The Greatest Gift

They say the greatest gift a father can give their children is to love their mother. Our Dad gave us that greatest gift! Dad was an example of a loving and devoted husband. Dad worshiped Mom.

He talked his way into their first date by playing on her sympathy because he had just returned home from the Pacific after World War II and he spent the next 72 years talking her into other various situations. Thank goodness, because I might not be here otherwise. In truth, Mom took care of Dad more than the other way around but Dad was still her hero and her protector. And their love story is one for the ages.

We lost Dad yesterday. He was 95 years old. In the 2-1/2 years since Mom passed away Dad has lived in an assisted-living community. No visit was complete without hearing how much he loved and missed Mom. He disliked the fact that she had died before him and often wondered aloud why God would have done that. He couldn’t change it and he couldn’t understand why it happened that way. He couldn’t fix it. He couldn’t negotiate a better deal. He couldn’t talk his way out of it.

And Dad was a talker. And a dealer maker. And a fixer. But he couldn’t fix the fact that he was alone after a lifetime with Mom. So, he adapted and learned to live without her physical presence but she remained always with him.

Dad was always quick with a joke and looked at life as a glass half-full. He never met a stranger. He made friends everywhere he went. As a kid I used to be embarrassed by his knack (or annoying habit) of striking up conversations with anyone he encountered. He was the kind of guy that could ask an amputee how they lost their limb and somehow not be offensive. He talked his way into places, jobs, relationships and talked his way out of jambs and traffic tickets (and probably some jobs as well). He adjusted pretty well to life at his assisted-living community. The other residents and the staff at his complex loved him and he was sometimes the life of the party or the instigator of some mischief. Always smiling. Always talking. Always making the best of it.

Lately he seemed to be missing Mom more than usual. He died on what would have been her 93rd birthday. It was his last gift to her, that they be united once again. The greatest gift Dad gave me will live in my heart forever. His loving devotion to Mom eases my pain and lessens my grief. And I pray that I can give my children that same gift.

I have a great example to follow.

Peace,

Denis

In word and deed honor your father that his blessing may come upon you;  For a father’s blessing gives a family firm roots.  Sirach 3:8-9

We Are Family

In his book, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic and Beyond, Matthew Fox quotes Julian, a 14th century mystic: “Those who were Jesus’ friends suffered because they loved Him”. Fox then adds in his own words, “It hurts to be with the pain of others, of loved ones. But it also grows the soul.”

This week we celebrated the life of my cousin Michelle who passed away on October 7th. Michelle was a gentle soul who accepted every one of us as we were. I never heard her speak ill of anyone. She dearly loved animals because the love they returned to her was unconditional. Her life was not always easy but she carried joy in her heart and she shared that joy with all who encountered her, especially her furry and feathered friends.

When I think of Michelle I am reminded that Saint Francis, who also had a gentle nature, believed that humans and animals could live in loving harmony. Francis is attributed as saying, “My brother birds, you should greatly praise your Creator, and love Him always. He gave you feathers to wear, wings to fly, and whatever you need. God made you noble among His creatures and gave you a home in the purity of the air so that though you neither sow nor reap, He nevertheless protects and governs you without your least care.”

Michelle’s service was beautiful and spending time with her siblings and her mother “grew my soul” this week. Our family, of which 4 or 5 generations have lived in the same town, is now spread throughout the rest of the world like many families today. There was comfort in being in our hometown and laying Michelle to rest next to her father, with those other 4 generations nearby. Knowing that we belong to those who came before us is comforting and grounding. Knowing that we belong to those who remain with us gives me strength. We shared our grief and our heartache on Monday but we shared our joy and our love for one another as well. This is our tribe and we carry one another when necessary. I held my cousin Kim’s hand as we prayed and watched Michelle’s remains be interred. That simple gestured calmed my soul and lifted my spirit. We are family and we belong to one another in a way no one else can.

