“Hi, Father Warwick!” I sang, tapping his shoulder from behind. I was attending the St. Simon Parish barbecue last September. It was an event I hadn’t participated in for more than 12 years.
Beaming from ear to ear with his welcoming smile, the pastor hugged me tightly. Then, his grin turned to a quizzical look as if something were out of place. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
Stunned, I wondered why he would say such a thing. I’d been a member of this parish for 31 years after all. But I quickly realized why he looked so confused. This kind man only knew me from the frequent visits he made to my 96-year-old father, not as a member of the congregation.
Sheepishly, I looked down and felt like a naughty child caught doing something inappropriate.
“Perhaps I should show up in church a little more often,” I mused.
At home that evening, I relayed the story to my dad. The devout Catholic looked at me sadly and responded, “I wish you would.”
“Dad, I just don’t have the time anymore” was my excuse. “Besides, I feel so out of place.”
When I became a single mother in 2001, not only did my new status create myriad fragile emotions, but it also made me question: “Where do I fit in?” The life I’d known and felt rooted in had been crushed like the withered leaves of fall under my feet. I was left without a solid branch to cling to when the wind blew too hard.
As my children moved away, going to Mass by myself just enhanced the loneliness I was already feeling. Everywhere I looked, couples sat holding hands. It was painful to witness, so I stopped putting myself through the agony.
Witnessing the joy my father’s faith brought him, I wondered if perhaps he knew best once again. So, I returned.
In the beginning, I hid in the last pew. There I’d let my mind wander to more relevant topics of my day rather than the sermon. Macy’s was having a huge sale, and calculating my finances for my next expenditure required a peaceful setting. But when I began attending the services Father Warwick presided over, my attitude started to change.
As he spoke of our blessings in the presence of the Lord’s divine grace, I surveyed the congregation with eyes wide open. People of all ages, some married and some not, sat in kinship embracing a higher power. Lovely memories washed over me as I watched families with children huddled close. A tear found its way to my eye as I lowered my head in prayer, recalling my own four babies crawling all over my body before snuggling in my lap.
Two months later, Oct. 28, my daddy slipped away to heaven while resting in my arms. In that moment, I understood what he was trying to teach me all along. Dying is the most important job we ever do. We prepare ourselves every day to walk into the light by living a life of gratitude that is renewed and refreshed through faith.
I’ll miss my dad’s gentle ways and wry sense of humor. I’ll yearn to hear him ask about my day and say “I love you.” But I’ll especially long to witness his head bowed in grace as he said his nightly rosary, silent, reverent and always at peace.
Thank you, Dad, for helping me resurrect my gift of faith. It’s a present I plan to hold close to my heart every day until we meet again.