When I was a junior in college, I was just about an hour away at the University of NH. I had my car at school, so one Friday afternoon, I came home for the weekend.

As I came through the garage door into the basement, dirty laundry in tow, I heard the familiar booming voice of my dad. Judging by the charismatic, yet polite, tone of his voice, it soon became obvious he was on the phone. So, I sat down on the couch behind him and listened to his end of the call, while soaking in the familiar sights and sounds of my childhood home.

I heard him say,

“Well, that’s just great, Karen, I think you should feel VERY proud of yourself.

I assumed it must be an old friend or work associate, judging by his warm and encouraging words.

A minute later, the receiver to his ear, my dad turned around and spotted me. His eyes flashed open wide and a huge smile crept upon his face. He held up his index finger as if to say he was about to finish up the call, and I nodded.

Then as he prepared his conversation “dismount,” I heard him say,

Well, listen, Karen, I have to run. My daughter just walked in the door. But I wish you so much luck with that decision, and I’ll be thinking of you. Okay…you, too…bye-bye.”

He hung up the phone and he walked over to me and threw his arms around me in a big bear hug.

“Hi Dad!” I said! “Hi, my darling!” he exclaimed.

As he bent over to pick up my laundry basket, I asked, “Who was that on the phone?”

He looked at me blankly for a minute as if trying to register my question.

Then he replied, “Oh that? That was just a wrong number.”


Today, we are all here to tip our hat to a wonderful man. A man who has had a profound influence on all who knew him.

Together, we toast the man, the myth, the legend of Ed Dugan.

My brother, Pat, reminded me the other day, that if my dad were speaking right now, he’d start by saying in his perfect straight-faced style:

“I was born at a very young age…in a manger…”

For one of his great gifts, was making people laugh. He had many jokes, anecdotes and one-liners that he employed year…after year…after year.

I sometimes like to refer to them simply as “Ed Dugan-isms.”

In fact, he was so fond of joking around, that early on in our family, we learned the necessity of employing a very simple rule to be able to tell when my dad was kidding, or when he was telling the truth.

If he said something that seemed hard to believe (which was pretty often), we’d say, “Honest, Dad?” And if he was joking, he had to confess right then and there. If he replied back with  “Yes, HONEST!” then we knew it was the absolute truth.

Such was the way of my childhood.

My dad had a great love for people. Whether stranger or beloved friend. He loved nothing more than making people laugh or paying them a compliment. To all his daughters, he would say, “You’re beautiful!” at just about every chance he’d get.

And as for my mom – well, he would often gaze at her as if it were the first time he had ever laid eyes on her.

To use my husband’s great description, “My dad was a character!” Growing up, on special occasions, when would go out to eat at a restaurant, at the end of the meal, when the waitress would bring our check, she would ask the obligatory question, “Was everything alright with your meal?”

Immediately, my father would steal a glance at her name tag and reply without missing a beat, “Shirley, the food was ALMOST as good as the service!”

After a few seconds, it registered with her what my dad was saying, and she would brighten up and gush, “Oh, thank you!!!”

My dad would smile as she walked away, pleased with earning yet another loyal customer.

The Shirleys of the world loved my dad.

My father was in sales all his life; a profession that took him all over the country travelling while my mother dutifully raised the kids.

He learned early on that the key to getting a customer’s loyalty was to become invested in them on a personal level. But this natural curiosity extended far beyond his business life and became his own personal mantra wherever he went.

He genuinely loved people.

You could always hear him striking up conversations with anyone who would listen. At church, at the supermarket, in the waiting room of a doctor’s office.

You know that rule about people not speaking in elevators? Well, that didn’t apply to my dad. I think some of his best friendships were born in elevator cars.

He loved to know what made people tick. What they did for a profession.  If he knew someone was a mechanic, for example, he’d ask, “So John, just how did you get into the business of fixing cars?” For, he knew people LOVED to talk about themselves and when they would tell their tale, my dad would fix his eyes on them as if what they had to say was the most important thing in the world he ever heard.

And he also learned the art of how to disarm a difficult or disgruntled customer with his charm and his grace.

One day, I remember my dad came home after getting a speeding ticket. He was known to have a bit of a lead foot, so this wasn’t terribly unexpected. My dad recounted the story of when the officer pulled him over. As he got out of his patrol car, and walked over to my dad, he was  red-faced and angry, demanding to know if my father had any idea how fast he was going! The officer was extremely scolding in his tone and was obviously very displeased with my father’s lack of rule-following on the road.

My dad listened calmly to the officer and when he was finished said,

Officer, I want to thank you.”

He looked at my dad, slightly confused.

My dad continued,

“I know that you did not enjoy having to tell me all that. Clearly, I was wrong and I deserve a ticket. And I want to thank you, Officer, for having the courage and the honesty to tell it like it is.”

