Thursday, December 30, 2021

Eulogy: Vincent Liaguno (1938-2021)

*Originally delivered as a live eulogy on December 8th, 2021 to those gathered to remember Vincent Liaguno at his funeral Mass at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Thank you all for being here today to remember and celebrate the life of my Dad, Vincent Liaguno—or “Vinnie” as most of you knew him or, if you really go back, “Tiny” which was his nickname back in his Arts High School days in the 1950s.

My Dad was the consummate gentleman, never without a smile or kind word for anyone he encountered. Describing my Dad as “outgoing” is an understatement. He was a natural-born storyteller who loved to socialize in any setting—and he was never without a joke. We fell into the habit many years ago of speaking every Sunday after he’d gotten home from Mass and his breakfasts out with his fellow ushers here at St. Leo’s. After he’d recount his lab values for the week—which was usually capped off by telling me that the dietician at dialysis had put a sticker on his lab report for a job well done—he would tell me which usher’s turn it was to pay, what he’d ordered for breakfast, and then he’d end with whatever joke he’d told the priest who had said Mass that week. More Sunday’s than not, the call usually concluded with me exclaiming, “Dad! You did NOT tell that joke to your priest!” and we’d laugh.

I have so many wonderful memories of my Dad growing up—and I could speak for days about what an amazing father he was, especially remarkable since his own Dad, my grandfather Anastacio, passed away when he was very young, and he and his sister, Gloria, were raised largely alone by my hard-working grandmother, Angelina, with some wonderful support from my great-uncle Sammy, who was—in many ways—a surrogate Dad to them. My favorite memories of my Dad are of our “buddy days” on Saturdays when he’d take me to a matinee movie and then to this little hole-in-the-wall roadside burger joint in Fords, New Jersey, called Frank’s Fireplace where we’d enjoy a cheeseburger and a frosted mug of root beer together. There were the countless summer weekends when he’d take me down the shore to swim at Sandy Hook beach. Or the night we watched the movie Airplane on HBO at home and he was on the floor, on all fours, laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe. Later, as I got older, my Dad faithfully played the role of chauffeur and chaperone, taking me and my best high school friends Martin, Mark, and Greg to the movies. My poor Dad sat through so many gory horror movies; he deserves sainthood for that alone. And he never complained once because that’s just the kind of Dad he was.

My Dad always provided for me—from all the food / shelter / clothing basics to making sure I had a first-rate parochial school education. He worked hard to afford our home and that Catholic School tuition, and one of the greatest gifts he gave me was my work ethic. Those who knew my Dad also know how generous he was. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than to pick up a dinner tab—and he never forgot any of his family or friends at Christmas time or on birthdays. Beginning to get my Dad’s affairs in order this past week and going through his bank records and checkbooks, the depth of his generosity and charitable giving was apparent. And that kindness extended to virtual strangers—no one would be surprised to learn that once we convinced Dad that it was safer for him to use the valet parking at dialysis that he would prepare little baggies each with a dollar bill and a peppermint patty as a tip for the valet attendants.

As I got older and stepped into adulthood, my Dad and I had a few bumps along the way—as any two strong-willed Italian men are wont to do. But my Dad and I found our way to a wonderful, close relationship marked by mutual respect, admiration, and—most of all—love. My Dad was my biggest cheerleader—sometimes embarrassingly so—and never missed an opportunity to tell me that he was proud of the man I’d become. In his later years, he loved nothing more than to visit Brian and I in New York for Christmas or during the summer, although we secretly suspect that he really came to spend time with our Miniature Schnauzer, Coco, who he loved dearly and who left us in August—now, we know, to prepare for the arrival of his favorite “old man friend” as we used to jokingly refer to my Dad. During those visits, my Dad loved spending time and holiday gatherings with our dearest circle of friends, who just adored my Dad as evidenced by some of them driving several hundred miles this morning out from the eastern end of Long Island to be here today to honor him.

My Dad taught me many things over the course of my life—from the importance of good manners and firm handshakes to working hard for what you want in life and the magnitude of having a loyal circle of friends. But those who knew my Dad also know that he taught us all a great lesson in resiliency. No matter what challenges life lobbed at him, he’d figure out a way to rise above it; and if he couldn’t, he quickly adjusted and learned to live with it. How many people do you know who lived with the inconveniences and limitations of dialysis three times a week for more than 25 years—rarely, if ever, complaining and just working life around it? Whether it was the heartbreak of the dissolution of a relationship or a health setback, Dad took a deep breath, found strength in his abundant faith, and recalibrated.

As an only child, I was given both the heavy emotional burden and great blessing last week of being with my Dad when he transitioned from this earthly life to what he faithfully believed came next. It was an intimate and profound experience between the two of us that I haven’t quite been able to fully process yet, but I realized in the days after that I’ve come to realize that Dad gave me one final gift—an understanding of grace. Sure, as a dutiful Catholic school student I memorized the definition many years ago, likely in preparation to receive one of the sacraments. But this week, in the days leading up to and following his death, I understand it in tangible terms. From the night nurse who sensed my fatigue and instinctively brought me a cup of ice water and a can of ginger ale the night I arrived at the hospital after a long, eight-hour drive in from Michigan to my Dad’s longtime nephrologist, Dr. Ciampaglia, who came to his room a few hours before his passing and just sat with me for a good 30 minutes, recounting how she’d first met my Dad during her residency at Temple more than 25 years ago. In the immediate moments following his passing, the nurse’s aide who quietly slipped into the room behind me as I sobbed over my beautiful Dad and gently rubbed my back. Or the following morning, after little sleep, as I pulled up to the Starbucks drive-in, desperate for a latte and instead getting a cheery disembodied voice to take my order and then ask if I’d like to participate in the holiday question of the day. I choked out that my father had just died, and that disembodied voice grew immediately conciliatory and apologized, ushering me forward. At the drive-up window, the young lady had tears in her eyes and recounted how she’d lost her Dad around the holidays several years before and that she understood and that she was sorry. Then she handed me my latte and told me it was on her. I understood that these simple moments—these amalgamations of empathy and kindness from the purest part of the human heart—are grace personified.

My Dad—a man who loved Sinatra and the Yankees, a man who loved to dance, a man who was always the sharpest-dressed one in the room, a man who was never without a joke to tell—was also a man of tremendous grace.

Rest easy in eternal peace, Dad. You’ve more than earned your angel’s wings.

Vincent Liaguno
12/30/1938 - 12/03/2021


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