Yesterday I attended the funeral mass for my cousin, Pat Ward. Many friends and family gathered at the magnificent St. Vincent DePaul Church in Chicago to pay our final respects to a guy whose mere presence could lift even the lowest of spirits. Pat’s family mirrored my own, with five boys and two girls and because he and I matched up in age, we became close cousin friends. That is, as best of friends as we could be, considering the distance that separated us. While my family lived in Chicago, the Wards lived in our state capital of Springfield, IL. Our mothers were sisters and they had still another sister and brother, whose families lived in Chicago, as well. Growing up, we were fortunate to have shared close bonds with our local cousins, but it was a special treat indeed when we’d all travel to Springfield or the Ward clan would take a road trip to see us.
Within the four families of cousins, age divisions were drawn to determine who matched up with whom. The agreed upon alliances looked something like this:
OLDER BOYS: John L, John W, Kevin T
OLDER GIRLS: Marcia L, Pat L, Nancy L, Peggy W, Denise W, Mary Beth T
MIDDLE KIDS: Mike W, John T, Tom W, Chuck L, Kathy Q, Dan T, Tom T
BRINGING UP THE REAR: Pat W, Dave W, Donna L, Tom Q, Paul T, Me…T 🙂
And for those of you counting, that’s 22 cousins. I know this because I had to count it out about five times to make sure I didn’t miss anyone. And yes, a lot of Toms and Johns. These delineated groupings were pretty fluid, however, as cousins freely drifted in and out, depending on who was doing the coolest thing at the moment, probably.
The excitement felt when we all got together – WITH THE WARDS!!!! – was palpable. And as much fun as the entire Ward family was, including parents Uncle John and Aunt Roe, who were absolutely hilarious and always willing to share a good laugh, I always felt like I got pretty lucky landing in the same cousin group as Pat.
As kids, and even into college, he and I would write letters to each other – long letters sharing the goings on in our lives. Yes, we wrote hand-written letters! And OH! the excitement when a letter arrived in the mailbox. For you readers of a certain age, you may remember the old commercials on TV featuring Euell Gibbons touting the health benefits of Grape Nuts Cereal (which bore a most unappetizing resemblance to gravel). One of his lines absolutely cracked Pat and me up: “You ever eat a pine tree? Some parts ARE edible.” Every time we’d see each other, we’d say that line and laugh until our bellies hurt. And every letter ended with a PS: You ever eat a pine tree? Some parts ARE edible!! But my favorite part of his letters were the drawings he would always include. Pat LOVED the city of Chicago and was an amazing artist. Even as a kid, his drawings of the Chicago skyline were insanely impressive.
So after college, he followed several of his siblings to the big city and happily immersed himself in everything Chicago. He and his brother Tom lived life large as roommates on the city’s north side. In 2011, Pat suffered inconsolable heartbreak when his beloved brother, best friend and partner in crime, Tom, passed away unexpectedly. I don’t know if he ever really recovered from that devastating loss. Three years later in 2014, another blow hit the Wards when brother Mike, the gentle, soft-spoken sweetheart of the family, passed away. No one could believe it.
And now Pat. The news of his passing was beyond comprehension. As I try to wrap my mind around this most recent loss, I turn to the only thing that can offer any kind of consolation and hope that death is not the end: my faith. And though Pat will be missed, knowing that he is once again united with his brothers and parents, gives me peace. These beautiful words are ours by which to remember Pat:
I’d like the memory of me
To Be a happy one
I’d like to leave an afterglow
Of smiles when life is done.
I’d like to leave an echo
Whispering softly down the ways,
Of happy times and laughing times
And bright and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those who grieve,
To dry before the sun
Of happy memories that I leave behind
When life is done.
You have Pat. You have. Well done. Until we meet again, slan* dear Pat. ☘️💔☘️
I wanted to share Pat’s artwork and humor.
Besides his drawings, he was loved also for the silly “gift certificates” he’d present to family members on special occasions and I found this one particularly funny. Please be sure to read all of the restrictions placed on the “gift”!!! That was Pat all over.