Remembering Roger Brennan

Over the years, I’d see people mark the anniversaries of their parents’ or grandparents’ deaths — nowadays, mostly on Facebook — and almost invariably the remembrances included something to the effect of, “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about you,” or “I miss you more every day.” I used to roll my eyes a little bit at those words. They’re just being dramatic, I used to think to myself.

I want to take back all my private eye rolls.

Today is the first anniversary of the passing of my grandfather, Roger Brennan. It’s not as though today caught me by surprise — our family has talked about it here and there over the last few weeks — but it just seems impossible that it’s been a whole year since it all happened.

Have there been days when I haven’t thought of my grandpa? Yeah, probably. But they’ve been few and far between. Now I get it.

I just want to take a few moments to share a few memories and observations from the few days surrounding his passing, because they told almost as much about Roger’s life story as did his impossibly full 77 years.

  • I remember the day of my grandfather’s passing as vividly as any day, but for some reason the few moments that stick out most were shortly after the doctor had told us he was gone. We milled about in the room for a little while, and in the midst of the worst few minutes of my life I had a wave of optimism pass over me. See, within the hour of the time he died, he was supposed to drive my grandmother to her quilting group. I thanked God that Roger experienced his event in a safe place because it could have been so much worse. Plus, in all likelihood he went out peacefully and on his own terms. None of us would have wanted him to survive only to have to live anywhere other than his home. He passed when the time was right. I still don’t know why those silver linings stuck out to me as I sat only a few feet away from his body. I can only imagine that it was his spirit — one of faith that always made things work out for the best — that brushed my shoulder on its way through the hospital ceiling.
  • There are a lot of people who knock small towns — even some who have grown up in Beacon Falls might tell you that they can’t wait to get out — but those people will never be lucky enough to understand what happened that week. My grandfather meant something to so many folks in this town, and the fact that they, too, had suffered a loss somehow made it all easier on my family and me. We were able to share the burden of grief with a whole community rather than feel as though people were watching for our family’s reactions. There was no need to put on a brave face. Everyone felt the same things, from the sudden shock when he died through the respectful solemnity of his ride on the old Seagrave down a closed Main Street.
  • I don’t think I’ve ever been so exhausted in my life as I was that week. Sleep came in small doses after long days spent taking care of business at my grandmother’s house. (Yep, I took charge of organizing the endless supply of food delivered to our house by dozens and dozens of friends. We must have eaten for two weeks after the fact. It was, frankly, absurd.) There was one night — either after I had prepared the photo slideshow for his wake or after the wake itself — when I couldn’t do anything else. I fell on the couch and cried about as profusely as ever. We don’t share a ton of feelings in our house, but I remember my dad asking me what I was feeling, and I remember my answer: “I’m just so proud to be his grandson.” That ended up being the theme of my eulogy, which I’ve added to the end of this post. (By the way, delivering that eulogy was without question the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.)
  • It’s really easy for people to express their admiration for a person in the immediate aftermath of his death — not that those thoughts aren’t appreciated, because they are — but it doesn’t seem to have stopped in the year since Roger died. The stories keep pouring out. So do the respect and love and appreciation for the man he was. I will never get tired of hearing it all.

There’s no need for me to share any specific old memories of the man. All of we who knew him have our own, and they are tremendous. They’re hard not to be with a man of his caliber, humor, integrity and joy. But I do want to share the line that still sticks out to me more than anything said that week. I don’t remember whether it was at home or at the funeral home, but my father summed up everyone’s thoughts perfectly.

“He’s the greatest man I’ll ever know.”

Hear, hear. We miss you, Grandpa.

If you’d like to revisit the obituary that I wrote for my grandfather or the news story written about his life, feel free to click on those links. Below is the eulogy I delivered at his funeral mass.

I’m Roger’s oldest grandson. If I’m lucky enough to live a life as full as my grandpa’s, I’ve got 55 years left on this earth. I don’t know much right now about what will happen in those years, but I do know one thing: There will never be a distinction I hold higher than being able to say that I am Roger Brennan’s grandson.

