Mom & Dad, March 14, 2004
Dad’s parents were Baptist. His great granddad, his mom’s granddad, was a Nazarene preacher. Stories abound of how his Granny White would drag him & his siblings to church. Needless to say it was quite a shock to Mom, a cradle Catholic, Catholic schooled newlywed and first time out of Catholic New England to accompany Dad to his Nazarene granny’s funeral with all its fire and brimstone. She’s often said in relating the story she thought the preacher was gonna have a stroke. Dad was never one to be dedicated to any one religion.
After Mom and Dad had married, Dad decided to try to become Catholic. At that time, they had an at-home type of study. Apparently, it was difficult to study this way, as he gave up.
We used to go to church a lot from what I remember, but Mom was having issues with her own faith in religion. After asking us kids if we wanted to go to Sunday school anymore, to which our answer was no, it’s boring, we stopped. No church. No Sunday school. We still celebrated Christmas and Easter – just not at church. All of us kids made our First Holy Communion, but only my older brother made his Confirmation.
I don’t believe anyone lost their faith completely; they just had questions about things.
Years later, the Catholic Church admitted they more or less abandoned the kids of the 1970s & 1980s. We had no direction. I always thought it was us. Dad being in the military, you traveled a lot and things like schooling get repeated or skipped. I remember being bored. The repetition… always the same… over and over. I realize now, they were working form one book, the Bible, but even still, there is a lot in the Bible. All I really remember being taught about is Jesus was born in a stable, and he died for our sins. I know that’s all you really need to know, but year after year, it wears on a child. There are lots of stories in the Bible to share with children. There are lots of ways to get them involved. Activities and such that can be made up to stimulate kids and make learning the Bible fun. I was about 10 or 11 when we stopped going to Sunday school and church.
As I grew up, I still had faith, but I had questions. I never lost my faith, but boy did I have questions. I always prayed. It’s what kept my faith. Yep, prayer helped me keep my faith. No, I didn’t pray for faith. For the most part, serious prayers were usually answered. I never really prayed for money; so, I never got disappointed if there wasn’t any. Dad’s faith and words always carried me through money woes… “Don’t worry, things’ll work out.”… and they have. Oddly enough, when God thought we needed a few extra bucks, somehow Dad was right… things just worked out.
In 2001 after September 11th, a lot of people went back to church. Not us. However by spring 2002, God apparently had been giving us little nudges. Mom and I were talking one day and she said “I’d really like to go to church this Easter.” I said, quite easily, “OK, I’ll go with ya.”
Now anyone who knows Catholics, knows you don’t just go back, especially for Easter. You have to go to confession before you can partake in the Holy Eucharist. So we did. I was so nervous. I felt I was going to burst into flames as I walked through the doors of the church. I was actually shaking. It’s not like I hadn’t been since I was 10. A friend of mine and I used to go to a little Franciscan chapel occasionally during our lunch break from work. I never went to confession there though. Too scared. I always felt I would spontaneously combust upon entering. I always felt someone was watching.
Back to confession 2002. It was Divine… sort of. The priest was not going to hear our confession at first because the church has a Penance Service at Easter & Christmas. They already had the Penance Service and they did not hear confessions except on request. We went to him on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. This is a busy time for priests getting ready for the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday; so, I understand him not wanting to hear our confession at 4 in the afternoon. The priest, I believe through Divine intervention, decided to hear our confession. Going through the entire ordeal made me sick to my stomach. Literally. It felt great to go and talk about all this stuff, but my stomach suddenly got real sick. I barely made it back to the car before all the evil pent up inside was forced out. I was sooo embarrassed; yet, I felt a great sense of relief. A great burden lifted… a heaviness gone… utter darkness transformed into a bright beautiful Light.
The next day, Easter Sunday, Mom & I were, amazingly, joined by the rest of the family. We all went to church.