The officer, at a loss for words, hastily took the rather pricey ticket from his pad, handed it to my father and walked away. My dad drove off and eventually made his way home.

A few hours later, the phone rang.

My dad answered, “Hello?”

“Mr. Dugan?”came the voice. “This is Officer so-and-so. I stopped you today for speeding. I am calling to let you know, that YOU sir, have my permission to rip up that ticket I gave you this afternoon.”

My father – rather surprised – asked “Really, Officer?”

The officer continued, “Mr. Dugan, in my 30+ years on the police force, I have never had anyone treat me with the amount of humility and respect that you did today, sir. That ticket has been expunged from your record.”

My dad thanked him profusely, and hung up the phone, absolutely glowing.


Like any proud parent out there, my dad loved nothing better than receiving a compliment about his children. And he loved sharing those compliments. The only catch was, in order to get my dad to tell us the compliment, WE had to tell my dad a compliment that we heard about HIM first.

He called these “TL’s” which stood for “Tell Last”. This meant that he would tell us the compliment last – only after we spilled the beans about something nice we heard about him.

Out of the blue he’d say, “Teresa, I have a “TL” for you.” I’d immediately get excited and ask him to tell me the nice thing someone said about me. Then he’d narrow his eyes and look at me and say, “You know the drill.” So then I’d roll my eyes and scramble to remember something nice someone said about my dad, like, “OK….dad….yesterday the kid down the street said you were funny.” Then he’d say, “Really? Which kid?” Inevitably followed by “Oh, I always liked that kid!”

Bottom line, my dad loved to hear praise in any form.

Recently, one of the nursing assistants at his nursing home – where my dad hung his hat for the last 7 years – told us that when she once introduced my dad to her grandmother, his first response was,

“So nice to meet you. Now tell, me – do you find me handsome?”

Perhaps the greatest lesson my dad ever gave to us, was the love he had for my mother. All my life, he has only seemed completely at peace when she was by his side.

Even when I was a young girl, when he would be watching TV, I’d walk into the room and he’d say, “Where’s your mother?” when she was only feet away in the kitchen.

(I always secretly thought that would make a great tattoo if he ever got one – “Where’s Your Mother?”)

My parents were a team. They went to the grocery store together. They went to the gas station together. They were pretty much inseparable. He adored my mother and longed to be with her all the time.

Their love story was epic.

In the twilight of his life, my dad began his slow-dance with dementia. He did so gracefully, and sweetly – always with a smile on his face and a compliment to a nurse or staff member.

He loved to tell people, “You look beautiful today.”

The one thing I will truly miss about my dad was the way he told his family that he loved us, every time he saw us. I’ll miss his blue eyes twinkling when I came into his range of view, and the way his face captured his joy when he saw my face.

He’d say, “Hi, my Darling!” as he seemed to convey with every cell of his body how happy he was to see me.

When we would part, I’d say, “Okay, dad – I have to go. But I’ll come visit you tomorrow!” Then like clockwork, he would take my hand, bring it up to his lips and softly kiss it. It was his signature send-off.

I’m going to miss that very much.

He was a simple man. At times, he was a complicated man. But always, he was a loving man.

Though his death won’t make the evening news, nor will an article on his passing grace the pages of his beloved “People Magazine,” the story of his life is no less important or extraordinary. For he was larger-than-life to this daughter, a legend in his own time, and not someone I can ever possibly forget. I will miss him deeply, and today our family’s grief is great. But my faith tells me I will see my dad again, a belief that today I cling to. And as my nephew Brendan pointed out to me just the other day, our faith tells us that today, he is more alive than ever before on earth.

Until then, I will proudly make small talk to strangers in elevators, pay random compliments to waitresses and people at grocery stores, in his honor.

I will never miss an opportunity to make someone smile with a corny joke. I will cherish my family, and tell the people I love how much they mean to me, all in loving tribute to him.

I know my dad is having a wonderful time up in Heaven – greeting people, making people laugh – introducing himself to everyone with his famous opening line,

“Incidentally, I’m Ed Dugan.”

And I also know he’s giving God an earful while asking,

“So, God, tell me. How exactly how did you get into the business of Creation?”

I love you, dad. And I’ll miss you forever.


The Journey.

Once a month we have a family “care plan” meeting where we meet with staff – usually the charge nurse and the social worker at The Inn. (my father’s term for the nursing home he calls home, and where he does his slow dance with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.)

These meetings are fairly routine with both parties discussing any issues in care that come up. For example, a favorite plaid shirt that may have gone missing in the laundry; or arranging for him to have an extra blanket for nighttime.

Last week was meeting day.

