When you work for the Church, you’re always thinking a liturgical season ahead. And so I’m presently immersed in the Lenten Gospels as we’re preparing video and print materials for our small groups at St. Joseph’s. And so on this 13th anniversary of my dad’s passing, I find myself pondering a question meant for reflection in the fifth week of Lent and the raising of Lazarus: How has the death of one you loved affected your journey of faith?
The truth is, prior to my dad’s battle with lung cancer in 2000-2001, I’m not sure I would have understood the question. In reflection, my journey of faith began anew with my dad’s passing.
As in any family or close group of people, when tragedy strikes, we discover many things about ourselves. First and foremost, we all handle crisis and grief differently. We take on roles to complement and support each other (and, of course, at times clash with one another’s human frailties).
When my dad was ill, there was no doubt about who would tend to his physical needs. My mom would take care of him for as long as she could, and then my sister Margaret would share her nursing skills and love to assist them. And so Margaret did, with a selfless tenderness I will never forget.
What could I do except be there? Even that was easier said than done with my parents living in Florida and Greg and I having a houseful of young kids in Rochester.
But on the trips I managed to make to Florida, I came to realize that my dad had a need to openly talk about dying. He needed to say the words out loud and be heard. He needed to wonder about what came next for him and for those he would leave behind.
In his need, I discovered something about myself. I was OK with his need to talk about it. I came to treasure these conversations or his very occasional, very brief written notes.
One was a handwritten note that came in the mail along with a 1960s, yellowed, soft-cover composition notebook. It was our bird-watching list, started in 1967, and kept by my dad for the rest of his life. He returned it to me, writing: “It has no monetary value, but it has been a treasured possession for a big part of my life. Take care of it for me.” I take it out every year on this morning and chuckle at the silly bird names and marvel at how my little-girl penmanship gave way to his continued decades of recording birds from Long Island to the West Coast to Florida, and even Rochester.
What a gift it was in those last months of his life to see into the very sensitive, emotional, and spiritual side of the one I loved. That experience awoke in me a need to better understand that bit of myself that was comfortable with these conversations, and to appreciate it for what it is – like everything else in life – a gift from God, not to be hidden but shared.
What gifts are waiting to be awoken in you? Blessings!