After the girls came to live with me in 2000, Tom and I didn’t get to spend as much time together as before. I took them up to Garberville every so often, and they came to love him as much as I did, because he didn’t hesitate to open up his heart to these two little girls.
The last time I saw Tom was at my wedding in June of 2003, which he co-celebrated at St. James in Petaluma. Life got busier and more complicated, so our only communication was by phone and email. That December he had a shunt placed in his heart, but said he was fine. Little did I know everything was not fine at all, that his diabetes, not so well controlled, was taking a toll on his body.
He died the following April. I got a call on April 5 from my pastor telling me that Tom had died in Eureka that day following a heart attack. I was devastated. It had barely been a year since my beloved grandmother had died, and now I had lost one of my best friends.
It was Monday of Holy Week. The girls and I went to the prayer service at church, but I was reeling-it seemed unreal. I had talked to him about a week or two before, he couldn’t possibly be gone.
A few of his sisters came out from Ireland to take care of the things that needed to be taken care of. There was a Mass in Garberville, followed by another Mass a few days later at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Windsor, so that everyone who knew and loved him could see him one last time.
The church was the most packed I had ever seen it (I was later told it was the most attended funeral of any priest in the diocese), and it was mostly Mexicans. (There were of course many of his fellow priests there, as well as two of his sisters and a few cousins from southern California.) Yucatecos from San Rafael had rented a bus and brought a contingent. They also made buttons that they handed out to everyone.
There were, of course, mariachis, and many people spoke, including me, as I had been asked by Fr. Dan Whelton, who knew we were good friends.
Tom is back home in Ireland, and I will make a trip at least once more before I die to see him. Eight years have passed since his death, but as long as I have breath, he will live on in my heart.
Tom, may your laughter in heaven cause the devil to weep.
Thomas Mary Gowing
Born: 8/14/43 Ballinakill, Co. Laois
Died: 4/5/04 Eureka, CA
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis, sagart arún