The first few days after my grandpa passed away were tough. I thought yesterday’s wake was going to be even harder, but it actually wasn’t. Do you know why? It’s because I soaked in everything he meant to everyone, and I was able to tell everyone who stopped to talk just how proud I am to call Roger Brennan my grandfather. And ya know what? I think that sense of pride is one of many things he passed down to me.

I have never met a person — nor do I ever think I will meet one – who had more pride than my grandpa. Above all, he stood immensely proud of three things: his family, his hometown and — sorry, Father — his Boston Red Sox. When I was a kid, I could never figure out why he wore his Red Sox hat and jacket every single day. If they had lost to the Yankees by 10 runs the previous day, I never wanted to see my Red Sox hat again. But that didn’t matter to him; there he was at Gabe’s with his cap and jacket the next morning — of course, with a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee to take off the edge. Now, as I’m reflecting upon his life, it’s pretty easy to see that the level of pride he exuded for his baseball team was just the tip of the iceberg.

For many people, a family and a hometown don’t share anything but a physical connection. With the Brennans and Beacon Falls, though, that is most definitely not the case. We’re intertwined with this place as much as any family. I still remember when I started to realize that fact.

I was only 12 years old when my great-grandmother — Roger’s mother — Blanche Brennan passed away back in 2003. It was the first family death I had ever experienced, so it was all new for me. I opened the newspaper to find her obituary and was struck by the headline next to her name: “Mrs. Beacon Falls.” That was pretty cool to see, and the standing-room crowd – almost as packed as the one here today – drove home the point even further. That’s when I really started to develop my pride for this place, but it most definitely wasn’t the end.

I decided to take a little timeout from the chaos of this week by coming down to 9:15 mass yesterday morning. I wore my grandpa’s unofficial uniform, a flannel shirt and a Red Sox jacket — Father told me I wasn’t allowed to wear that Sox gear in here, something I’m sure Grandpa heard more than once — and chatted with a few well-wishers.

The last person I spoke with was a delightful woman who gave me her best and commended me on the obituary I wrote. Before she walked away, she told me the best thing anyone has said this week: “Roger was Mr. Beacon Falls.”

Judging by the endless line of people yesterday, all of you here today and the unrivaled amount of support we’ve received over the last week from this town and Beacon Hose, I think that woman was right. This town would not be what it is today without him.

Roger lived every one of his 77 years in Beacon Falls, and 57 of them were spent with Beacon Hose. He gave himself to this town in every way — from cleaning up the mess left by the Flood of ’55 to taking, dispatching and responding to fire calls as chief — and in 1986, he and my Grammy Blanche were two of 13 residents to receive Hometown Heroes awards. My grandpa didn’t let it all stop with him, either. He led the rest of us on his same path, and I’m thrilled to be one of the men and women — many of you, included — who get to carry on his legacy in Beacon Falls. People who aren’t from here don’t get what kind of pride we have in this town. I’m glad my grandpa helped me get it.

But for as much love as he had for Beacon Falls, he always put his family above everything else in his life. Roger never let a single day pass by without making the most of it for his family’s sake. We are forever blessed to have so many years of memories with one of the greatest men this world has ever known, and he loved every minute he spent with us. Take a look at his wide grins in the photos we’ve dug up and you’ll see how proud he was of each one of us. He makes me immensely proud of my last name, and every time I see it in the newspaper I can think of him and smile.

His love didn’t stop with those who share his blood, either. Many great friends from this town became Brennans by association, and you all got to know who Roger was. You were probably subjected to jokes and wise cracks, but you also probably received a few firm handshakes along with the two words that marked his best compliments: “Good going.” If that didn’t make you feel good, then nothing could.

We’ve been talking about pride this whole time. You know, it’s a fickle thing, pride is. Too much of it and nobody likes you. Not enough of it and nobody cares about you. So it was with Roger Brennan: I will admit he was not liked by all. No. My grandfather was loved by all. And we can all be proud to have spent our lives with him.

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