It’s not every day that people pen their own eulogy but that is exactly what George Kassa did when he was first diagnosed with dementia. He wanted to capture the joy of his life and all his blessings before the insidious disease robbed him of his memory. His son David read his father’s words that were written to celebrate his life and not mourn his death.
Normally, on this type of an occasion, the priest will give a speech telling all the wonderful things and good works that the deceased person had done in his lifetime. He will give the deceased many accolades for his good works and go into depth about his good ways of life on this earth. He may show, by way of example and story, how the deceased may become an example for others to follow.
While this is all well and good, I prefer not to have self-appreciating things said about me but would like to tell you all of the many things in life that God has blessed me with and the many things I am so thankful for. So many gifts (seen and unseen) have been bestowed upon me that I am sure I will not remember to mention all of them.
I thank God for life itself, for the saintly and wonderful wife that He has given me, one that has brought so much meaning to my life, to my children and their spouses with a relationship that many other fathers would long to have, for the gifts of good health and happiness God has bestowed on myself and my family, for the wonderful loving and caring parents I was given and for the honor of being American of Chaldean heritage. There are also many other things that do not come to my mind at this time that I thank the Almighty for.
To all that I may have offended or hurt while I was on this earth I ask your forgiveness. To all that I did not show love or charity, I also ask for your forgiveness. For any shortcomings that I had, I ask your forgiveness for the weakness of my human nature. Please try to understand that my intentions were truly good even though I failed in some of them.
I am very sure that many of you here (especially my family) are in tears. I ask all of you, including my family, to let your tears be tears of joy and not sadness. As Catholics and Christians we were raised to believe that death on this earth meant the beginning of eternal life in God’s kingdom. If we truly believe this statement then this is the time to be joyful not sad. While I was on this earth I said several times “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die”. I do not want to be a hypocrite by denying death means life. I was always afraid of death while I was living but my biggest fear was have I been good enough on this earth to enter God’s eternal kingdom?
I am and always have been extremely proud to be an American. I am also very proud of being of Chaldean decent, coming from the area where our savior and the apostles once walked and formed our church and faith and a place that was the cradle of civilization. But one tradition that I certainly wish we as Chaldeans could change is our outlook and feelings on death on this earth. I sometimes wish we could celebrate (yes I said celebrate) death as perhaps the Irish do by having a party, sans the drinking, celebrating the deceased going to eternal peace. Or as it is done in New Orleans where a parade with music takes the deceased to the cemetery, the final resting place. As I have always said in the past, mankind has his priorities backwards. We are overjoyed when a child is born on this earth of uncertainty and suffering and are saddened when he leaves this earth for a place of eternal peace.
To my wife, I would like to thank you for making us the family we are. To my children, I would like to tell you a secret. You always thought you were learning things about life and the ways of life from your father, but you were wrong! Your father was the one who was learning all these things from you. All you children have surpassed your father and mother in knowledge and wisdom and it is fitting that all of you should become the leaders that your mother and father are and will always be proud of. I ask you, my children, to be understanding in many of the decisions I made while you were growing up, whether they were right or wrong. I made those decisions that I thought were right at that time. As my father did for us on his deathbed I also give all of you, my family, all blessings (boorkatha) that I have now and always all the days of your lives. And remember that if I make to heaven you will have someone always praying for you.
I would like to have this said here for me to my wife, children and relatives. I request that this be said here at my funeral mass so all may hear this and not criticize my family or relatives later. These are my wishes that I am making public. Although I am absolutely against this practice, Chaldean protocol demands a minimum forty-day mourning period for the deceased. My wishes are that my wife, children, family and relatives remove all black clothing and any outward signs of mourning immediately after the forty-day mourning period and wear normal everyday clothing. I ask that they show no outward signs of grief and ask them to remember that if I am in a better place then there should be no grief. I ask all others that hear my wishes not to make fun of or gossip about my family not showing me respect. I want all who hear this to know my family showed me all the respect and love a father and husband could ever ask for while I was living and therefore has nothing to prove to anyone else. I also ask that should any family formal occasion arise such as a baptism or wedding that all of my friends and family attend without a feeling of guilt or remorse. Remember, life is for the living and should be celebrated as such.
I am thankful for my extended family, all my brothers in law and sisters in law that accepted me as part of their own family. Just the fact that we are so many and get along so well is in itself a testimony of real love.
I ask God to bless all my nieces and nephews both on my side of the family and my wife’s side of the family who have shown so much love to all of us. Love from young men and women like them is so sincere and pure. How humbling it is for a man my age to be loved so much by all of you.
I would like to thank God for all the great and good mentors that I have had in my lifetime many that were half my age. I am grateful for your patience and understanding with this old man and your strictness in making me do everything right. The most gratitude I would like to bestow is on the Immaculate Heart Of Mary Nuns that formed and molded me in my youth by their discipline and guidance. As a child I hated their strictness although I was a good student and caused no trouble if you can believe that. Now that I am grown I realize how much thanks I owe these holy, devoted women for helping me to be what I was. To you dear Sisters I hope God will always bestow his good graces and love on all of you.
I also ask that you not use the phrase “He died so young”. I had lived twice as long as the man who died for my salvation. Many times, death saves us from future sins or unknown obstacles that would hinder our future salvation. Always remember that God knows what is good for us and not mankind.
The words of the late Cardinal Bernadine of Chicago always come to my mind when death is mentioned. When he was diagnosed with cancer he was asked if he would begin treatment or medication for his illness. He gave a beautiful answer that still sticks in my mind. He said most people view death as an enemy. I prefer to think of death as a friend.
I would like to sum up my beliefs on this matter of death with a copy of an obituary that was in a pamphlet of a family relative that passed away. It read as follows:
Don’t grieve for me now
I’m following the path God laid for me
I took His hand when I heard Him call,
I turned my back and left it all
I could not stay another day,
To laugh, to live, to work or play.
Tasks left undone must stay that way, I’ve found my peace at the close of the day.
If parting had left a void,
Then fill it with memories of joy.
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss,
Ah yes, these things I too will miss.
Be not burdened with times of sorrow,
I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow.
My life’s been full, I’ve savored much.
Good friends, good times, a loved one’s touch.
Perhaps my time seems all too brief,
Don’t lengthen it now with undue grief.
Lift up your hearts and share with me,
God wanted me now, He set me free.
I’m free now!!!
I leave you in God’s peace to begin my life in the other world.
– George Kassa
(I could not sign this personally because I am no longer here. And tell my favorite funeral director that he better put a smile on my face or we won’t pay him!)