Bobby Hull is not dead.
Bobby Hull is not dead.
My mother, my brothers, my sisters and I thank you for or coming today and for sharing in our love for our brother Danny – Danny Boy, Dan the Man, the Last of the Mohicans, Whitey.
Thank you, Father Frank and Mike Heeney, for your kindness, blessings, and Grace.
My father used to call Danny and me “the cabooses.” We followed a long train of Maureen, Tim, Sue, Mike, Therese, Frank, Bob, and Eileen. As the youngest, Dan brought great joy to all of us. Timmy is his godfather, and I remember thinking it was so cool that we had such a large family that the big kids could be our godparents. How lucky is that?
Our childhood was consumed by Chicago sports. My parents had a buzzer in the kitchen designed to signal us downstairs for meals. It was also a sign that someone, Stan Makita comes to mind, was about to get a hat trick. Danny’s first words were “Bobby Hull!”
As kids, we’d play kick-the-can, catch-one-catch all, wiffle ball, and any sport that was on TV at the time, and we had ready-made pick-up teams with the Griffins next door and the Cronins next door to them. During Bulls season, we’d shoot hoops in the Griffins yard until my mom called us into dinner. When the Bears played, we played. One day after a rainy afternoon of mall ball at Kennedy Park, Danny and I came in the side door, both of us caked in mud head to toe.
My dad at the top of the stairs said in his sternest voice, “Take those clothes off right there,” but as he turned, I saw the Irish glint in his eye.
When Danny was nine and I was eleven, my mom and dad bought a place in Long Beach. Danny, our friends, and I spent days scouring the sand dunes. Many of those friends are with us today. We were convinced that the cement company behind the dune of my parents’ house was really a hide-out for crooks, and we loved to spy on those sand stealers.
Danny was an athlete. In fact, he was the best athlete in the family. Sorry everybody. Dan could could play anything. He threw righty, he batted lefty, and he golfed righty because left-handed clubs are expensive. As kids, we’d carry our clubs at Long Beach, and when I dragged my bag, Danny would carry mine because he knew the whole day was torture for me. At par 3’s, he’d get on the green in one. I think Danny could hit the green using a broomstick. My mom and dad were so proud.
Dylan Thomas said that it snows more in our memories, so it is with the ice at Kennedy Park. Man, Danny could skate!
I remember how mad we got at Mr. Kinehan across the street on Artesian when he firmly told us we couldn’t play hockey at the dead-end because we might hit his car with the puck. Imagine that crabby guy worried about his car when the ice was so perfect.
Danny went on to play hockey at Marist, and he played a lot of hockey with our cousins at the Southwest Ice Arena. He was invited to play in golf tournaments and made friends with ease.
Many of us overlapped working with him at Service Electric. Eileen and I also traveled with Dan in Europe in 1984, thanks to Therese’s passes on American Airlines. His clothes had to be folded perfectly before placing them in his backpack. I suspect he was the same way when he packed his garbage. It is a family trait.
Danny loved people, and they loved him. He liked to go out. He loved the White Sox, the Chicago Bears, and the Blackhawks. He was always up for going to a game, and he loved to go with his nephew Marty. Dan knew players’ biographies, stats, and he knew the point spreads.
And his nieces and nephews loved him, mainly because at the holidays, Uncle Dan sat at the kids’ table. There are only so many seats.
Dan gave our daughter Katie and her husband White Sox tickets for their wedding gift, Elvis night – a true night to remember. Dan was a fan of any college team where his nieces and nephews attended: Marquette, Butler, Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern. Both Dan and Tim called last year to pay their condolences when the Valparaiso University Crusaders lost in the first round of the Big Dance.
As adults, years fly by, and we lose track. When my son Kevin was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, Tim and I told everyone we were fine – no need to come to the hospital. At Children’s Memorial, only one parent was permitted in the CAT scan room with Kevin for the preliminary test, and when I looked through the little window in the door, I saw Dan sitting next to my husband Tim in the waiting room. He said he had to be there. And he continued to want to be there for all of us.
