s last words serve not only as his final testimony, but ours as well!
Thank you and God bless you,
Mark S. Latkovic