"...Don't Be Afraid." One Month Since Dad Passed Away.
Today marks one month since my Dad, Jack, passed away, and I wanted to offer my thoughts surrounding his death, my hope, and my faith. I am going to first set some context, then tell a story, and hopefully process this life-changing event a little more.
My greatest bond with my dad was music.
Dad sang with the Cold Spring Area Maennerchor for over four decades. He loved the camaraderie, the performing, and the travel that came from participating with the Maennerchor. Trips to Europe, Annual Big Sings, with choruses from around the region, and of course the concerts and events they would lend their voices in joy. I grew up with my dad singing. Silly songs "Do your ears Hang Low?" "They're Always in the way" and many others as we drove across the midwest to visit friends and relatives.
Dad also sang for daily Mass at St. Boniface during his retirement. He would bring his trusty pitch pipe, and lead the hymns acapella. Not only did he lead the hymns, but he chose appropriate ones for the readings of the day. No, he never asked me for tips on liturgy planning, he just had a natural gift that was rooted in prayer. He sang always. So will I.
Dad's voice was only a small part of his active faith life.
Dad was involved with Parish life in every way imaginable. He was on the Parish council, he was the Treasurer, he was an Usher, an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist during Mass and to the Homebound. He sang the hymns in the pew next to me. I still see his hands resting on the pew next to me in my mind. He volunteered for all sorts of parish activities and events.
Every car trip, We would pray the Rosary. I hated it. It was boring, and I couldn't (and still can't) remember all the mysteries. We usually traveled on Fridays so those mysteries are pretty solid at least. But that was Dad's jam! Every day, rosary. Every afternoon once he retired from the Securities and Investment world he would pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I never really understood why until one day recently I realized he was probably keeping my Grandpa Mat, Grandma Cate, Uncle Don, and my brothers David and Chris in his prayers each day. I think and hope that he's doing that for all of us still here on this side of heaven.
When Dad and Mom taught me to pray, we started with a litany of blessings for our family members and friends, then the classic prayers: Guardian Angel, Our Father, Hail Mary. I still say it that way to this day. Each night with my girls we still pray the Bedtime Prayer, Guardian Angel prayer, and Hail Mary. That foundation is a lifelong one and how it brings me comfort.
Needless to say that active faith is the description of the house I was brought up in. A Church of the Home was very much real in the Maus Haus.
Dad's faith passed on to me and thanks to music I think I have peace in his passing.
When the call came that Dad was declining, I was driving back from the National Pastoral Musicians convention in Louisville. My phone rang just outside of Milwaukee with my sister Mary delivering the news to come home ASAP. Hospice said Dad was not going to make it much longer. I reported that I was in Milwaukee and it would be 6 hours until I made it back to Cold Spring, MN.
The phone hung up. And this melody played in my head almost immediately, "And Jesus Said. Don't be Afraid" That song ran like a mantra for many many miles and hours in my little car. "And Jesus Said, 'Don't be afraid, I've come to turn your fear to hope, I've come to take you through the deep, and be your friend. Until the end. And give your doubting heart to sleep." - Sleep dad, your time has come- is all I could hope for.
I cried, I prayed the Rosary (it was Friday, and I could remember all the mysteries!), I sat in traffic (it was July 1st) and those 6 hours became 8 hours due to holiday traffic. Upon reflection, It was a gift to be in isolation and greive alone. It felt good to be alone in the car with Dad and Jesus on my mind. It was a blessing to pray to my brothers Chris and David, asking them to be with Dad. I still weep when I think about that time. It was sacred in a twisted kind of way.
When I got to the nursing home, Dad was sedated and looked comfy and stable. I gave him a kiss, Told him I loved him and went back to their house for a night of sleep. As I walked out the door of the Nursing home I still heard, "And Jesus Said, 'Don't be afraid..."
The next morning, I went to the Nursing home and was the first to arrive. Dad was in pain, he was not comfortable like I saw him the night before. I saw his anguish, and I kept after the staff to get him more meds to ease his suffering. Nearly all day he was uncomfortable until the late afternoon. I kept hearing "And Jesus Said, 'Don't be afraid," in my head every time I found myself worried or scared. We eventually saw his face go from pained to almost "wow." He looked happy! He was stable so we went to get dinner and my sister and I came back to check on him later in the evening.
