Remembering Tom pt. 4 (final)

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 go raibh a anam dílis, sagart arún

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About socolaura

Mom, educator, opinionated, passionate, smart, witty, wise Latina. Waiting for my moment of zen.
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3 Responses to Remembering Tom pt. 4 (final)

  1. Nancy Aguirre- Be Yam says:

    Laura,
    My husband was part of the Yucatecos that went to honor Father Tom. Without Fr. Tom, I would not have met Gilberto, fallen in love and got married! When u plan ur trip, we would love to go too. Miss u and the Girls!
    Love,
    Nancy Peace

  2. Adrienne Gowing-Manassero says:

    Hello Laura, I have just been sent a link to your posts remembering Fr. Tom Gowing. We met you briefly when you were in Ireland with my Uncle Fr.Tom in Ballinakill and again in South Dublin at a Gowing family gathering. My brother Denis and I lived briefly with Uncle Tom in Healdsburg in the early 1980’s. And stayed on in Healdsburg until the late 1980’s. We were born in New York and returned to Ireland as pre-schoolers the year Uncle Tom was ordained. We didn’t know him very well growing up as he made only brief summer visits to Ireland throughout our childhood. When I was 16 he invited myself and another Gowing cousin [Gillian Sheehan] to stay with him for a month in Healdsburg in July 1981. We had a fantastic time – Uncle Tom is the best host – and had a wicked sense of humour – we laughed so much the whole visit. Uncle Tom and Healdsburg made such a positive impression on me that when we finished school, I convinced my brother to emigrate to California with me. There was a severe economic recession in Ireland with no prospect of work for young school leavers nor the money to send us to University.
    As soon as we arrived, Uncle Tom helped us to get our driving licenses, and our first car, open bank accounts, drove us to job interviews and helped us to find a place to live. The first year away from home I missed my parents, brothers and sister in Ireland – I was really homesick – but Uncle Tom was great company and every week I used to go with him to San Francisco, San Rafael and Oakland visiting Mexican and Yucatacan friends and friends of friends – helping them find work, giving them advice, he would sometimes be repaid money he had loaned and later that day would loan that money to someone else in need. He never looked for interest. He never put people under pressure to repay unless he felt they were being lazy or taking advantage. He also made sure they were sending money home to their families in Mexico and the Yucatan. Before long I began to understand and speak some Spanish!!
    He never cared about his own comfort, going without meals while he drove all day and spent hours visiting. He drove really old cars or donated old cars to make sure to have money for the people who needed and relied on his help. His family bought clothes and shoes for him because he would wear them until they became shabby or worn out. He wasn’t impressed by fashion or new clothes, but was always genuinely surprised and slightly embarrassed by the attention when we thought about his comfort. I came to love Uncle Tom as a second Dad, he looked and sounded a bit like my Dad [Denis ‘Don’] and always made time for me and my brother.
    Sometimes it would bother me that some of the non-latino members of his church would criticize Uncle Tom for being too involved with the Latino community and especially those not belonging to the local area. They didn’t like the fact that he would help anyone who asked for his help. They especially didnt like to see the poorest, shabbiest who needed it most, anywhere near the Parish Rectory. He was a real priest and a genuinely decent, caring and honest person. He was intelligent and often cleverly outwitted Immigration, attorneys and police officers with his knowledge of the law, when he was the only person willing to represent those who couldn’t defend themselves either through lack of English or lack of education.
    His critics were sometimes self-important or spoiled or needy in a way that requires a psychologist not a Pastor.
    Uncle Tom didn’t make it to Ireland to concelebrate my wedding but sent a gift of money which I used to buy our wedding rings – a permanent reminder of my beloved Uncle and beloved husband. I would write occasionally to Uncle Tom – but less and less as the years went by and my life became so busy with the arrival of two children while I continued to work part time.
    Uncle Tom wasn’t always easy to chat to on the phone. He was definitely more at ease face to face. On his last ever visit to Ireland in August? 2003 I remember thinking Uncle Tom didn’t look in the best of health – his face and body had become swollen. A few months later when Aunt Sheila’s husband died in January 2004 and Uncle Tom didn’t come home, we knew he wasn’t well enough to travel but had no idea he was himself close to death. In the end of March 2004 I started writing a letter to Uncle Tom about how much I admired and appreciated his work and how I knew firsthand how he helped everyone and how much I missed him.
    Just a few days later, the Sunday he died I remember planning our family dinner and randomly saying aloud that Uncle Tom ‘s favourite was Beef Stroganoff. During that day he had been phoning and tried to talk to his various sisters or my Dad – but found none of us at home – pre cellphone era for older people !!
    On Monday my Dad phoned with the devastating news that Uncle Tom had passed a distressing night in a lot of pain but typical of him, waited til morning to call an ambulance so as not to inconvenience anyone and died shortly afterwards. With Uncle Toms’ passing I felt like a bright light had been extinguished from California and forever separated my ties there. I couldn’t stop crying for two weeks solid. My tears briefly dried when I did a reading at his funeral service in Ballinakill – and only then because I had read and re-read and practised reading aloud 30 times – to ensure I could do him proud and convey and put my heart and meaning into the reading and show how I loved Uncle Tom. It is wonderful to know he had such a good friend in you – we choose our friends.
    The church hierarchy were not always good, kind or supportive of Uncle Tom, often quite the opposite, he was a rebel in their eyes, but he was a better priest and champion of people than any of them. He cared little for rules or conventions that exclude people. It took the Bishop and the monsignors by surprise at the overwhelming number of people who attended his funeral in Windsor. It was of great comfort to all of us to see how much of an outpouring of love there was he passed. We still miss him terribly.
    Love, Adrienne

    • socolaura says:

      Thanks, Adrienne. I do remember you and your brother. Your husband is Italian, and I was very amused by your brother’s watered down Irish accent. I’m glad you were able to see my posts about Tom, and I’m glad they made you happy.

      I miss him very much, still, and there are many times I wish I could talk to him about things. He was very much loved both here and in Ireland. One day I will go back and make a pilgrimage to his grave.

      God bless.

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