The Book Hounds: A Good Man, Part III
Discussing Mark Shriver's book, A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver
April 30, 2014
Mark Shriver will be delivering the Commencement address to the 2014 graduates of Loyola University Maryland. As we count down to Commencement, Loyola magazine is hosting an online book club, The Book Hounds, discussing Shriver’s memoir about his father.
Part III of A Good Man brings our story full circle as Shriver writes of his father’s passing and the eulogy he was struggling to write and deliver at the funeral—his reflections on which began the book as the author, on a cross-country flight, remembers his father’s boundless joy, a driving force for each and every day he lived.
Following a steady decline in cognitive and physical function, Sargent Shriver suffers a heart attack while he is living at Fox Hill. The family is told his condition is unstable, and that they should prepare to say good-bye to their father and grandfather.
The incredible thing about the final section of the book is that, while it retells the days surrounding the wake, funeral, and grieving process of the Shriver family, the tone is one of celebration—of happiness and a sense of completion.
Sargent Shriver is laid in his casket in the living room of Mark and Jeanne Shriver’s home, where he is visited by friends and family; where his grandchildren call “I love you, Grandpa” to him on their way up the stairs for bed; where singer Glen Hansard comes to pay tribute and plays songs “as Dad lay listening peacefully.”
The scenes of Sargent Shriver’s final hours with his family (after he has, in fact, already died) are happy ones, a true celebration of his life, of his return to his maker, and to his reunion with Eunice in heaven.
There were several aspects of Part III of A Good Man that really struck me. They (along with other parts of this book) have given me new perspective on both life and on death. Today I’d like to share three.
1. “Shock Me with Your Love”
Following Sargent Shriver’s death, the immediate family gathered in his hospital room as they awaited their parish priest to arrive. They said the Rosary and offered thoughts, memories, and prayers.
Anthony Shriver’s thoughts on his father take the form of a prayer for the female family members in the room: “I hope that every girl in this room finds a man who respects and loves her every day in every way like Dad loved and respected and took care of Mom.”
The author says, “It was the shortest prayer of them all, but the one that seemed most perfect to me.”
The idea that the way you love someone can contribute to your own identity is a new one to this reader. It is a concept I am still wrapping my head around, one that almost redefines love.
What were your reactions to Anthony’s comments about his father’s love for his mother?
Following the funeral at the church in Massachusetts, the family decides to take a detour on the way home, and they stop off at the house in Hyannis Port, a place of many memories, to walk on the beach together. It was a clear, cold night, the sky was filled with stars, and they walk arm in arm in the sand.
The author’s son, Timmy, suddenly suggests they all hold hands and form a circle, and then count to three and jump in the middle of the circle and yell “Grandpa!”
I pictured this as I was reading and could feel myself smiling at what a joyous and crazy sight this would be: to see 29 people running around on the beach at night in the middle of the winter, yelling “Grandpa!” over and over again. What a wonderful way to end that day.
It also seems the most appropriate thing to do, given the man they were saying good-bye to.
Have you ever done something spontaneous or “nontraditional” to commemorate the loss of someone or something? Did it give you peace of heart and mind?
3. A Final Testament
The final pages of the book describe the author sifting through cards, photographs, and a box of other mementos following his father’s funeral. One of the final items he comes across is the 13-page program for Sargent Shriver’s funeral Mass. On the back is a statement written by his father when he was eighty-seven years old. Mark Shriver describes it as a “testament.” It is startling in its conviction and in its goodness.
I read these words and immediately felt their power and passion. I was (and still am, as I retype them now) inspired.
Sargent Shriver’s testament, if shared by others, could seemingly make the world a better place.
I am a man who was born and has tried to live committed to being open to all people, no matter their differences in nationality, race, religion, or geography.
I am a man who is full of energy and health.
I am a man who takes his responsibilities seriously. I am committed to doing everything I can to succeed.
I am a man who is original and creative.
I am a man who is unencumbered by the past and by existing hierarchies. I feel free to invent.
I believe the world was and is created by God. I believe the world is good beyond description.
I believe that we human being who seek life, liberty and pursuit of happiness do so because God has given us these things. They are a gift.
I believe that we have a responsibility to God to do whatever we can to do good things for people, especially the poor.
I believe in ideals. I believe that world can be better if only we focus on achieving our ideals.
I believe that any failure to achieve our ideals should only result in rededication to them.
I believe in faith, hope, and love. I believe that they have power.
Were you as moved by this last “statement” as I was?
Does it change your perspective to know that a nearly 90-year-old man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease composed it about his own life years before his death, simple to put pen to paper about who he is and who he has tried to be in his lifetime?
Would you ever be compelled to write a personal testament like Shriver’s? What would it say?
By ending his father’s story in this way, in his own words, the author is able to return to that idea of “a good man.”
I believe the difference between Sargent Shriver and other “good men” is that he truly and deeply believed that everyone else could be a good man as well—so long as they kept faith, hope, and love in the forefront of their every intention.