Although the words “I love you” were rarely shared between my Dad and I, I will never forget the time when love was shared between us most poignantly.
It was three years ago today, when I received the call at work that Dad was in the hospital and wasn’t expected to live much longer. I immediately began to shake all over. As my sisters and I drove together to Manitowoc to be with him, and on that 1-1/2 hour long drive, we shared our pleasant memories of Dad and tried to keep ourselves calm. In our nervousness about what state we might find Dad to be in when we arrived, we often fell into fits of laughter about silly topics like our hair. As inappropriate as that sounds, it did help to diffuse the stress that we were feeling on that long car ride.
When we arrived at the hospital, we found the rest of the family waiting in the hallway outside Dad’s room. The hospital staff was giving Dad some kind of treatment that was causing him horrific pain. He cried out, loudly. Not one of my siblings or I could hold our emotions in check while hearing him in such pain, and we all broke down and cried.
When we were finally allowed to enter the room, we found Dad to be resting, obviously exhausted. Cindy went to him and told him the names of all of his children who were in the room with him. She said, “We’re all here Dad, and we love you.” He nodded and said, “I love you, too.” It was such a relief to hear those seldom spoken words from him. Then, as he drifted off to sleep, Diann prayed “The Three Beautiful Prayers for a Dying Person” from the Pieta Prayer Book.
I stood next to him, holding his hand, and although he appeared to be sleeping, I could feel that he was squeezing my hand. I took that squeeze to mean that he was grateful that I was there and the he loved me. In the Holy Longing, Ronald Rolheiser states that “any one of us who visits a sick or dying person, regardless of how inadequate and stuttering our actual words might be, anoints that person, just as a priest does in the sacrament of the sick. To touch a sick persons hand, or to speak words of affection or consolation to a dying person does what the woman named Mary did at Bethany for Jesus…anoints them for their impending death.”
I am so grateful that my brothers and sisters and I were able to be with Dad during his last days on earth and that we were each able to anoint him in our own way with our presence.
I know it wasn’t easy for Mom and Dad to raise nine wild children and bring us all around to a somewhat normal adulthood. But, their faith was strong and they passed that on to all of us. We each have embraced our faith in God in our own way and this embrace of faith allowed us to embrace our father with love and anointing before he returned to God and his wife in heaven, for his final, everlasting embrace.