One year ago almost to the day I posted a picture. It was an image of a beautiful arrangement of red roses and baby’s breath with exquisite ribbon intertwining throughout. It was a floral spray that sat atop my brother’s casket. The flowers were placed there by my mom and dad. They had just lost their oldest son at the age of 51 to pancreatic cancer.
The words on that card were almost unimportant compared to the realization that no parents should ever have to write such a card. And yet, he was the not the first child they had buried.
Remarkable people, Mom and Dad. Strong, faithful, resilient.
Last Friday night I stood in the same room of the same funeral parlor. I looked upon the man in the casket and he looked so much like my brother. Peacefully reposing was the body of my beloved father. DNA’s a funny thing. Last year when my brother died and Dad, already 79 years-old, I think he knew it was OK to grieve a bit. You see, the first time they lost children, three of them, we had had a house fire in the middle of the night. Mom’s injuries were severe enough that she could not attend wakes and funerals. And Dad, well he was marvelous but he had to return to work, hold the family together, and help us move forward. He couldn’t grieve then. He was 46. This time he could experience the terrible pain he could not give into then.
It came as a shock to no one when the slowing down of his life and the “letting go” seemed to hasten. It was time. He knew where he was going and he wanted to go there. Listen, the man was a daily mass-goer. By my estimation he received Holy Communion somewhere in the neighborhood of 27,000 times in his life. He fought the good fight, ran the race extremely well, and left a legacy of Wisdom, who is always vindicated by her children.
Turning toward the same casket spray I had seen the year before I stooped over to read this card. Different man, different message.
We expect that spouses will die and leave one behind. What she wrote, though, summed up the man perfectly. a “man with true convictions, undying faith,” and one who “provided our family with love”.
The signature? I don’t ever remember a time when my father didn’t refer to my mother as his “child bride”.
Forgive me for posting so many times about this. Daddy (that’s what I always called him except when I was calling him by his first name, Dick) was a man among boys. People simply don’t live the kind of life he lived anymore. But that didn’t stop him from insisting that his children try. He took care of us. He loved us. He loved my mom – she was everything to him. He loved playing with his grandkids who were the joy of his old age. I had moved away about ten years ago. My children didn’t know the joy of that special relationship and spending time with their grandfather. The best I can do is to try feebly to be like him so they can see who he was. But I was doing what he taught me to do. I was trying to teach the faith and provide a loving home for my wife and children.
It’s only been a week. Trust me, I’ll have much more to post about him. For the moment, though, look at that card again. I mentioned this to a close friend. Showed him the picture. He’s a younger guy, mid-20’s, married a few year – long enough to know the value of sacrifice but not long enough to see its fruits. Then I asked him this question.
Wouldn’t you die to know that your wife could say that of you when you die and truly mean it?