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Celebration of Life for Paul Coakley

January 26, 2015

[Guest post by Nate]

This weekend I attended the most memorable funeral/celebration of life that I’ll ever witness. A friend from college, Paul Coakley, discovered right before Christmas that he had testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and his brain. Paul’s battle with cancer was fierce but brief, and he passed on January 20th. He is survived by his wife, Ann, and three kids, and his wife is pregnant.

Ann asked us all to think of Saturday as a “celebration of life” and not just a day for a funeral. If you knew Paul, you know that this is exactly what he wanted also. Most of us live life; Paul LIVED LIFE. Someone has written elsewhere this past week that Paul seized every day and shook every bit of joy out of it. You can read more about this incredible man, and his incredible bride, at https://www.facebook.com/paulandanncoakleyneedamiracle

Paul was a member of the same Household as me at Franciscan University. (Households are usually described as “Christ-centered fraternities / sororities”.) Therefore, the weekend was a reunion of sorts. I saw friends that I haven’t seen since college or soon after. And we celebrated Paul.

I drove up to Nashville airport Friday night to meet my good friend David who was flying in from DC. The next morning the funeral was held at 10:00 a.m. in a small town south of Nashville. Three of the four priests at the altar were Household brothers. A Household brother was the lead cantor (singer) and was joined by two Household brothers’ wives. The songs that were chosen really took me back to Franciscan University. At the end of the Mass a friend of Paul gave an incredible eulogy that had us laughing and crying at the same time.

After the Mass we processed to Ann’s family’s farm, where the graveside service was held.

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(The above picture shows Paul’s grave on the right, and the resting place of a child that Paul and Ann lost to miscarriage on the left.)

Paul was buried on land that has been in Ann’s family for decades. The hearse parked a ways from the grave site to avoid getting stuck in the soaked ground, so a tractor pulling a trailer brought the casket the last 50 yards.

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The pallbearers in the colorful clothes are Paul’s brothers. Again, if you knew Paul, you know that this is exactly what he wanted.

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A couple of our Household brothers decided to get a better look at the proceedings.

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This Household brother, Dave, played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes after the funeral, and other songs at the graveside service.

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Here’s one of the few pictures of Household brothers that I actually remembered to take on Saturday. (I’m just a dumb guy who would rather talk to old friends than take pictures with them.) From L to R: me, David, Sean (and his son), Dave

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I did get a picture with Ann, who has a pillar of strength yesterday, to everyone’s amazement. Her due date is April 17th, so please keep her in your prayers between now and then…and after.

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Those last two pictures were taken at the reception which followed the graveside service. From the reception, David and I drove back to the farm, and arrived a moment too late to witness this (so I’ve borrowed this picture from Facebook):

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We did arrive in time to see what happened next; at least a dozen people, including Paul’s brothers and Ann’s brothers and Household brothers, shoveled the dirt back into the grave. I’ve never seen this done, but the site of it was practically a healing moment in itself. I had not changed out of my church clothes, so I’m sorry to say I did not take part. I stood witness as friends and family performed one last act of service for Paul.

When the grave was filled in, we all toasted Paul with a shot of whiskey, and then moved to a different part of the farm for a bonfire. Unfortunately, the piled wood didn’t cooperate very well, and the bonfire was a bit of a bust, but the conversations were great. I stood in a circle with other Household brothers as Ann told us about the beginning of her and Paul’s relationship, as well as his final 24 hours.

This is one side of the prayer card that I took from the funeral. It shows how Paul lived, out on the edge, trusting in God, and having all the fun this world can dish out. I’ve never done this before, but I’m taping this picture to my bathroom mirror, to remind me to #livelikepaul.

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[Edited so as to have everything in one place.]

Funeral Homily: Paul Coakley – A Man of Beatitude
January 26, 2015 at 12:18pm

Mass ofChristian Burial
Paul Daniel Coakley
24 January 2015

First, on behalf of Fr. Jonah, Fr. Justin, and Fr. Jose – mydeepest and most sincere condolences and prayers go out to Paul’s lovely wifeAnn, to their children: Christian, Damien, and Caeli Grace; to Ann’s parentsDavid and Susan; to Paul’s parents Joe and Kathy; to his siblings: Christiana,David, John, Matt, Daniel, Katie, and Sarah; to the Brothers of the EternalSong and to Paul’s extended family and friends. Our prayers are surely with youduring this most difficult time.