Michelle had many gifts. She was a talented artist. She was generous to a fault. She didn’t have a pretentious bone in her body. She never met a stranger and welcomed all strays (even the two legged kind). But most importantly, to me, the greatest gift she possessed was simply this: every time I saw her I always left feeling better. Tomorrow when I am giving thanks, I will thank God for Michelle and for allowing my soul to grow. And I pray that she is flying in the purity of the air in heaven and smiling down on all of us.

Peace,

Denis

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.” ~ Saint Francis

Good Grief, It’s Good Friday!

Hard to believe that today is Good Friday. I thought that the saying was “time flies when you’re having fun”. Nothing seems like too much fun right now. And here it is – Good Friday. Another year has gone by.

I’m on a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Today marks one year since our Mom passed away. Holy Week was important to her and to our family. Watching Holy Thursday Mass yesterday on my i-Pad just didn’t feel quite right. I’m grateful for the technology and I wouldn’t want to put anyone at risk by attending Triduum services, but still…

So I’m grieving today. Missing Mom. Missing Holy Week. Missing our friends. Missing my family, especially our children and grandchildren. Worried about our Dads in their isolation.

I’m grieving for friends and family that have recently lost loved ones. There can be no funerals. No gatherings. No holding on to one another. Just plans for memorials “in the future”. I’m grieving today for the nearly 100,000 victims of COVID-19 worldwide. Many of these souls will remain faceless, nameless statistics. God help us. God be with us.

Lucy (of Peanuts fame) often would exclaim, “Good grief!”. Her ire was always reserved for poor hapless Charlie Brown. After she would shout at him, his response was often an exasperated, “Good grief” in return.

Good grief – what a funny expression. What is good about grief?

I’ve been struggling with this and praying about it. I’ve come to the conclusion that grief indeed can be a good thing. It can be healing. It can be cleansing. Certainly no one wants to grieve. Surely no one wants to deal with loss. But grief allows us to own our feelings. Grief allows us to love beyond death. And everyone must grieve in their own way; in their own time.

I suppose Good Friday is a good day to grieve. If we’re Christians we can grieve the suffering of our Savior today.

Regardless of our belief traditions, it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to breakdown a little. It’s normal to want to hold on to those whom we love. It’s human to feel the pain when we know that we must let go. But we can also be assured that death is not the end. Our loved ones remain with us in spirit. We see them in the sunrise and the sunset. We see them in the stars at night and in the clouds by day. We hear them in the songs of birds and the rustling of leaves. We feel them in gentle breezes and the warmth of the sun on our skin.

And if remembering and loving them until it hurts is grief, then I suppose it is good.

Peace,

Denis

Mom

Mom, I love you. Thank you for all that you’ve done for me.

Mom Noah Me

Thank you for giving me life.

Thank you for my siblings and for teaching us how to love one another and reminding us that we always need one another.

Thank you for teaching me about God and how to pray. Your example of faith lives on in your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Thank you for loving Dad (and by the way, he adored you, too). I also appreciate that I inherited your energy and your sense of humor – even though Dad thinks he’s the funny one (and we all know he was never the fast one).

Thanks for throwing or kicking a ball, running bases and always joining in whatever game was being played in the backyard.

Thanks for being a good cook and for always having a dessert with every meal. Also, for never making me clean my plate as a kid – your mantra “just take one more bite” saved me from some otherwise torturous mealtimes.

Thank you for always keeping a clean house and having clean kids (even though we often resisted your nearly constant need to wipe our messy hands and faces).

Thanks for always welcoming my friends into your home. Especially that little girl from Saint Peters.

Thank you for being a ‘force to be reckoned with’. You weren’t large but everyone knew that you were in charge. You were calling the shots right up until the end. (And yes, I made those phone calls.)

Thanks for laughing so hard at times that you would cry. And for crying when you were sad, hurt, or heartbroken (and for allowing us to cry with you).

Thank you for teaching me how to do addition in my head – no one could do it as fast as you!

Thanks for teaching me how to drive a car, and for never losing your patience with me while I was struggling to learn.

