The completely selfless love of an ordinary husband for his ordinary wife and his ordinary children is nothing short of extraordinary.
It changes the world.
Helen Alvaré, one of Communio’s board members, experienced a loss that provided me and our world with a powerful witness to the beauty and transformational nature of this selfless love through Christian marriage.
Helen’s husband, Brian Duggan, passed away on May 3 of an aneurism. Brian was incredibly accomplished in so many career successes and was a leader in the Pro-Life movement. Yet, his greatest accomplishment was his marriage and his family.
Helen Alvaré’s Eulogy of her husband, Brian Duggan, delivered May 9, 2022
I have spent my adult life talking in front of people, but this is the talk I never wanted to give. Please don’t worry as I cry and laugh. It’s from loving Brian, and there’s no better reason to make a public spectacle of myself.
Brian is and was and will be my one and only. He gave me our wonderful children. And our dear friends. People would meet me, and respect me or even like me, but then meet Brian and say to others: “Oh my gosh, have you met her husband? He’s the real deal.”
Everyone says I am strong, but rarely appreciated that Brian was always the engine, the mentor, the force of love that kept not just me, but the whole family not just running, but enjoying our lives. He taught us to, as he would say “Take an interest in the world.” When he was your friend, it was for life. He was on your team, right or wrong. If we fought it was only because he was driven to ask whether I was really on his team with something I did or said.
He was outrageously funny. With things the kids and I can never ever say in public, and things we will repeat for the rest of our lives.
He was worried he wouldn’t be a good father, but if you had laid a bet, you would have won a million to one against the odds he gave himself. Fatherhood made him. Made him absolutely selfless. One of his frequent lines when the kids were teens – at 3 a.m. when I would watch him sling his legs over the side of bed to pick up one of the kids at some party – was. “Helen, kids don’t die AT the party, they die on the way HOME.” Then he would don his coat over his lousy robe, put on the boots held together with tape, and pick them up. You have heard the phrase “the man for others” thrown around casually…but he WAS. He cared more for OUR present and future than his own.
For the last 3.5 years of his life, Brian was in chronic pain. Terrible pain. I won’t depress you by reciting the litany of his sicknesses, or all the medicines and devices we threw out as soon as we could after his death. It is our small consolation at this time…that the terrible pain in which he lived and died is over. But through it all, he would suck it up, travel with us, play tennis or squash with friends or children even when it hurt. Talk on the phone at great length with people who needed the conversation. Be funny. Brian brought the fun, and we pray he allows us to know fun again.
Brian must be so proud to contemplate his kids in his final hours. Robert Paul arrived from Boston, put his strong arm around me and told me he would take care of me. He said, “Mom, I am nothing but gratitude,” and told me his Dad is his role model. Julian arrived from Chicago, stood in disbelief before his father’s ICU room and asked, oh my God, who will ever be that selfless with me again? Cait reminded me to place my trust in God and around his bed prayed without ceasing the rosary and every other prayer known to woman. In the days since his death, they have all proved true to form. And will continue to, because that’s who he made them.
To his friends, I think you know how he loves you. I knew about every one of his childhood friends before I met you. He held you in such high esteem I was terrified to meet you, in case I didn’t measure up. To his later friends, how he LOVED spending time with you …loved talking about the world, politics, religion, the kids.
How will we go on without him? I have no idea, just a few clues. At the hospital, I told Fr. Rob, our celebrant, that I didn’t know who I was after 44 years of love of Brian. I had been thinking in the hospital of that French legal expression for a married woman, a femme couvert…a covered woman…And how I am now an “uncovered woman,” exposed to the world. But Fr. Rob reminded me that I am God’s daughter first, even before being Brian’s wife. That was stiff medicine, but correct. And now I desperately petition God to be my heavenly spouse…and the children’s heavenly father.
God’s love and Brian’s is already present to us in the persons of his brothers Bob and Chris. Bob was with us at the end and stalwart and true as always. Chris is such a wonderful uncle. God’s love and Brian’s are ALSO present in the witness of our friends. We are learning through YOUR kindness to us, which is a witness to Christ’s love, what selfless love looks like and we will not forget to return the favor.
I also take consolation from Brian’s and my final exchange, when he had just suffered the aneurysm and didn’t know what was happening. He kept calling me “buddy,” …. I think I’m more proud of that than being called his wife, because it reflects that he believed at the end that I was on his team, now and forever.
Finally, two reflections sent from friends in Spain and Australia. These can help my family and yours. First, that God is the divine Gardner who clips the rose at the perfect time. The perfect time. I will work to trust this, and to see it come to pass. Second, a Dominican reflection on death:
We seem to give them back to you, O God, who gave them to us. Yet as you did not lose them in giving, so we do not lose them by their return. Not as the world gives do you give, O Lover of souls. What you give you take not away, for what is yours is ours also if we are yours.
And life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only an horizon, and an horizon is nothing, save the limit of our sight. Lift us up, strong Son of God, that we may see further; cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly; draw us closer to yourself that we may know ourselves to be nearer our loved ones who are with you.
So, to God my love, and Brian my love, thank you, and help us.