Itis hard to believe that we are here today. It seems like at any moment weshould be waking up from this terrible nightmare. I’m still in a bit of a stateof shock over it. I’m honored to have been asked to deliver the homily todaybut I’m really not the right person for this. Yet, who could speak soadequately about such a great person? I tried thinking of words to describehim… I came up with a few: superman, iron man, crazy man! It is descriptionssuch as these that describe his outlook on life – live it! Don’t be afraid tolive. In the midst of all the crazy things he did that would make any mothergasp – Paul taught us never to be afraid to live. Like the time on Sonlife –spring break 2001 – when Paul scaled a palm tree… a palm tree! Then, some of us– me – tried unsuccessfully to do the same! That was also the trip where Paulgot a bunch of us to sing happy birthday to Laura Stallings at a BK, includingsome of their staff. Laura got afree whopper and BK crown… oh, and it wasn’t her birthday! But it was fun! Thenthere was the time he scaled the 50 ft steel cross on campus… the road tripsthe adventures… the time he hung off a cliff over Summersville Lake… he wasfun! I’ll also forever know the lyrics to George Thorogood’s “Ride onJosephine”, Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” and of course…. “Camper” – all thanks toPaul. He was fun. He was Mr. Outdoorsman. And there are countless stories ofhim jumping off train bridges, scaling cliffs and jumping off of those too – heturned 3 day weekends into adventures. On spring break 2003, a few of us drove16 hours from Steubenville to the Gulf Shores to spend the week with Paul. Itwas Paul who taught a few of us how to properly kayak. He was fun and when youwere with him you had fun and you truly felt important to him – you felt loved.

Butnone of this truly describes his character. When Christiana called me and saidthat Ann would like me to give the homily, she asked me to pick the Gospelreading. Immediately I thought of the Beatitudes from St. Matthew’s Gospel. Iasked Christiana: “what do you think?” She replied: “perfect, perfect forPaul.” The Beatitudes to me, and to all of us who know him well, could saytruly that Paul was a man of beatitude. The word itself means “blessed” – as weheard in the gospel or as St. Luke puts it: “happy.” Either way, you get Paul.Because the Beatitudes describe how the Christian life is supposed to be lived.That which Jesus teaches His disciples here, and us as well, is that while the10 Commandments serve as guidelines for the external nature of faithfulness,the Beatitudes are the internalization of those commandments. Thus, no longeris outward observance – mere obedience – adequate for faithfulness. If one isto truly live, the faith has to be internal – it has to sink into the depths ofone’s heart, mind, and soul. In other words, to be truly blessed by God, to betruly happy, one must love from the heart. Faithfulness must spring from thevery depths of a person’s being. In this way, outward observance is transformedand love becomes a person’s true identity.

This,I believe, better describes the character of Paul Coakley. Love. Paul wasn’tgreat because he did crazy things. He wasn’t great because he drove the coolesttruck ever. He wasn’t great because he drove across country – several times…and with his wife…. In a big rig! While all of that was part of hischaracter it is not what made himgreat. Paul was great because he loved. And he loved big. He did everythingbig… he gave 100% – gave his all – especially when it came to love. This is theessence of beatitude – selflessness, self-giving, self-donation… sacrifice. Allof which is at the heart of what it means to love. This is what Our Lord taughtHis disciples, it is what He teaches us now. If we wish for beatitude we mustbe willing to sacrifice because that is love. Paul understood that, he knew it,and the pages of the book of his life were written after the likeness of theSavior because He loved. Paul was blessed because he loved God. He was blessedbecause he loved others. He was the most non-judgmental person I have everknown. He never spoke an unkind word – he didn’t have a mean bone in his body.Paul surely had his own faults – we all do – but he truly loved with whole of hisbeing.

I’mconvinced that because of his deep love for God, Paul seized every moment ofevery day. This is how he lived – he really lived. And it is how he teaches usto live – to make each day an adventure and not to fear. If we love God the wayhe does, we have nothing to fear – not pain, not suffering, not even death. Thesadness, of course, is not having him here with us. But don’t we, asChristians, live our faith for this moment? The moment when God calls us home –to our true home. On the day of his birth, God whispered his name… Now on hisbirthday into eternity, God calls loudly for him again. And I’m sure that whenhe arrived at the gates of heaven, he greeted all present there with a bigbright smile and a hearty: “hi guys!”

Now,I can’t say for sure Paul is a saint. But we know where he has gone. And we know that right now he is in the loving embrace of our merciful God. And I know for sure that he was confident in the reward of eternal life. This is what I believe made him so joyful… “rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven.” The quote on Paul’s prayer card sums it up quite nicely. From Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: “You ask me whether I am in good spirits. How could I not be so? As long as faith gives me strength, I will always be joyful.”

