(Eulogy for Daniel Caruso given at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church on Saturday April 10, 2021)
On behalf of my Mom and Dad, my sister Debbie, my Wife Amy and myself, we would like to thank everybody who has taken time out of their day to come and pay their respects and celebrate Danny's life. It is our hope to have a celebration for Danny at a later date, when we can all celebrate safely and not have to worry so much about distancing and hugs as we do today. So, we will be reaching out again to everyone after we make those plans.
I want to thank Father Bob Carroll for everything he's done for my family and my brother. I want to thank our Lady of Mount Carmel for the support they've given us during this time and for their support during the last 40 years as parishioners. Modell funeral home and Andrew Brunsen for all the accommodations and support they have provided for us. I also need to thank my Mom and Dad for their strength during this time, my sister Debbie and my wife Amy for making this the special and joyous day that Danny deserves.
Now I want to talk about my brother.
Whether you just met Danny or, if you’ve known him for a long time, the first 5 minutes you spend with him will tell you a lot.
In those first minutes with Danny, certain things become very plain and obvious. It would become apparent that Danny could not talk, could not walk, could not feed himself and could do not do many of the things that you and I take for granted. In that same 5 minutes, you would also realize that he had more personality and charm than you do. You may sit there and wonder how this could be so, but you would not be alone in those thoughts. I like to say that Danny had more personality in his little finger than most people I've ever met. And for that reason, you had to be quick with your smile because he was probably going to beat you to it.
Danny's charm and personality were undeniable. Whether it was here, in his youth, at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, or at Philip J Rock Center, or at Swan Special Care Center where he was for 19 years Danny was a fan favorite and kind of a big deal. Without question, Danny left an impact on every person that he met without ever saying a saying a word.
When I was younger, I instinctually took on the role of big brother, protector and defender of all things "Danny". His influence on me undoubtibly laid the groundwork the direction my life would take. For that reason, I owe much of what I am to my little brother. Not least of which the path I chose for my career. But more importantly, I would not be the husband, the father or the man I am if not for him.
Danny and I would fight and go at it as brothers do. I felt the wrath of is mighty left hook on many occasions as did others. Most notably, my Grandma Caruso. But like she did with everything she handled it with grace and a laugh. And just like most little brothers he usually got the best of me one way or another.
Thankfully, my sister Debbie had a far more patience when it came to Danny during our adolescence. She always had a touch and knack with Danny when it came to getting him to do things he didn't want to do. Her degree of care, compassion and tolerance was something that only a big sister could deliver. He also had no choice, because Debbie was gonna win no matter what.
The best way I can describe how well of a job my parents did with the responsibility of raising us was that I never thought that I was living anything but a completely normal life in a loving family. I never felt deprived I never felt like I was missing out on anything common to a regular childhood. We went on outings and trips and vacations. The YMCA camp was of regular summer vacation for many years. And my Mom and Dad went through the parental drudgery of packing us all up and driving to Wisconsin (and Debbie probably puked along the way from driving in the back seat) to spent a week doing kids activities and singing “If I had a hammer”. We have wonderful memories of not just those times but Birthday parties, family parties, soccer games, baseball games, football games, music lessons, choir and plays and countless activities and outings. You name it we did it. At least once.
What many take for granted including me as a child and teenager was that raising a child with the severe disabilities that Danny had is one thing. But raising that child with two additional children takes feats of strength patience and love that is beyond description. My parents never made us feel anything other than normal. We were praised and punished. We were not spoiled but we're never left wanting. We were held to high standards and there was a clear line of delineation between what was right and wrong in our household. But most of all we were simply loved. Loved and supported in our goals and always encourage that we would someday reach them. And that went for all of us...
My parents advocated for their son in a time and era that did not have the compassion, that did not have the accessibility and did not have the networking of today. So what did they do? They created the space they needed for themselves and for Danny.
My mom's medical and nursing background coupled with prolific mom skills were no match for doctors, specialists or anyone when it came to doing the absolute best and right thing for Danny. The battles that she waged and won are a testament to herself and the happy and healthy life Danny enjoyed.
My Dad, always positive, always uplifting and always motivated to seek out the absolute best thing possible for Danny and refusing to settle for anything that was second best for his son. His life's work as a teacher was central in his desire to explore all possibilities that would be to the benefit of Danny.
Dan allowed us to meet people in our life we never would have otherwise encountered. We met many wonderful people which shaped and influenced our attitude towards life and to people. The Special Directions Group, staff at Philip J Rock School, Ms. Nancy Schliefer, Ms. Kay, and the wonderful families of the Daniel Community which started here at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church more than 40 years ago. The relationships forged with those people and the experiences that we had were both life changing and cherished. And Danny is given credit for all of it.
For the last 19 years, Danny spent his adult life in a place that we became intimately acquainted with. Swann Special Care was a miracle to my family and to Danny. The staff and people who cared for and loved Danny will always be in our hearts. Jennifer, Anni, MariLou, Kym, and Ramona are just some of the people who made Swann Center the loving and joyful place that allowed Danny to grow and enjoy life. The memories of Danny at Swann Center that my Mom, Dad, Sister, Nephew and I have are both precious and dear to us. My wife Amy and I and my children will always treasure the times we spent with Danny at Swann. The common theme in our lives is Danny, and the relationships, experiences and people we met would not have happened and would not have been possible without my brother.
Many people throughout my life have either hinted at or talked about the idea if Danny was normal. If he didn't have severe mental and physical disabilities. I've often wondered some of the same things as human nature would naturally bring someone to think. But what many people failed to understand, including me, for a very long time, is that there was no alternative version of Danny that was meant to exist in our lives.
He was born into and raised by family that loved him unconditionally and he loved us back. The form that Danny took and the life he had in this world as designed by God was not meant just for just for him.. it was meant for us.
Me, my family, and all the people that were lucky enough to come into Danny’s life are all better people because of Danny’s disabilities. We were molded into better people than we otherwise would have been if Danny was just a normal regular everyday guy. Danny allowed us to see life through a lens that many are not privileged to see or experience. And from that view, it made the challenges we overcame in life more meaningful, the victories we've had in life more treasured, and the gift of life more cherished. And what was remarkable about my brother Danny is that he could give you this gift with just five minutes of time, and without ever uttering a single word. Who among us can say that?
We love you Danny. Thank you for sharing with us the precious gift of your life. God’s Speed.