In Memoriam: Anthony (Tony) F. Vastano
Tuesday early afternoon, September 25th, Barbara and I drove to central New Jersey for the funeral of a former congregant, back in the last century when I was the pastor of a Brooklyn church. Tony Vastano, 71, husband of Geraldine (nee Dalland, a family often to be seen on this website) died at home in Piscataway NJ following years of disability, the consequence of a nearly fatal auto accident.
I presided at the funeral: you will find below the photos and summaries of the messages of grandchildren the tribute I offered family and friends. The most moving moments of the service were provided by a daughter and a trio of grandchildren, each of whom paid grandpa a warmhearted and articulate tribute. Tony would have been so very proud of them, not just because they said nice things about him, but that they said them in such a way that even a stranger would have understood what a wise, caring, fun-loving, patient, and courageous soul Tony was.
I’ve known Tony for forty years. But we’ve really talked at length only twice, once in Brooklyn in an apartment on 7th Avenue, a year or so after he and Geraldine were married; and then in May a couple of years ago at the baptism of his and Geraldine’s grandson, Vincenzo, at a restaurant in Bound Brook. Tony, at my urging, had the honor of holding the baptismal font from which Vincenzo was anointed.
That is, I cannot share with you any robust memories of times past and happy exchanges with Tony, except to say he was always easy to remember. Back there in Brooklyn he impressed me with the sheer power, strength of his muscular body. Fire plug build we named it in those days. There was nothing he couldn’t do, no heavy burden he couldn’t lift. Sonny has a massive cross on his estate in Coxsackie. I can only guess how much each of the crossed beams weighs. But I wouldn’t have been surprised if Brooklyn Tony Vastano could have put one of those beams on his shoulder and lifted it into place.
The fact is, from what I know of Tony and Geraldine’s life post Brooklyn, they have had an even heavier cross than the one at Sonny’s home to lift day in an out for years. Accidents, illness, financial woes, the whole menu of rough circumstances life sometimes deals out to us, and to some of us far more than our share. Tony and his loving helpmate lifted that cross and did it with far more grace and faithfulness than I think I could have mustered were I in their shoes.
Before going further with this theme, lifting the cross given us, we should not forget the good times, the sunshine, the successes, and, best of all, the deep and abiding love of family and friends, which also marked Tony’s days. At Vincenzo’s baptism, Tony positively beamed, a new suit, a carefully clipped moustache, looking in the photograph on my website like the patriarch he was, surrounded with children and grandchildren, with, as always, Geraldine behind him to back him up. I’ve had my share of successes in this life. Plenty of satisfactions too. Lots of love. But in this eleventh year since I laid down my Bible and silenced my preaching, I can tell you with the certainty of my own experience, that that is the better part in this life, the love and care of those closest to you, taking pride in their accomplishments, basking in their affection. Tony (and Geraldine) from what I can see had that blessing in great measure. Back to the cross and the lifting of it. I heard a great sermon recently, and I didn’t preach it. The subject was the cross. The preacher fleshed out that cross in terms Tony and Geraldine and you well understand. But, and this is the greatness of the message, she explained that taking the cross is not a passive experience. It’s an active one… when we lift the sorrows, our own and those of others, and bear them gracefully, without giving in to the understandable temptation to cry for ourselves and demand from heaven an explanation as to why me. Oh, yes, occasionally those unfaithful thoughts find their way into our heads… just that they do not prevail. Like Sonny reported to me about Tony, he never gave up on life, looked forward to another day, hoped it would be better.
Name it courage. One of my seminary professors did, in the title of his book that says it all, “The Courage to Be.” To bear with grace and a minimum of complaining the lot assigned you in life: that is reminiscent of the One who lifted the cross for all of us, the One, remember, who felt our frustrations there, but the One who at the last commended his spirit to God in a final embrace of this life we live. Tony, God bless him, would know better than many of us when he says to that One and his courage, “Amen.” Picture him in the Father’s House, ever the guardian angel for Vincenzo and all of us within his circle of affection in this life and forever.
Following the service the family and friends gathered at an Italian (of course, of course!) restaurant on Rte 22. There I not only tasted the best veal francaise ever, I met Tony's brother and asked him if he too had been born as Tony was in Tripoli. He laughed and told me he was much older than Tony. That is, he is my age. Good food, laughter, family, friends: once again Tony would have approved.