This Christmas, he called to say he was looking forward to the Neylon Christmas party in Valpo. That day, he called to say he couldn’t make it. The next day, he called saying he regretted not making it, it was his loss, and he was sorry. He then e-mailed saying he was going to kick this thing. It was time. And he said he loved me. And I know he did.
Danny tried so hard to find his way, and my mother, brothers, sisters, and his friends did all they could to help him. He would come up with a plan and state with conviction that he had it all together. We’ll never know why he couldn’t follow through with his promises and dreams.
I found myself looking for answers why. C.S. Lewis’ first line in A Grief Observed is “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” This week, I’ve overcome being scared for Danny and for our day of reckoning. Therese saw to it that Dan received his Last Rites, and the last voice he heard was Therese’s reciting the Rosary. Dan is at peace.
Norman MacLean, a University of Chicago professor, wrote A River Runs Through It at the age of 72 as he tried to sort out the circumstances of his younger brother’s death, MacLean’s thoughts bring me peace. Perhaps they will for you, too. MacLean wrote,
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. . . .. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”
And that is the answer. Love. We gather this morning as a community of faith in God’s everlasting love knowing Dan has been set free. Like Lazarus, he is out of the tomb. We mourn, yet we ultimately rejoice in God’s mercy and Grace.
We love you, Danny, Dan the Man. You are no longer at the kids’ table. You’re up there with Dad, Frankie, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, Bobby Hull and Walter Payton. Please save a spot for us in the palm of God’s hand.
Our daughter Katie sent this one-minute video of Eileen at six-months-old.
Who are the Katie’s in your life? Who are you a Katie for? And more importantly, what is your xylophone?
Eileen is now crawling and pulling herself up. She’s moved on to other goals. As I prepare to teach a vocation class at Valpo, I struggle with identifying my own xylophone. Luckily, I have Katie to call.
If I were Billy Joel, these would be my lyrics to “It’s My Life.” Tee hee.
Got some calls from our kids
We try to be real close
Said they couldn’t believe the cheap air through Midway
Packed their bags, took their books
Some bought tickets to the West Coast
Brendan gives them a stand-up routine in L.A.
We don’t need them to worry ‘bout us ’cause we’re alright.
They don’t want us to tell them it’s time to come home.
They don’t mind when we say we found seats on Southwest flights.
“Go ahead use reward points, and Mom write a poem.”
We never said they should stay in Valpo for the Big Dance.
We kind of said Chicago was a good circumstance.
They still belong, don’t get me wrong
And they can speak their minds
Always on our time.
They will tell you you can’t adjust as
They will tell you you can’t help
but miss those fun kids.
Ah, but sooner or later you get
in your own space
Either way it’s okay
to fly by ourselves.
Oct. 4, 2015
My mother Eileen Brigid Sullivan Neylon, born Feb. 28, 1927, and my granddaughter Eileen Clare Immen, born April 30, 2015, share one basic, universal human need spanning generations regardless of age, race, gender, socio-economic status, religion, politics, health, or ethnicity. In the 88 years between them, the world has been transformed through the Great Depression, multiple world wars, television, Rock ‘n Roll, air travel, steps on the moon, Civil Rights, the Internet, cell phones, and drones. If I live long enough to be a great grandmother and hold Eileen Clare’s child, what will the world be like then?
One thing is for certain – we’ll all still benefit from a quick catnap.
On Dec. 31st, I made a commitment to write every day, so this semester, I signed up for another writing class at Valpo. I took Creative Writing two years ago, and that’s when I wrote a few of my first posts: Stolen Miles, Self-Doubt, Sonnets and Marathons, and What do you See?
I write when something really impacts me or eats at me. It’s my way to find peace . . . along with running. I sort things out and often see beauty like never before. Sometimes I vent, and there are journals all over this house. Some are hidden for a reason – those need to be burned if I ever get hit by a bus.
So I signed up for COMM 590: Short Screenplay Writing with Prof. Charlie Anderson. Charlie is loaded with great stories of his experiences as a writer in LA, and I love learning about the film industry and my son Brendan’s work and aspirations.