Paul,I’m sure, would not be too happy with me going on about him. He was a humble man. He would not want us to feel that we lost him – for the truth is, we know where is going and we know the way there too. His death is not a loss and it is not a defeat. It is a victory – God’s victory and heaven’s gain. We may ask ourselves those burdensome and difficult questions like: why? We may comment on the fact that he was taken way too soon. We may be angry that God seemingly did not hear our prayers. But none of that will help ease our sadness. It will only further plunge us into greater pain and sorrow. On that note… sometimes people give priests weird things that I’m not too sure what to do with. Well, just yesterday morning I was having coffee after Mass and a gentleman, from a parish I have never been to, handed me a piece of paper and said: “this is for you Father, pass it on.” The paper read this:

“Once a man was asked, what did you gain by praying regularly to God? The man replied, nothing… but let me tell you what I lost: anger, ego, greed,depression, insecurity, and fear of death. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is not in gaining but in losing, which ultimately is the gain.”

So what is the gain here? We can all chose to live like Paul… we have been saying it: #livelikepaul. This ultimately means to live like Christ. Paul surely sets the bar pretty high, showing us how a Christian is supposed to live and how one is supposed to die – with arms outstretched in the embrace of the Father.

Wherever you may be at spiritually – high, low, middle of the road – let us all open up the arms of our hearts and accept the challenge to live in greater faith, with a confident hope for eternal life, and with a steadfast, unwavering love – alove that knows no fear, that embraces difficulty, a sacrificial love that is joyful in the Lord and with a love that awaits the reward of eternal life.There, in that reward of a life lived in a love for God, do we pray to meet our brother again. In this sense, we not only say live like Paul… but LOVE like Paul. This is our hope. This is our gain. It is what will make us blessed –happy and joyful in our faithfulness and love for God and neighbor.

Well done, Paul. You have taught us well. You have taught us how to live the blessed life – the good life. May you continue to inspire us and countless others. May your example continue to teach us to be blessed, to love with our whole being.And now, may you enter into that eternal state of beatitude.
_____________________________

You can read the Eulogy HERE.
_____________________________
Ann’s request (compliments of her facebook post)

Dear Friends, Loved Ones and Prayer Warrior,
My heart is so torn in rejoicing that my husband is celebrating before the Lord and my own selfishness for wishing he was still by my side. After he passed, I sat on the bed cradling him in my arms and said aloud to God, “You rose Lazarus, show the world your power and bring my husband back!” The moment I said the words I laughed at my own selfishness. Why would he ever want to return to this earthly toil and why would I want him to? Lazarus never entered heaven because Christ hadn’t opened the gates. I knew then that I truly had to rejoice in Paul’s glory, but I will miss his beautiful smile, twinkling eyes and strong arms of my love around me every minute of every day for as long as I live.

I mourn that my unborn child will never know how incredible, joyful and loving his/her father was. My little ones memories may fade to soft, sweet vague images. I want them to know how incredible their father was and how he impacted the world by his crazy antics, humble prayer life and beautiful endless love for all around him.

I want my babies to know those stories. So many of them have been shared here, even just the beautiful comments on all the incredible pictures. If any one would like to type up a few favorite stories, memories or reflections of Paul or print out any pictures of him that I can compile into scrapbooks for the kids, I would greatly appreciate it. They can be brought to the funeral or mailed to us.

The Coakley Kids
C/O David Brindle
P.O. Box 1948
Lewisburg, TN 37091

Thank you all so much! Again, your love and prayers are truly sustaining my broken heart and helping me rejoice in my husband’s glory! As Paul literally sang out numerous times before his death, “To HIM be the glory!!!!”

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 26, 2015 4:10 pm

    simply AMAZING!!! Thank you for sharing. May we all live life as Paul, have the strength of Ann, and remember death is to be viewed as the begin of the REAL LIFE!!! Love you…Auntie G.

  2. Auntie Sherry Ruth permalink
    January 26, 2015 11:36 pm

    what a beautiful story of your journey to say goodbye as well as celebrate your friend Paul. Thank you for sharing & I pray we all can learn something from your blog..I was reminded how we all are only on loan here to those we love as our prayer is to be able to join our God in heaven. I’m certain Paul will be watching over Ann as well their unborn child & other 3 children until they all can be together in heaven. Love you! Auntie s

  3. January 26, 2015 11:42 pm

    So glad Nate could be there, and what a blessing to read this and share in the event through photos and stories. Certainly Paul has inspired us all in both life and death. Thank you Nate and Sara for sharing this journey with us. xoxo

  4. Jessica Sheguit permalink
    January 27, 2015 7:53 am

    Nate, thank you so much for sharing… so many of us wished we could be there with you all. So grateful for Paul and for our Franciscan family!

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