Words of Remembrance

about Thomas J. Holmes

Delivered at his funeral by his son, Tom Holmes, May 14, 2022.

My father was born the very last day of the 1920s, December 31, 1929. So he went right into the 1930s, a period of great economic depression. When Dad was 16, his father died, leaving behind seven children, the youngest only six. Dad learned early about the importance of responsibility, hard work, and self-sufficiency.

In his late twenties, Dad met Mom. It was apparently love at first sight, as they married soon after. We know Mom had many suitors; she was a great catch. Dad was quiet, and it is not clear whether he had any other suitors. But he turned out to be a great catch too. They were devoted to each other and inseparable for 63 years of marriage, until she passed away several weeks ago. When Mom left, Dad’s life’s work was complete, and now he has joined her.

To talk about Dad’s work life is also to talk about Dad’s partnership with Mom. Dad was an electrician with his own business. Mom did the back-office work, answering calls. Later Mom opened her own business doing taxes, and Dad started doing back-office work for her, reversing roles. They worked hard, crazy hours, early in the morning until late at night. And late in their lives, well into their late 70s and 80s.

Dad was a true scholar: a deep thinker, who was self-taught on many subjects. I happen to be an academic economist and I can tell you the questions Dad asked me are as insightful as anything I got from professional economists.

Growing up, it was very clear to my three sisters and me that Dad was very unusual, special. We would play with other children and see their dads watching football on TV—that never happened at our house. He was always coming up with new ideas, creating things, inventing things like an answering machine. (As it took up the entire garage, it would not have been a top seller. But it worked for us.). He was always on the lookout for making things more efficient.

More generally, he was always on the lookout to be useful and helpful to others. I can still hear him say, “What can I do? What can I get you?” Even when he became infirm, it didn’t stop him. You would be in conversation and mention it would be nice to have another suitcase, not realizing he was listening. Next thing you know a suitcase appears. It would be a mystery, because near the end he could barely walk from the couch to the kitchen. How on earth did he get the suitcase up the basement steps?

I have a particular memory of when it was close to the end for Mom and the wonderful aide Theresa was working with Mom. Dad was on the lookout and saw Theresa could use a hand. Then, barely able to stand himself, he offered: “Can I help?” You may wonder where I am in this story. Obviously, not quite on the lookout that Theresa needs a hand! Yes, Dad is a tough act to follow. But he is a great model to strive toward.

On the issue of help, Dad was very good at giving help, but not so much at receiving it. He was fiercely independent and made clear he wasn’t interested in any assisted living or nursing home. Mom and Dad were a great team, helping each other to stay in their own place. Eventually, they needed more help. I will be grateful for the rest of my life to my sisters for what they did so that Mom and Dad could stay in their home. And what neighbors and friends did, and professional caregivers. Thank you all so much!

The guidelines for these words of remembrance ask for focus on the spiritual life of the deceased. Jesus said, “It is better to give then receive.” How did Dad do? He can definitely check that box. In the hymn we sing, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Check. Regarding mass, I don’t believe Mom and Dad ever missed mass their entire lives. Towards the end, it wasn’t possible for them to physically come to church. But they were able to watch mass on TV. And were able to get communion in their home. Thank you Joe McCloskey and St. Cecilia’s for this wonderful ministry. Finally, regarding prayer, when we were growing up, prayer at meals was rote, the usual “Bless us O Lord…” But in their later years, prayer at meals became fairly elaborate, going through a long list of petitions for family and friends. In their lives, Mom and Dad had experience with sorrow and grief. But they appreciated that they were blessed. I will close by saying in our own prayers, we would do well to pray to be like them.