The syllabus clearly outlines a path to completing two short screenplays each written for a ten-minute film. On Wednesday, our assignment was to turn in three loglines – 27 word descriptions of a potential movie. (The logline term is new to me, so I feel like I’m talking like an expert here.) My wheels were spinning. I narrowed my list down to three topics: Kevin’s diagnosis of Retinoblastoma, my father’s illness, and a grandmother’s FaceTime relationship with her granddaughter – not too autobiographical.
My classmates, on the other hand, had loglines that entailed the discovery of a magic pendant, a secret spy mother, a Syrian refugee camp, and exotic travels. Imaginative worlds of good vs. evil and vivid depictions of dual personalities, clandestine behaviors, and global perspectives prevailed in the college students’ minds. Suddenly, my ideas seem mundane and ordinary, but I signed up for the class, and now I have a draft of a screenplay due in three weeks.
I’ve been up for two hours in a quest to work on this project, and so far I’ve cleaned out my van, balanced my checkbook, sorted the laundry, emptied the dishwasher, and written this post. And since the sun is up now, I think it’s warm enough to take Watson for a run.
Yesterday, I attended the funeral of Robert McShane, the eighty-seven-year-old father of one of my best friends Peg McShane. I loved McShane as soon as I met her as a freshmen at Mother McAuley High School; she’s a riot. (At McAuley, we called girls by their last names if their were other girls with the same name – which happened a lot.) Bob and Marie McShane raised six children on Chicago’s Southside in a raised ranch in Queen of Martyrs. As high schoolers, we used to walk to McShane’s after school, plop down on her bed in our uniform skirts and bobby socks, and sing our hearts out to James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James. Mrs. McShane worked at a grocery store a block from my house, and at our first meeting, she recognized me as one of the kids who used to cut across the alley to pick up milk, butter, or eggs for my mom when she ran out. With ten children in our house, Mrs. McShane got to know me well.
I marveled at McShane’s house, so much like mine, yet different. First off, McShane shared a full-sized bed with her sister Maureen, strange to me because our barrack-like bedrooms had rows of twin beds, and I couldn’t imagine touching my sister Eileen, let alone sleeping with her. The record player itself amazed me because it was actually in her room. Secondly, my mom and dad relaxed in the small family room in the back of our house while Mr. and Mrs. McShane hung out at the formica kitchen table strewn with newspapers, Newsweek and Time magazines, coffee cups, and an occasional highball glass. My parents only drank coffee in the morning whereas the McShanes always had a fresh pot brewing. I wondered about the need to stay awake and thought their lives were full of discovery.
Like in my house, the McShane living room was off-limits to kids. My parents’ secret radar alarmed if we tip-toed from the kitchen linoleum to the dining room carpet. Abrupt “Hey, hey, where are you going?” questions came out of nowhere from around the corner. Did they have a sensor that lit up when we tried to cross over into that adult world of whispered dialogue and quiet murmurs? Both the McShane and Neylon living rooms were decorated in select pieces of Irish Belleek china and Waterford crystal, no wonder kids weren’t allowed.
As teens, conversations with my parents and the McShanes were very similar complete with connections, reflections, cross-examinations, and assurances. Throughout these metaphoric dances of inquiry, the parents would probe relentlessly: we’d be asked where we were going, what we were doing, who we were going to be with, what time we’d be back, and where the parents at the destination were from. The banter with these first-generation Irish adults was a game of associations, and we rarely disappointed them. Background checks about Catholic parishes and high schools, graduation years, street cross-sections, and even counties in Ireland would eventually lead to the desired concluding point: “Yes, we know them.” No matter what, we left smiling and feeling loved.
