Isn’t it strange how family events run together? Only two weeks ago, I officiated at the wedding of my niece, Jeanine. There I saw relatives I hadn’t laid eyes on in years and years. And then all of a sudden, just a fortnight later, most of us are together again – this time attending the funeral of Jeanine’s grandfather, my brother Jim’s father-in-law.
So this morning found me in St. Bartholomew’s Catholic Church in Newaygo, Michigan at a Mass celebrating the life of Phil Loppiccolo, the father of my dear sister-in-law, JoAnn. (She’s pictured above with Phil and his wife Millie on JoAnn and Jim’s wedding day 50 years ago.)
Phil was only 14 years my senior, which means he died at the age of 90. (Am I really that close to 90?!!)
In any case, all morning my mind was filled with thoughts of this man who led such an adventurous, fulfilling and productive life. I found myself wondering about his whereabouts now.
Phil was part of what Tom Browkaw called “The Greatest Generation.” A year or so before the end of the Second World War, he joined the navy as a teenager. He wanted to do his part to defeat fascism. Then with the war over, he and Millie, contributed to the rebuilding of an economy devastated by the Great Depression.
Both of them were Michiganders and they took jobs in Detroit, the most dynamic city on the planet. Unlike today, it was the industrial center where presidents took foreign visitors to see the example par excellence of American can-do genius. Eventually, its African-American community made it an art mecca, producing an even more dynamic music admired and danced to throughout the world.
In Detroit, Millie and Phil worked in the transportation industry which was about to make a Great Leap Forward into a new era of truly mass transportation. As an engineer, Millie would eventually work for Learjet. Meanwhile, Phil took an administrative post at General Motors, where he worked for more than 30 years.
Can you imagine the sense of pride and purpose that this couple had as workers on the cutting edge of such dynamism? And all of this after Phil had done as much as he could to defeat what was (up until that time) western civilization’s greatest threat.
Phil retired from GM in his mid-fifties. My brother tells me that all his working life, his father-n-law had paid faithfully into a company pension plan. He had also bought a GM-sponsored healthcare arrangement promising to provide for him and Millie in their old age. Then came the Great Recession of 2008. And that was the end of that. Phil lost everything, while GM executives landed on their feet with golden parachutes and outlandish bonuses. Understandably, Phil never got over his sense of betrayal for that.
But professional accomplishments aside, it was in his family life that Phil and Millie Loppiccolo were most successful. As I said, they were the parents of JoAnn, who eventually warmly graced my brother Jim’s life. Together Jim and JoAnn had three children, Stephanie, Aaron, and Jeanine who turned out so splendidly. They gave Millie and Phil a total of those three grandchildren and seven accomplished and promising great grandchildren.
The Circle of Life is genuinely astounding in its tremendous beauty. As you can see, there is much to celebrate about the life of Phil Loppiccolo.
And now what? Phil has left us. And the truth is, we don’t know much for certain about the “heaven” he’s gone to.
In fact, we know very little about the “Eternal Life” promised by religions across the world. Uniformly, however they promise that life goes on. Death does not really exist, they say. It simply means changing rooms – going from one to another.
And that seems to hold true from what we can observe in nature. Just go for a walk in a forest. There you’ll see living trees and plants alongside apparently dead ones. However closer examination will show that what we consider “dead” is in reality teeming with life. Nothing really dies; it simply changes form.
The wise say that’s the way it is with human beings too. We apparently die. But we only change forms. Our spirits (our souls) come back to complete unfinished business in our assignment to become enlightened as modeled in the great Avatars like Jesus of Nazareth. He was the one who realized the unity of all creation. He lived that truth that constitutes our true vocation. He lived as though there were no difference between him and the most despised people in his culture – day laborers, prostitutes, lepers, insurgents, the poor and hungry, Samaritans, and hated foreigners. Again, that’s our vocation too. And eventually we’ll get it right.
The wise (like Jesus) console us by saying that whatever awaits us beyond this life is the absolutely best future imaginable for us. It is exactly what we need.
So if we take their word for it, if we believe what Nature itself tells us about “eternal life,” Phil Loppiccolo is precisely where he should be. He could not be in a better place – just as he was in the perfect place for him and for the rest of us this last time around.
Thank you, Phil, for all you have given us! May you rest in peace and enjoy Eternal Life!