Thanks for staying beautiful and up-to-date in your appearance and attitude. I’ve always been so proud to be seen with you Mom.

Thank you for loving Debbie, Pat and Tony as much as your own children. And for always saying that you couldn’t have picked better daughters-in-law or son-in-law yourself.

Thanks for loving our children and always making time at Gram’s house special for them. Two words: blueberry muffins!

Thank you for always keeping a toy box in your sewing room. And for letting the grandkids and great-grandkids sometimes take a toy home.

Thanks for proudly displaying all the pictures of your great-grandchildren on your refrigerator and telling me each time that I visited how those smiling faces filled your heart with joy.

Thank you for being you. And for surrounding our family with your love.

Mom, you will be missed but you will never be forgotten. And you will be loved for all eternity.

Peace,

Denis

Saints and the rest of us, too

Today is All Saints’ Day, yesterday was Halloween and tomorrow is Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.

On Halloween children dress in costume (trick) and go door to door to collect candy (treats). Costumes often convey themes of death or the macabre. Some historians will tell you that Halloween’s origin is in ancient festivals honoring the moon or stars or the end (the death) of the growing season. Some Christians believe that All-Hallow’s Eve is a time that early Christians dressed in costume and bestowed gifts and blessings on those in need in an effort to honor the saints.

All Saints’ Day is a big deal in the Catholic Church. It’s an official holy day. There are countless saints in heaven but All Saints’ Day observances tend to focus on those recognized in the canon of the saints. So the biggies like Mary and Joseph and Peter and Paul get most of the attention. Of course sometimes the more obscure guys like Sixtus and Phileas get a shout out or perhaps the newbies like Teresa of Calcutta or Junípero Serra or Kuriakose Elias Chavara but not your grandmother nor your uncle, regardless of how saintly they may have lived their lives.

captureThe Catholic Church in the U.S. celebrates All Souls’ Day on November 2nd but few folks outside of the church really pay much attention to this day. It’s a day to remember those who have died and who are not (yet?) saints . I guess is where your grandmother fits in. However in Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is a major feast day and a national holiday as well. The dead are honored with special meals, including their favorite foods and drink. Whole families gather in the celebration and the mood is light, with the emphasis on remembering and honoring the lives of the deceased.

So why all the fascination with death? I suppose that in order to fully live we must be able to accept death, too. Death is not what defines us. Eternal life, that which we so desperately seek, is never definite; never final. There is much hope for life beyond. There is the promise of life with God. And whether that means heaven or remaining in the spirit of those we leave behind, it’s comforting to know that we are more than just a mass of human cells. I believe with all my heart that we exist beyond our last breath. The love we give is multiplied by those we have loved and then divided amongst those we leave behind.

So our lives matter.

And death, well we can dress it up and “trick or treat” or we can solemnly honor it on a high holy day. But I hope that someday my family will be at my graveside dining on some of my favorite foods and drinking some good wine and laughing and crying and allowing my spirit to live on. Then I will truly rest in peace.

Denis

Dias de Muertos

In the U.S. on October 31st we celebrate Halloween as a time for children (and some adults) to go door to door begging for candy. With a cheery “Trick or Treat” the little beggars wait with their bags and buckets outstretched to receive their treat. Most households oblige. Some communities have moved “Halloween” to the Sunday afternoon before October 31st to avoid a dark night. Others have opted for “Trunk or Treat” which corrals families in a safe place such as a school or church parking lot. All of these activities are fun and none of them have much to do with the origin of Halloween or more accurately “All Hallows Eve”. All Hallows’ Eve is the day before the very important feast of All Saints Day in Western Christian traditions.

Trick or TreatIn early Christian tradition the night before All Saints was a time to honor the saints that have passed before us and folks often dressed as their patron saints and visited neighbors. I suppose this may have been the beginnings of today’s modern celebration of Halloween. How we went from honoring our dearly departed, and the saints to slogging around as zombies, vampires, witches, princesses, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and all other manner of characters, I have no idea. Still I think Halloween is harmless fun and most people handle it responsibly. Kids running around the neighborhood asking for candy is hardly a sign of a predilection to the occult. Some people seem to think that allowing children to “Trick or Treat” is tempting the devil. I say relax – no little girl or boy dressed as princess or a ninja is sacrificing animals at an altar. No one has traded their soul for a Snickers bar.