At Mr. McShane’s mass (forever titled with his name), Peggy Kerrigan, Laura, Shannon, Erin, my sister Eileen and I shared a pew as we prayed for peace for the McShane family. Watching the McShane sisters escort their mother up the aisle behind the casket, we joined in love, empathy, the traditions of our heritage, and an indepth understanding of our family histories. When the priest went on a tad too long in his homily, we bonded in our hope that he would stop talking. Instinctively, we knew that he had crossed the Irish line of appropriate tribute, and collectively we knew that Mrs. McShane would not want to inconvenience the church goers any longer by taking too much of our time. When the kind priest lilted back for the third time to the same point about Bob McShane’s generosity with his gifts, Kerrigan touched my hand and rolled her eyes. I whispered, “Mrs. McShane must be dying,” ironic considering the setting. We both started laughing, and I wisely closed my eyes and prayed for composure. Later, McShane told us that her mom had been twirling her right index finger in her lap in a hopeful nonverbal gesture of “wrap it up.”
At the end of mass as Michael McShane eulogized his dad, all focused on every word as he beautifully captured the essence of this beloved St. Leo man and Korean War veteran, honorable, hard-working, provocative, witty, devoted, faithful, brilliant and fun-loving. Michael described parties with family and friends, and how his parents’ friendships impacted their children’s perspective on life. Michael thanked his dad for teaching his children how to be a good friend, a trusted “Kemosabe” as Mr. McShane confidently referred to himself in all of his relationships, including those with his sons and daughters.
“When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” concluded the mass and captured the McShane family magic. I reflected on the wake the night before when Mrs. McShane greeted mourners at the head of the coffin of her husband of sixty-three years. When Tim and I reached the front of the long line, I hugged her and told her I loved her husband. She tipped her head back, looked me in the eye and asked, “How’s that beautiful granddaughter of yours? Peg shows me pictures,” and she winked, smiled, and stole my heart away.
Ten degrees – so cold that Watson cowers in his bed when I coax him to go out. He looks at my abominable snowman get-up and hides behind the couch. Two pairs of wool socks, tights, wind pants, high-tech base layer, Nike running top with thumb pulls, polar fleece, hat, neck warmer, and Gortex jacket and gloves prepare me for a pseudo run – an actual slow crunch on grass alongside sidewalks mixed with gingerly tip toes across Teflon driveways. The goal is two miles, just to be out there moving and thinking without freezing my eyelashes off.
To get an idea of what we’re in for in Valparaiso, click this link:
I’ve given up Christmas shopping for the kids. Cash in the bottom of their stockings has been a hit, but this year I unintentionally reverted back to the search for the “perfect” gift.
In January, buried on a Christmas clearance table, I found a Life is Good cartoon mug with a grinning young man dragging a Christmas tree. “Like what you do, do what you like” echoed the theme of Brendan’s high school graduation speech. This guy is Brendan.
A New Buffalo shop displayed a newspaper headline mug: Local Woman Named Dog Mother of the Year. Sources say, “She walks with the best of them.” This is Bethy!
Matching mugs with two different scripture passages, “In my house, we will serve the Lord” and “Faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love” were lovingly selected for Katie and Bobby, Marquette University graduates committed to the Jesuit tradition.
A bright Best Day Ever mug depicts Brigid’s life perspective as she seeks true presence through her meditation practices.
A student gave me a Caffeine is the new Black mug, a great re-gift for Kevin who obsesses over thrift stores, second-hand shopping, and coffee shops.
A lidded Keep Calm and Carry On mug suits Bethy’s boyfriend Danny.
Tim’s mug displays the Winnie the Pooh quote: If you live to be a hundred, I want to be a hundred minus a day, so I would never live a day without you. This says it all.
Christmas morning, with great anticipation, I watched them open their boxes. Bethy whooped when she opened her gift. The others were pleased, but Bethy was delighted. One out of seven is pretty darn good.
Later that morning, Bethy gave me a mug saying, “You are a courageous woman. A courageous woman starts each day determined to be true to the plan and purpose God has called her to.” Stunned, I thought, How does she know my life goal? Wow. The is perfect.
The next day, as I picked the Southside Irish Gift Shop tag off the bottom of the Courageous Woman mug, I suspected a re-gift. Like mother, like daughter, in many ways.