I write this blog on what would have been my in-law’s 31st wedding anniversary. This is a difficult blog for me to write, and the words have been swimming in my head since October. I know I won’t get the words right, but the compulsion to write overtakes me sometimes.
My father-in-law, after a long illness of two years, went to his eternal rest in October at the young age of 64. The emotions I have about this significant event are not unlike the emotions I experienced in 2010 when my dear mother passed from this life to her eternal rest. The emotions are at times clear and understandable, and at times confusing beyond comprehension. Our earthly death has a way of doing that to those of us who remain. Mr. Sam’s death is no exception.
Though his death was tragic, my husband and I witnessed such beauty and faith during this time. Watching and waiting while someone dies is heart wrenching….and it is a blessing. Suffering is just that, isn’t it? Both heart wrenching…and a blessing. Our Lord suffered the most horrendous death imaginable; yet beauty and blessing reigned three days later.
In one of his moments of consciousness, Mr. Sam was asked if he wanted to have the surgery that would save his life, if he was a candidate for the surgery. This is what he said:
“Well, Mary, Our Mother, I’m hers. And it is really up to her, you know? Let’s go one more round.”
At the time, Mr. Sam did not know or understand that he was not a candidate for the surgery. That came later that day for us. We never told him.
One of the things Fr. Gary Kastl told me later as we were planning his funeral was that he never thought for one moment that the doctors would grant him the surgery. Then he said, “Mary, you could tell Mr. Sam was a daddy. He was fighting not for himself, but for you guys. He wanted to continue providing for his wife and family. It was written all over his face. He was a fighter for his family.”
I know Our Mother wrapped him in her mantle of peace and protection, and delivered him to Our Lord. I know that she was with him throughout his life, and especially, “at the hour of death.”
Thinking back over those days, I have memories of the beauty of Mr. Sam’s faith:
• When his breathing was labored over the last few days of his life, my husband and I would recite the Rosary at his bedside. He never said the prayers out loud, but you could see his lips move to the words of the prayers. It was seemingly the only thing that would help him to calm down.
• While he was conscious, I made a decision that I would let him know everything I ever wanted to tell him, since I had never gotten that same chance with my mom. I remember telling him two things:
o “Mr. Sam, I love you. You’re the best father-in-law a girl could ever have.” (He started crying and so did I, as we shared a moment of father-in-law to daughter-in-law.)
o “Mr. Sam (on the last day of his consciousness)…will you pray for us on your side of Heaven? Please pray for our little family.” He said, “Yes, I will.” I believe he is praying for us as we continue to pray for him.
• In his last moments with his mother and his brothers, he comforted them in their grief. He told them this was part of life, and that he loved them. He told them to be strong and keep the faith.
In the last day of his life on this earth, his breaths were fewer and fewer. There were times when he looked to be in a little pain, but it was quickly followed by looks of sheer joy on his face. He was certainly hers, as she mothered him in death, ushering him to her Son.
There are images that will not leave my memory any time soon:
• My mother-in-law never leaving her bridegrooms’ side in the hours of his dying.
• My husband and his brother, embracing one another and their father in the love of a father and son.
• Our kids, two of whom participated in the funeral. Our third daughter as a server, and her heart breaking in the Church, as the priest blessed the body and coffin of Mr. Sam. Our second daughter who bravely read a beautiful second reading.
• My strong silent husband. Tower of strength, as he reminded me that his father loved me like a daughter. Tower of strength, as he read a reading from Isaiah, reminding us that something awaits each of us in eternal rest. Tower of strength, as he devoted the whole month of October to his father, and then stayed with his step-mother for extra days, just to make sure she was okay. Tower of strength, as he reminded our children that faith like the faith of “Pops” is what God calls us to, even in our death. I love him more now than ever, and am reminded of his strength.
There is even more that I can recall, but I want to hold on to some things in my heart. It is just too much to share, and too beautiful to give words to.
This was the second reading at Mr. Sam’s funeral:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not o nly to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” (2 Timothy 4: 1-8)
Amen. Mr. Sam…you did finish the race, and you kept the faith. And in doing so, you have taught us the same. Rest in peace…We will see you in the Eucharist, and in Heaven.