Monday, October 05, 2015

Jess Gascon Caluncagin, died September 26, 2015 at 10:43pm, in the ICU at New York Presbyterian Hospital after 20 months of almost continual hospitalization,the majority of which was in the Medical Intensive Care Unit.  On October 3, 2015 in St. Paul's Church in Congers, N.Y., the Mass for Christian Burial was celebrated. With the permission of the pastor, Fr. Vladimir and his associate, Fr. Roman, Jess Gabriel Caluncagin began to pronounce the follwing eulogy for his father:

People know me as Jay. But I am Jess Gabriel Calungcagin (it has been an honor to carry this name), and I have named my son Jess Gregory Calungcagin to honor my father.  Jess means: “The Lord Exists.” 

And I thank everyone for their prayers, helping keep our family strong 
- the Medical staff for taking care of dad 
- the Hospital staff for taking care of my mom 
- Dr. Brian Scully for spearheading the mission, taking good care of dad, keeping a close eye.
 -Fr. Bob Connor for taking care of my dad’s spiritual needs.
 -Vincent Ogutu & John Coverdale for being good friends and keeping my dad’s spirits up

    I would like to begin with a quote which my father used at his own father’s memorial mass. It is a quote from St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei. I quote: “…the only goal is to arrive at the glory of heaven. And if we did not reach heaven, the whole thing would be useless.” This was a good quote to use because it will help us understand my father’s approach to life and all that it encompasses.

 Let’s start at the beginning. He was born a son in 1953 to Lucio and Catalina Calungcagin. 

   As a son, he truly honored his father and his mother. He was obedient and respectful. Even as their roles changed, and they reached an elderly state, he continued to be a loyal son, never talking above them, but remaining always at their service.

   As a brother, he was a close friend and a great confidant amongst his siblings. And being the middle of seven, he was also a good mediator. I have been told he was their calm, serene, gentle voice of reason. He lived his family life with humility, always concerning himself with their needs before his own. 

   As husband, he was my mom’s best friend, as he was her best friend. Throughout their marriage, they always maintained the courtship of their youth. As quoted from my parents’ wedding invitation from June 1980: A line from St. Josemaria: “I constantly tell those who have who have been called by God to form a home to love one another always, to love each other with the love of their youth.” Someone said the other day; they would see my parents after so many years of marriage, still holding hands, like a young couple. I’ve heard how their marriage was admired by many, and some aspire to love each other in marriage the way they have. Within our family, his wife, my mom, was his number one priority. He did his children a great service by showing us his love for our mother. He would always make her laugh, with their inside jokes, and with his straight-faced one-liners. 

   As a father, he was our provider and our protector, never wavering, always constant, always present. He showed his sons how to be men of virtue: Respecting others, honoring commitments, working hard, staying humble, talking care of others, and always remembering to give any personal glory back to God. He fostered a love for music within my brother, teaching him how to play the guitar. They would stay up late, jamming away to James Taylor & Eric Clapton. He fostered a love for sports within me, baseball, basketball, boxing, tennis. He would always take me to watch Tyson pay-per-view fights, or whip me around the tennis court. There was never a day I saw my dad stagnant. He was always moving, going to work, working on the house, landscaping, he surely had a green thumb, bringing any wilting plant back to its healthy state. He also grilled a mean steak. That common caricature we hear of the “lazy dad on the couch,” that was never him. You would always hear him downstairs loudly clapping and cheering on the Yankees and Giants, but if anyone needed him at that moment, sports was the last thing on this mind. He showed his daughters, by loving our mother, the qualities of a man, which they should seek to, marry, should that be their calling. He raised strong daughters, showing them how to command respect and carry themselves with dignity. As an older brother, that made my life a lot easier. He taught us all this, sometimes with words, but always through action. 

   The women in the family were his treasures. He would never let my mom or sisters do the driving, always ensuring them to their destination, also maybe because he didn’t trust their driving. Rain or shine, he would always pull the car up for them. During the week, he would wake up an extra hour earlier than he should, only to see my sister out the door and wish her a nice day at work. He was a proud grandfather of eight, and God-willing still counting, a True expert at putting the children to sleep, effortlessly. Always holding, hugging, and squeezing them. Where he left off with us, own children, he picked up and continued on with his grandchildren. As an uncle to many, his presence was like that of their own father. He would play with them, coach their teams, teach them, and drive them around. He was there to clean up scraped knees, and rock them to sleep. To his nieces and nephews, he stood as strong role model in their lives. 