As my mom and I walked into the meeting room and made ourselves comfortable, the social worker, MaryAnn, and Karen the charge nurse sat opposite us as we exchanged early morning pleasantries. Staff have become extended family, as my dad enters his 7th year at The Inn. We often have our share of laughs at these meetings, as we continue to find the funny moments that can be a part of his day.

But early on this morning, I could sense something else was on their mind other than the usual agenda of this-and-that.

MaryAnn began with, “We all know that Ed has experienced some changes over the last few months, and we’ve seen him start to decline, both physically and cognitively.”

My mom and I nodded in agreement. This wasn’t news to us, after all. The last month, in particular, my dad has become increasingly lost inside himself; weaker physically; and often refusing to eat lunch, or sometimes dinner.

She continued, “So, as a team, staff have been meeting to discuss how we can best help Ed, going forward.”

Karen the nurse continued, “We wanted to talk with you as a family to begin to consider the process of offering Ed “care and comfort” in the future.”

I looked over at my mom, who continued to nod, and then back at MaryAnn and Karen.

Then I felt an unfamiliar pang in my chest. It slowly started to hit me what they were saying.

“You mean…are you saying… it’s time to look at hospice?” I asked.

They both nodded, as I felt like a bullet hit me between the eyes. Hospice? Really? Are we really at that point?

They went on to reassure us that hospice is often surrounded in misunderstanding. That really it’s often another “layer” of care, but specifically focused on my dad. He’ll still stay at The Inn. He’ll still receive the care from staff. But an additional team will now come in – often several times a week – and make sure my dad is comfortable, perhaps play him some favorite music; assist him in any way he needs them; keep him company. Additionally, they can encourage him to eat and will be looking at all his medications to see what can be discontinued, and no longer adding value.

“I’m sure he would love the extra attention!” I suddenly heard my mom say from next to me. I looked over at her as she sat in her chair, her poker face on, bravely and cheerfully accepting what they were telling us. I silently wondered how that must feel, to be told your husband of 62 years is entering into this new phase.

She is the strongest woman I have ever known.

The more we talked, we learned that hospice is not necessarily a death-sentence; rather it can be a “blessing in disguise” to provide more focused care specifically for my dad. They will look at his activities. They will keep him company. They will give him his meds when needed.

I was surprised to learn that some people even get discharged from hospice, if they gain weight; or make other small improvements. It’s just more focalized care. Staff at The Inn are in charge of many patients. Hospice will only focus on my dad.

Really, it’s a win-win.

Our meeting finished up and we went to see my dad. He was having a good day – smiling, eating his breakfast. He recognized us right off the bat and brightened up immediately.

(Hospice? This doesn’t look like a man who needs hospice.)

But I understand that my dad’s good days are starting to diminish. That today is no longer the norm. When we spotted him at the breakfast table, though he was happy to see us, he proclaimed, “I’ve just finished having breakfast on this wonderful train. The conductor sat me here.”

For some reason, when my dad is confused lately, he often talks about being on a train. But instead of correcting him, we have learned to just play along. “It’s a really nice train, dad,” I agreed, kissing him softly on the cheek.  My mom looked at me and smiled, rolling her eyes. (You have to keep your sense of humor, after all.)

My dad smiled and took my hand. “Thank you, darling,” he said.

Then my dad looked at my mom and said, “Barbie, can you tell me again how my mother died?” My mom answered him right away. “She had a stroke.” My mom looked at me and explained, “For the last couple of weeks, he’s been talking a lot about his mother.”

That’s weird, I thought.

Yesterday, my mom and I met with the hospice nurse who came to assess my dad. She will be his “plus-one” going forward. She was lovely. She sat us down and asked us all about his health history which she dutifully tapped into her laptop,  and then a few minutes later, we were joined by her colleague, a social worker, who questioned us about his religious preferences and other things.

Suddenly, and quite out of the blue, it became very important to me that these people learn every possible detail about my dad. About his 7 children who he and my mom raised; how he was in sales all his life – once winning a prestigious national sales award. We discussed how he was a devout Catholic, never missing mass and how proud he was that his older brother, in his 90’s is a retired Catholic priest. We talked about his beloved Notre Dame and how growing up, watching a Notre Dame game was a “religious experience” on the Saturdays of my youth. We talked about how his family has rallied around him and that many of my siblings – even those who live in the Midwest – have come out to see him as often as they can.

We told them about his personality, how he is a charmer, and a people-person, who up until just a year ago, could get anyone’s life story after talking to them for 5 minutes. We talked about his love for corny jokes and one-liners, and making people laugh, (that this daughter has adopted.)

We talked about how to this day, he’ll still say to a random nurse, “You look beautiful, today!”

I wanted them to know my dad. He’s not just a patient. He’s not just a number on a chart.

He. Is. MY. Dad.

They asked us if we are plugged into any support groups. Like Alzheimer’s support groups or anything like that for family members. I was surprised by the question. These hospice people actually were asking about us. Kinda cool.

