A small gallery of photographs greeted us as we entered the church, a sea of faces and celebrations and other intimate moments that those who love him can continue to hold. This shot was my favorite: he was a handsome college graduate, she a high-school senior in loopy braids. "They were very fashionable at the time," Johnnette smiled.
It was the moment of young love, frozen and preserved for the decades to follow. At that time, they were blissfully unaware of the rough road that lay ahead of them. And yet, the looks on their faces say it all: We are in this together. Together through the happy times. Together in the dark.
Together they built the kind of life that Father Ed spoke of in his homily: "In our darkest hour, we believe there is a purpose even in our suffering, and that purpose is love. Even the unbearable becomes bearable ... from that darkness, comes light."
His children recalled a man who lived the way he spoke: direct and honest. "He had a way of taking things down to basics," said Thea. "When Simon died, Dad said to me, 'He belonged to God -- your Mom and I were his parents, and guided him while he was here. But he belonged to God, and so we must be willing to give him back when God comes for him.'"
Jessica observed, "We always knew it would end like this, because of that wicked disease. Dad showed us so many things, and he even showed us how to say good-bye. There have been baby steps all along the way, which he grieved along with us."
When it was time for her to speak, Johnnette did so with her unfailing eloquence ... and yet, the magnitude of her grief was palpable. "He was always my champion, always my advocate. I know he will remain so. I told him in those last moments, 'Anthony, I am weeping, but my heart is full of such joy for you. And now I must go to confession, for I feel such envy!' And with that he went into the arms of Our Lady, with her Son standing by."
Later, we gathered at the cemetery to lay Tony to rest next to his son. As the family gathered one last time to say good-bye, Ljubica (Libby) Fill, an elderly Croatian woman and a close family friend -- celebrated Tony's heritage with "Zora je" (When the Sun Comes Up), a folk song that summed up all too well what the rest of us were feeling:
Zora je svanula, suza je iz oka kanula
Zora je, nema te, čuješ li, ne mogu bez tebe
Sanjam te, sanjam te
Sve me još, sve me još
Sve me sjeća na tebe
Samo pjesma moja čuje se
Al' nema te
Each time the sun comes up,
And we know you’re with God,
We’ll keep listening for you,
It’s going to be hard to do without you.
We’ll keep dreaming about you.
You’re our everything, our everything.
Our whole life was wrapped around you.
When we sing these songs,
We know you’re with God.