   As a friend, relative, and a man in the world, he lived with integrity. The man, who you saw at the workplace, was the same man we saw at home. The man you saw at friendly gatherings was the same man you saw at Sunday mass. He lived a unity of life, never having a dichotomy of personality, truly consistent in all things in his life. He was a charitable man, volunteering at various functions, always helping the community around him. He was truly a Good Samaritan. One night a boy ran up to our door bloody and beaten. He had escaped his own father’s home, asking for help. My dad took him in, changed him out of his bloody shirt, and gave him one of his own. He fed him, made some phone calls, and ensured him to safety. On another occasion, my mom and dad were driving, and witnessed a car crash, without second thought, my dad ran over to the car, pulled the door open, and rescued a woman and her child. He aided them as they were bloodied and injured, until medical help arrived. At a more personal level, he truly connected with people, speaking with them as if they were the only person in the room, taking genuine interest in their interests. At gatherings, if there was anyone remotely feeling displaced, lonely, or off-to-the-side, there you would find my dad engaging them, making them feel welcome and at home. I recall a family gathering, where a particular relative was going through a rough patch, and perhaps even intentionally isolating themselves from everyone. It was not before long; there you would see my dad, in the corner with them, engaging in a gentle conversation, perhaps comforting them, seeing them eye-to-eye, and empathizing with them. Letting them know they were not alone. Some of you relatives are probably thinking, “Who was it?” But over the years, it may very well have been many of us. My father “flew under the radar” throughout his life. No ego, no bravado. No grand entrances, no grand exits. Always passing unnoticed, never calling attention to himself, but he was ever-present, in the middle of the world, having yet another meaningful encounter with someone. 

   We could ask ourselves, “What drives a man to live life with such virtue?” If I may, I’d like to share an experience I had with my father, which helped me understand how my father lived his life. I was in my early 20’s working a temporary office job. With my dad in the kitchen, and me in sitting in the dining room, I asked my dad, “How do you do it? Because here I am, staring at a computer screen from 9 to 5 and I feel miserable working, it’s not fun, I don’t enjoy it, and I think I’m going to go crazy if I had to do this for the rest of my life.” And he said to me, “That’s how you earn Heaven, with Love. No matter what you do, whether you enjoy it or not, you do it with Love. With the big things like work, or little things in everyday life, you do it with Love. If it happens to be something you like, you do it with Love. If it is trying and difficult, you do it with Love. You can hold a high position in society, you can cure many diseases, you can be one of the richest people in the world, you can even enjoy what you do, but if you don’t do it with Love, you cannot earn Heaven.” My father was a man of Faith. He never referred to himself as a “Man of God,” but rather, a “Child of God.” Yes, a child, like a little child, the kid that runs to his parents for everything. At work, during his lunch hour, before grabbing his favorite slice of pizza, you would find him running down from #2 World Financial Center over to Daily Mass down the street, going to see his Christ in the Eucharist, praying for things, asking for things, like a child would. On his train ride commute, you would find him reading the Gospel, getting to know his Faith. Though he may have appeared to be sleeping on the train, he would be engaged in mental prayer, meditating on his Faith. Every Tuesday night, he would receive the sacrament of Reconciliation, always going to weekly confession, asking for forgiveness, and beginning anew, hoping and praying for a better week ahead. In the car, before turning on the news, or listening to music, he would pray the Rosary, running to the Virgin Mary, his mother, seeking comfort and solace. All these daily practices, helped him prepare him for his greatest feat, his encounter with HLH, Lymphoma, and the daily grind in the ICU for almost 2 years. Tired, confused, and frustrated, my father took his stance, doing his very best to take on what was to come. 

    The diseases took a heavy toll on my father’s body, breaking him down severely. The fevers, the pain, the discomfort, I couldn’t even imagine. But attached to every pin-prick of the needle, attached to every tube that was inserted, every grueling headache, and body sore, there was a name attached to it. A name, a person, he was offering up the pain as prayer for that person. For every new pain, there was a new name, always offering up his pain for everyone. Maybe for me, maybe for you, but here he was, uniting his suffering with Christ’s suffering on the Cross. Any brief moment he was aware of, he recited the Hail Mary, again, and always, running to the Virgin Mary, his mother, for comfort. Even from the hospital bed, he was asking how others were doing, asking when a certain friend was getting married, asking how work was, inquiring about people’s well-being, still continuing to live his life from the ICU with Love. Moreover, he brought so many people closer to God. I’ve been told by his good friend Vincent, there are hundreds of people praying for him. People, who haven’t spoken to God in years, were suddenly reaching out to God on my dad’s behalf. Vincent would go on to add, that the word of my dad’s illness had spread, and there were hundreds of people on 6 of the 7 continents praying for my dad. 

   Midway through his stay, in one of my mom’s last conversations with him, she said, “Jess, I wish I could switch places with you.” My dad replied, “But why?” She said, “Because you’ve been through so much…” He stopped her there and said, “No, God has his plan for you. This is God’s plan for me. Everything will work out the way it’s supposed to, and everyone will benefit from this.” My dad took his last breath on a Saturday, a day dedicated to the Virgin Mother, September 26, 2015 at 10:43pm, in the ICU at New York Presbyterian Hospital. So as we enter in this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, let us not only remember my father, Jess Gascon Calungcagin, but let us reflect and meditate on how we too, can live our lives with more Love, and how we can give glory to God by uniting ourselves to the Cross.

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