He was still comfortable, he was still looking like he was in Awe. He uttered some sounds and Paula thought he was singing. I began singing, "How Great Thou Art," his mother's favorite hymn. I sang the first and last verses then I leaned over his bed and said, "There's your lullaby daddy. I'm going to go stay with mom. If my brothers and Jesus come for you while we are away, don't wait for us. Go with them! If I see you tomorrow I'll be happy, If you see me, I will rejoice. I love you, thank you for being the best dad! I love you."
That was my last time speaking with my father. I live in gratitude it was that way.
When the Nursing home called at 5:35 AM on July 3, Dad had passed. I was eerily calm. Cue the music- "And Jesus Said, don't be afraid. I know your emptiness and grief. I hear your words of unbelief. And if you will, I'll heal your soul, and give your doubting heart relief." I was relieved. It was finished and I know what comes next for us on this side of heaven.
I went and saw his body. That's all there was, his body. Dad was gone and I was okay with that. I couldn't wait to plan the liturgy. It was the one way I knew I could minister to my family. I've done that for hundreds of families over the years of my career, and for once, there was a chance to ease any worry about the Church stuff my family might have experienced. My wife, sisters, and Mom sat around the table and planned things as I usually do with any family. We settled on the readings and the music and I could finally relax.
I had to sing, "And Jesus Said" as a prelude. I prayed those words so hard for my sister Mary. I prayed those words so hard for my Mom who was married to my dad for 64 years. I prayed those words and sang that song with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength for our family and the gathered assembly. It's what Dad taught me to do. The third verse hit like a ton of bricks. "And Jesus Said, Don't Be Afraid. I am the way, I am the Light. I am the truth, that holds you tight. And in God's home, you have a room. A place of welcome and delight."- May you be welcomed home, Dad. I trust Jesus to do that!
The Mass itself was a comfort. The readings that we choose encircled what we needed to be reminded of regarding Dad. The Gospel that Fr. Cletus chose was certainly a welcomed surprise. Luke 1: 39-56, The Visitation account of when John the Baptist leaped in Elizabeth's womb.
The Maennerchor showed up and sang wonderfully. I was actually happy and at peace until they sang and my grief hit in the best way possible, It wasn't sadness, it was grief. Those who know the difference understand what I mean.
If I can impart one thing about my Catholic Faith that has aided me through the death of my father, brothers, and friends it's this- The Funeral Liturgy is the most beautiful ritual we have. Yes, Baptism is the prime sacrament and without it, one cannot know the will of God. From that fundamental sacrament, we see a Funeral as a competition of a mission set forth from the day the water hits our head. The ritual itself encompasses the life of faith:
-Recollection of baptism and recalling the baptismal garment (Pal)
-Resting the body of the deceased next to the Paschal Candle- The Light of Christ.
-The Liturgy of the Word with Old Testament foundation, New Testament example, and Gospel relationship with Jesus.
-The liturgy of the Eucharist is where we eat the bread of ever-lasting life, the Body of Christ I know my dad received anxiously every time he could. Since Dad's death, I have become closer and more desiring of the Eucharist than I have in a long while.
-Incensing of the Body as it is Holy and we raise our prayers like incense to the glory of Heaven.
-Proceeding to the burial place where we adorn the grave, honor the deceased, and conclude prayer to be sent back to the world and build up the kingdom of God.
In conclusion, I want to say I am doing just fine. I was describing to my wife that the sadness comes when I realize just how much I am loved by my dad. The overwhelming appreciation is what wells me up with tears. Do I miss my dad? Yes. Do I pray to him in intercession? You better believe it! Am I aware of my talking out loud to him? Not always, so I appear a little crazy. If that's not okay, well, don't tell me because thats often how I pray. I just start talking.
Thank you for spending this time with me today or whenever you read this. The cloud of love that surrounds us is how I know everything is as it should be. If I may ask, please pray for comfort for my family during the month of August. Dad's birthday will be a tough day for us, but we still plan on celebrating. We will always keep celebrating!