I admire the tradition of my friends in Mexico. They celebrate November 1st and 2nd as “Dias de Muertos” or days of the dead. It’s a time to remember and honor those saints in our own lives. Families gather in cemeteries and bring the favorite foods of their loved ones. Sometimes the food, flowers, and small gifts are left at the grave and at other times the friends and families will share the meal of favorite foods in honor the deceased.

I love the idea that someday when I’m gone from this world my children and grandchildren might gather at my grave and share a favorite food or drink, tell a joke, sing a favorite song and pray for my soul. Maybe it’s as superstitious and as silly as our modern Halloween traditions but I find comfort in knowing that I would not be forgotten. And if they leave some candy, I hope it’s chocolate.

Peace,

Denis

When All Else Fails…

This has been a gut-wrenching week. I have experienced disappointment and heartache at every turn. I am numb with grief for our friends who lost their son to a drug overdose. I am saddened by the realization that a co-worker seems to be losing his battle with cancer. I am frightened by the senseless violence in our streets: another day, another homicide. It feels overwhelming and I feel hopeless and helpless. So much sadness. So much despair.

I am often reminded that when all else fails we should pray. But I’m almost too angry to pray right now. I want some answers! Why? Why does this happen? How could this happen? When will it stop? God you owe me some answers. I want promises; not platitudes. I want understanding; not condemnations. I want action; not plans.

My prayers seem empty as my thoughts are clouded with lost lives; lost hope; lost faith; lost dreams. And yet I pray (or try to) for promise; for understanding; for action. I have found comfort in the words of Saint Francis:

st-francis-peace-prayerLord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

In my hopelessness and helplessness I ask God to make me a channel of peace. Let me bring reconciliation to those I encounter and give me the grace to let go of my anger and disappointment. Then perhaps I can help others begin to heal.

Peace,

Denis

A Rich Man

My best friend’s Dad recently passed away and last Saturday there was a Memorial Mass celebrated for him. He died on his 88th birthday after a long and full life.

When his children eulogized him, they each said that he was guided by his faith in God and his love of family. As a child I witnessed this first hand. He was a prayerful, patient and kind father who always put his wife and children before himself.

My best friend and I have known each other since we were seven years-old. When we were young ALL parents could and would discipline ALL kids. If you were in the neighborhood you were EVERY parent’s child. And growing up it seemed that I spent more time at my friend’s home than my own. During our formative years my friend and I did normal boy stuff. We weren’t bad boys, just boys that sometimes did bad things. Each time his Dad discovered our misdeeds, he would gently counsel us and we would promise to NEVER repeat our mistakes. Of course we often failed but he never lost his temper; never raised his voice. His disappointment in us was devastating enough and worse than any corporal punishment that might have been doled out. We would resolve to be better boys in the future. And again, when we fell short of that goal, he would once more lovingly remind us of our failures. I will never forget his patience with us and I would like to think that his example helped make me a kinder, gentler dad with my own kids.

His daughter recalled a time not too long along when their entire family was on float trip. They were all laughing and singing and having a great. Of course their Dad was in the center of it all surrounded by his children and grandchildren. As they were floating down the river, a stranger came beside and called out to him, “Hey Mister! Hey Mister!” “I don’t how much money you have but you’re the richest man I know!” What an amazing testimony. What a life lived to it’s fullest. He witnessed to all of us. Even strangers.

He was a rich man indeed. Surrounded by the love of his family and blessed by God beyond his dreams. Who among us wouldn’t treasure those riches?

