As I prepare to leave southern Indiana behind once again to return to Anchorage, I wish to share some final thoughts about our family’s experience of accompanying Mom through her final days. Please bear with me for one final reflection.
At the prayer service the night before Mom’s funeral, each of the family members offered some reflections about Mom. I could not think of Mom without thinking of Pop. The two naturally went together, and it is barely possible to separate them. I recalled a plaque that hung over the kitchen entrance to our home (back door) which said: “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mom.” That is what Pop has done so well for 60+ years.
Part of God’s intention is that children be raised in an environment of love. Children need to see their father and mother gaze at each other in love, express their love, and live their love in concrete ways. This is the ‘domestic church’ in which my family was raised, in which every child is meant to be raised. This is the school of love that trains each person in the basic human virtue of charity, which is the ‘mother of all the other virtues.’
Dad’s love for mom, especially in these past nine years was such an example of fidelity. “In good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, I will love you all the days of my life.” This is the love of Mom and Dad. I mention this because I want people to know that it is possible to make and keep such promises. Love is hard work, but it carries such rewards. Part of the reward is yet to be seen by us in this life, and much of it was on full display for both Mom and Pop as we, their children, surrounded each of them for the final two days of Mom’s life in the hospital room where she died.
As my brother Bernie also mentioned at the vigil, our family is not perfect. We have our own dysfunctions as every family does, and we humbly own them! This, too, should give every family hope, that even in the midst of our foibles and weaknesses, great love can take root. The goal is not perfection, but rather, love.
My brother, Zach reproduced a prayer the Mom and Pop prayed together each day for years. I share that with you here. However, before the prayer, the simple ‘take-away’ here is for married couples to pray together! Root your love and life in the Lord, and all will be well. I cannot begin to share the impact upon all of us kids and grandkids seeing and hearing Mom & Pop daily pray together. Prayer is what allows couples, parents, families, and individuals to carry the crosses and trials of each life, with a hope in God’s promise of presence and grace:
Protect This Relationship, Lord
Keep us, O Lord, from pettiness. Let us be thoughtful in word and deed.
Help us to put away pretense, and face each other in deep trust without
fear or self-pity. Help us to guard against fault-finding, and be quick to
discover the best in each other and in every situation.
Guard us from ill temper and hasty judgment; encourage us to take time for
all things, to grow calm, serene and gentle. Help us to be generous with
kind words and compliments. Teach us never to ignore, never to hurt, and
never to take each other for granted. Engrave charity and compassion on our hearts.
Please, pray for us.
A final reflection in the wake of this experience speaks to the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of every human life. Alzheimer’s is a dreadful disease, robbing people of their memories, and ultimately of life. As Mom taught us how to live, she now has taught us how to die.
For the past few years, I have prayed: “Lord, Mom no longer knows us, and we do not know ‘where she is,’ but she still knows You, and You know where she is. Be present to her as only You can be, and assure her of our love.’ Pop lovingly cared for Mom during this nine year odyssey, and faithfully visited her each day at the nursing home these last fourteen months. Again, the point being; love was at the heart of our relationships, and faith was our compass, that despite the ravages of Mom’s path to death and eternal life, it is what God chose, and we found our peace with that.
Our world needs each of us to recover the sense of sacred, which in reality, is more than a sense. Sacredness is the very definition of human life. In these very hours, the Bishops of Alaska are hammering out final language for a Pastoral Letter on Human Dignity and Sanctity of Life which will be published next week on Ash Wednesday. The experience of seeing Mom through her final hours has reinforced my belief in the sacredness of human life, and especially in the sacred experience of dying, of allowing God to determine the time and means of our final breath of life.
Rest in peace, Mom. Thanks for the many memories. Thanks for the gift of life. Thanks for the gift of faith. Thanks for teaching us how to live, and how to die, and to do both with trust in God.