Skip ahead to spring 2003, one year later. I was laid off from work… turned out to be a blessing, in a way. In August of 2003, my beloved 16 ½ year old cat, Gizmo “Gizzy”, was diagnosed with cancer. Because I was unemployed, I would be able to spend every moment with him nursing him for his final 3 months until he died in my arms, peacefully… another prayer answered.
In the fall of 2003, our parish, like many others, offered RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes. Mom mentioned she’d be interested in relearning much of her forgotten Catholic school years. I never really gave it any thought, but Dad apparently did. He showed interest, again, in becoming Catholic. After going with Mom & Dad, I figured, well, I hadn’t made my Confirmation yet; so, I might as well. This is also the time I began making rosaries and praying the rosary daily with Gizzy. I always prayed for a miracle healing or a peaceful passing. November 20th, 2003, one week to the day before Thanksgiving, God answered that prayer… Gizzy passed away in my arms while he slept at about 10:15pm. I cry to this day, but I know he went to the Rainbow Bridge.
Also during this time, Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She feared she would not see Dad become Catholic and get baptized, something she had always prayed for. After she received the anointing of the sick, she went through chemotherapy & surgery. She continued to go to all the meetings. Not missing one. She was determined to see Dad baptized and receive Holy Communion for the first time.
Holy Saturday, 2004. Once again, we sat at St Mary’s Catholic Church, a Texas historical landmark. Lit only by candles… an evening Mass. It was so beautiful. The feeling was not meant for words. I couldn’t begin to describe it if words existed. It was like nothing I had ever felt before.
They had those who needed baptism to go first. Dad had to go by himself with a few others getting baptized. I was so proud of him. Then, those who were baptized in another religion got to receive their first Holy Communion. Finally, I and another fella got to make our Confirmation. I was, once again, petrified and relieved.
When the Easter Vigil Mass was over, we had a reception in the parish hall. Dad exclaimed to one of the deacons, who he had become good friends with, as they shared a good number of stories and similar life experiences, “I always felt I was searching for something; now, I know I have found what I was looking for.” I overheard that declaration. Again, I was so proud.
One year later, March 2005, Dad got sick. Doctors at the VA in Bonham believe he had a heart attack and rushed him to the Dallas VA hospital. They told us he would not survive the night. I prayed like I never prayed before and said a rosary for him. He survived.
However, the answered prayer was just for a few more months. On July 1st, 2005, we went on a genealogy trip to east Texas. I had found where some of Dad’s family originated in Texas. I had towns, tombstones and various info. Dad was always interested in where his family came from. This was the last trip Dad, Mom, me and my older brother took as a family. My younger brother lived in Dallas and couldn’t make the trip. Dad seemed to enjoy the trip. He liked seeing where a good number of his family came from. Within an hour of returning home, Dad suffered a massive heart attack and passed away, probably at home. He was rushed to the hospital; doctors worked on saving him but could not. We had to wait until the justice of the peace arrived; so, his official date of death is actually July 2nd, 2005 because she arrived after midnight. The heart attack was ruled by the VA as related to Dad’s diabetes and Graves disease and ill handling of the Grave’s disease by the military, which is related to his being exposed to Agent Orange during his service in Viet Nam.
Things happen for a reason. A lot of things took place to get Dad to the place he needed to be. We all, including Dad, thought we were going to lose Mom; we had no idea God had other plans. I thank God for answered prayers for keeping Mom with us and giving us a little more time with Dad. I thank God for allowing Dad to be baptized before he passed away. I thank God for letting me hear Dad say those inspirational words: “I always felt I was searching for something; now, I know I have found what I was looking for.”
Never lose faith. Always pray. God is listening.
We may not know the answer right away. We may not know why things happen, but when you look at them as a whole, we see God knows what He is doing. He puts things into place just as they need to be. We can only stand in awe of Him. I still miss Dad. Thinking of him still brings tears to my eyes, but I know he is with God. Of course, he did have to stop off at the Rainbow Bridge to go get my Gizzy for me. (btw, Gizzy is my avatar/picture)