The hospice meeting began to wrap up with my mom and I feeling much more encouraged and grateful that this layer of care existed for people and their families. It felt like we won the lottery! This was going to be a good thing! And, as they said, people can often be on hospice for a year or more…with some even getting discharged if they do better!

(Maybe that will be my dad, I hoped!)

As we prepared to leave, they asked if we had any last questions. One suddenly crossed my mind, but I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to ask or not, but what the heck.

“I’ve never had anyone close to me die before. If my dad gets worse, and things start to progress, will you be able to help my family and I recognize some of the signs?”

The two ladies nodded sweetly. The nurse said, “If and when your dad starts to decline further, our care will only increase. Instead of being here a few times a week, we will be here more and more. We’ll be with him closely. We will keep you in the loop every step of the way.”

She went on to say, “Everyone is different. Your dad is still able to speak and often can communicate what’s going on. And I can tell from meeting with him that he is a man who is very in-touch, emotionally.”

“He is a very loving person,” I added. “He tells us he loves us constantly. He always has.”

The social worker chimed in, “That’s wonderful. Sometimes we see people begin to talk about people in the past. Someone close to them they may have lost. They often try to reconcile what’s happening to them by remembering a loved-one.”

My mom looked at them and said, “Last week, he asked me if I could drive him in my car to take him to see his mother.”

The two women looked at each other and nodded. The nurse said, “We frequently hear people talking suddenly about a parent; often the mother.”


She continued, “The idea of travel – like him wanting to drive in your car, as you mentioned – is also a frequent theme. He is, almost literally, “traveling” through this process.”

“You mean like being on a train?” I whispered.

“Absolutely!” they said.

“My dad’s been talking about being on a train a lot – like on a dining car.” I explained.

Both women nodded emphatically.

A lump formed in my throat. My face started to get hot. I shifted in my chair and smiled at a staff member walking by to try to distract myself.

(Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Keep it together. I scolded myself.)

I heard my mother say, “When Ed and I were younger, we often traveled by train.”

The social worker continued, “You see, your dad is on a journey. What you need to understand is that all this is  perfectly normal – the things he is beginning to talk about – his mother – wanting to see his mother – being on a train…”

(Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Damn, my face feels hot!)

I tried to focus on the women’s faces, but suddenly they became blurry. They were looking at my mother who was bravely taking all this information in.

(Don’t cry in front of mom! Don’t. You’ll just upset her. Keep it together.)

Too late. My eyes welled. The ladies stopped talking. They looked at me with concern and understanding. It’s not like they haven’t seen it before, right?

The nurse started to get up and find a tissue.

“I’m good!” I smiled, reassuringly. “I’m good.”

My mom looked over at me and her eyes flashed open.

(I’m a pretty upbeat kinda gal. I’m not known to cry.)

Immediately she took my hand. “Oh, honey,” she said.

(Oh crap. She sees me.)

My mom squeezed my hand while she explained to the women that I have been trying to juggle it all. “She’s been doing such an amazing job trying to take care of her dad all this time…she even takes care of me – getting my groceries. And she has two little girls. She tries to do it all.”

(What is that trick to make yourself stop crying? Look up at the ceiling? Let me try that.)

The social worker went on, “Your dad’s deep faith in God could be a comfort to him now. The next time he starts to ask about his mom, if you and your family so desire, you could talk about his faith that he may see her again.”

My eyes gradually dried as I took this in. The more I thought about it, I realized how important it was to hear this. For once, someone was empowering our family with the tools to help my dad on his journey. It’s okay to talk to him in a way that is reassuring to him; that provides a sense of peace.

I suddenly had a very strong feeling that these women would be our “guardian angels”as we navigate this road.

I composed myself after a minute and glanced at the clock. “Mom, I have to get the girls off the bus, I’m sorry…I gotta go,” I whispered. I was her ride home so she stood up to leave.

We thanked the ladies profusely and explained that for the first time in a long time, we were feeling like we are heading in a positive direction. That we are feeling a sense of control in an out-of-control time.

“Call us anytime,” they said. “We mean that. We’ll see you soon.”

As my mom and I rode home, I didn’t want to talk. In just 15 minutes, my two little girls would be getting off the bus with playground-stained clothing and toothless grins racing up the driveway to tell me all about their day.

For now, I have to compartmentalize what I’m going through with my dad. Until I can better process how to think about it, I have a 5 and 7 year-old who are dancing through their childhood with complete joy and abandon. And they need me.

As the bus pulled away and I watched my little girls throw their backpacks to the ground and race off, it hit me that there’s so much “life” that surrounds me.

Life in so many stages.

My dad is in the Winter of his life…my babies are basking in Springtime.

Each stage is a gift.

I’m blessed to experience it all.

I love you, Dad.