Peace,

Denis

Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged. Colossians 3:21

Living in the Future

I’m probably not alone in sometimes imagining what my life will be like in the future. What may be unique is the amount of detail that my daydreams include. Often when I’m stuck in traffic or on a tarmac or at the DMV, I will time-travel to the future:

Recently I imagined a day when President Anna (my 5 year-old granddaughter who will most certainly be a politician or a Hollywood agent because she can talk anyone into anything – well me anyway – and is a budding ballet dancer) was presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to her cousin Dr. Charlise (my 9 year-old granddaughter who will be an Egyptologist and a research scientist because she reads everything she can find on ancient Egypt and loves reality television shows or books with titles like Extreme Medical Maladies or Abnormal Sea Life) for discovering cures for cancer, heart disease and boogie fever – which has seen a resurgence from the 1970’s while Attorney General Noah (my 3 year-old grandson “Life’s a Party Noah”, race car driver and brother of President Anna, which is how he’ll get the Attorney General gig) and Pope Ainsley (3 month-old baby sister of Charlise who will be the first American Pope – and a woman!) look on. Of course I’ll be there too.

Long before they were President, Attorney General, Scientist and Pope

Future President, Attorney General, Scientist and Pope

Not all of my daydreams are quite this detailed but more often than not, they are. Should I be concerned? I don’t think so. Don’t we all imagine life in the future? Doesn’t everyone wonder what life will be like someday? I assume that it’s just natural human curiosity to try to work it out in our minds; to imagine what is coming so we can be prepared. Certainly most of my preparation for the future will be figuring out how to accept the nearly constant praise for my amazing grandchildren. I’m certain that I will learn to accept it with humility.

Okay, so most of this was written “tongue in cheek” but I do daydream at times about the future and I always imagine that I’m there. I’m not quite so egocentric that I think life won’t go on without me. I know that someday I will die. But I do like to think that I’ll still be there – in spirit, in memory, in the love that I shared. I believe this because all those that have loved me are still here. In my heart, in my soul, and in everything that I say and do.

God gives us eternal life. And sometimes in the quiet stillness, I get a tiny glimpse of what that really means. And someday, well you know…

Peace,

Denis

Companions on the Journey

I am not alone. I am never alone. Lately I have been reminded of this truth. This life; this journey is not solitary. God sends us partners. God sends us companions for our journey.

I’ve been on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster in the past few weeks.

Good news: Granddaughters Charlise and Anna are happily in school – 3rd grade and kindergarten. Grandson Noah turns 3 in two weeks and has adjusted to being at home without big sister (and maybe is relishing all the extra attention). Grandchild #4 is due in about a month and is anxiously and joyfully anticipated (another girl). Home projects are near successful completion. Work and travel have been manageable this summer. The St. Louis Cardinals are headed for a pennant race. And next weekend we will join in the celebration of Deb’s Goddaughter’s marriage.

Bad news: My Aunt Loretta passed away unexpectedly. My heart aches for my cousins in their loss. She was always the “life of the party” and she will be dearly missed. Our son Blake was severely burned in a kitchen accident at work 2 weeks ago – hot butter spilled down his foreman. This resulted in third degree burns that have required a skin graft. His recovery will be slow and painful. Still we are thankful for skilled surgeons, a caring and knowledgeable nursing staff, and countless prayers from friends.

All of which makes me realize that I am never alone. Even when I want to just pull the covers over my head and cry out “WHY!”, I am reminded that I have companions on this journey. I can face the bad news; the setbacks; the hardships because my load is lightened by the love and support of those around me.

We never walk alone

We never walk alone

More importantly I am reminded that I can also bring healing and compassion to others as they journey through their lives. Jesus told us to love one another. That doesn’t simply mean “do no harm”. It means that we must reach out to those in need. That we must care. That we must pray. That we must love actively by investing ourselves in the lives of others. And we must allow others to carry our burdens, too. Sometimes our journeys are messy. Often there are detours along the way. But we never walk alone.

God sends us companions for our journey. I am thankful for those who have guided me along my way. And I am humbled by their compassion.

Peace,

Denis