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Annual pilgrimage is celebration of life

The wind, blowing across Lake Erie from the west, was chilling on this cold December day as I drove along Ridge Road to Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna. Five generations of my family lie here interred.

I drove into this garden of weather-worn limestone memorials. The rhythmic cadence of the names on the headstones caught my attention and drew a smile to my face. O'Reilly, O'Malley, O'Toole, Deegan, Dugan and Dunne. It spelled out a Litany of the Gaels that had crossed the broad ocean. My people were among them, and now lie peacefully at rest in this eternal village of their neighbors, friends and descendants.

I found the St. Jude Garden of plots. It is here that the current generation of Martins are interred. First I see my brother, Edward J. Martin. He passed on at age 42. Eddie had been a visceral presence, whose force of personality and strong will had carved a lifetime of stories in South Buffalo. His stone reads "U.S. Navy," reflecting his service time in the 1960s.

Nearby lie my dad, sister Maureen and brother Danny. Maureen was taken from us at age 18, by a reckless driver. She had the raven hair and startling blue eyes of the "black Irish" in our line. Losing her broke my father's heart. "Moe," as we called her, had just graduated from Mount Mercy Academy.

Daniel Eugene Martin was intellectually the most gifted in a family of very bright people. But his common-sense levels were predictably and sometimes humorously nonexistent. He did manage to get through the University of Buffalo and then saw service in the U.S. Army in Germany, before heading down the dark path that took so many of the Irish before him. We buried Danny at age 34.

I said a few prayers and talked with my dad for a time. Francis Harold Martin had loomed large in all of our lives. His death, at age 61 in 1976, had shaken us all. Even now, the memories of him are strong.

Then I walked to the nearby Garden of the Annunciation. There lies the final resting place of another brother lost, John Francis Martin. Jack, or "Marty" as his friends called him, was a bon vivant of the first caliber. We lost him at age 40, in a car accident on a lonely stretch of highway in Boston. I said a final prayer for Jack. The Christmas wreath, on his grave, looked festive.

Our younger brother Kevin lies nearby with my dad's parents, Emmanuel and Mary Martin. Kevin had been taken from us in childhood. He was but a wisp of a memory to even the oldest of us.

And then I nodded my head to the winds, in tribute to Brother Paddy. Patrick M. Martin lies now at rest in a military cemetery north of Concord, N.H. He had seen service as a combat medic in the central highlands of Vietnam. He now lies with another band of brothers, who made that terrible journey with him.

I come here yearly, to wish them all well -- remembering them as they were in life, vibrant and alive. I wished them one and all our fondest sentiments as we neared this, the most spiritual of all holidays. I will remember each of them this Christmas morning, and say a prayer for the health of those they left behind.

Merry Christmas Dad, Maureen, Danny, Jack, Eddie, Kevin, Paddy and all of those many who came before us. You will live on through me, and the others who remember you, as long as any of us walk this earth.

Joseph X. Martin, of Williamsville, still carries the spirits of loved ones he has lost.

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