When I started this journey I had already grieved so much – for the man he wasn’t, for the man he could have been, for the beautiful relationships he could have had, for the beautiful relationship we could have had. It seemed to me that he had died a long time ago. I was desperate to save him, but felt so incapable; my skills so handicapped and his walls so impenetrable.
I was bothered by people assuming he went to heaven, as if death magically erased all the harm he had done, all the selfish things he had done and painful things he had said so easily, so often, without compromise and without repentance. He was rarely wrong, but he was rarely edifying or merciful. I was relieved that he could no longer hurt others and others could no longer hurt him.
I want so badly to know he went to heaven, but it is not for me to assume, I have too little information, too fuzzy sight. Perhaps purgatory…
In every prayer, God gave me overwhelming reassurance of His love for my father, His son. He reminded me very clearly of His infinite mercy. After all, he had been baptized into Christ, and nothing my father did was unforgivable… the Lord would have spoken to his heart, and perhaps interior repentance was all this fragile soul could do… nothing he did was unforgivable.
What comfort! What strength! What hope!
Such grace did He fill me with in those moments… it was almost tangible. The results were contagious. I could feel my family grow strong once we were all together. The Lord was there, we would help each other.
A friend of mine said a few helpful things – one, he almost certainly didn’t go to hell; two he may not have been capable of a certain kind of self-reflection; and three, my concern could almost be considered judging him.
Many people have memories of him that were good, positive, loveable… where are mine? They must be there, maybe I can borrow some of theirs… maybe my perception of him was inaccurate.
At the head of his casket was a candle. A red candle – exactly like the ones we use to signify that Christ is present in the tabernacle. The realization that ‘Christ is present’ was a great comfort.
As I stood looking at him I knew there was something on the tip of God’s tongue…
Then the Lord showed me that my desire for Him is insatiable, and that maybe I was demanding too much of my father.
He was (of course) exactly right. This was so unfair of me. Perhaps I could have loved him better, or had more affection for him, if I had not always been mourning some disappointment. It is almost as if I had made him an idol. But how do I lower my standards without growing callous, cynical, jaded?
I realized that I must be careful not to let my children make this well-intentioned error. God alone is deserving of our efforts. I want them to work for His glory and pleasure, not mine.
I don’t mind having low expectations of people I dislike. I don’t want them to go to hell; I want them to know Jesus, but I don’t pursue them or lose sleep over their apparent lack of conversion. Isn’t that evidence of my hardness of heart? My lack of love? I could never do that to my father! I did cry for him, I did worry for him, offer sacrifices for him, and lose sleep over him.
But it is now 10 days later and I still have not experienced overwhelming grief of his passing. I have sadness because others are hurting – my sister, my brother, my mother… And I have lost opportunities to love him better. I will miss his voice and his intelligence, and the way he told stories and shared his thoughts. I always found it so hard to ignore how much of his words were laced with pride, fear, anger, judgment. How surprised he must have been to experience the Lord’s unconditional love and mercy!
I hope that I will see him in heaven. I try to imagine him without the sin that was so heavy in his life while he was here… will I even recognize him? What is he really like? What does it look like for him to love with reckless abandon, to trust Someone other than himself, to be carefree, cheerful, merciful, free of the pain he held onto, and confident in the Lord?
What a dazzling sight… what an amazing transformation is the soul that emerges from the fire of God’s loving embrace after death. In this Moment of Mercy, the Lord cannot but make a glorious saint of the man He gave me to call my father.
Lord, I beg for your mercy on my father, and on me and my loved ones here on earth.
Holy Mary, Sweet Mother, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.