"The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead,
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us utter destruction.
But they are at peace.
For if to others, indeed, they seem punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of Himself."
(Wisdom 3: 1-5)
Just a few short days ago, my beloved father passed from this life into the peace of God's kingdom.
I was driving when the phone call came from my brother...the phone call I had been awaiting with dread for the previous 10 days when my father was found to have a large, aggressive tumor in his brain. A quick glance at the phone told me who the call was from and I pulled over, missing the call but returning it immediately.
The preceding days had involved a whole spectrum of emotions, each arriving at its own unpredictable moment. But in the hours immediately before the call, I had been experiencing a particularly intense, inexplicable anxiety.
I had been wondering to myself why it was there but, receiving no answer, I simply accepted it as part of the process. I breathed the prayer and kept going.
Both the tumor and my discomfort, in an odd way, were an answer to a previous prayer. I don't mean to suggest that I had prayed for my father to die. But my father had been declining. A lot. It had started with a broken hip four years ago, moving through a multitude of layers of cognitive and physical disability. He had become able to do less and less, enduring one humiliation after another as his body and brain gave way.
In my thoughts and prayers I had moved to a place where I preferred to take on the suffering of losing him to having him continue this wretched decline even further.
The wish was granted when I heard the words, "Dad passed away...", words followed by a piercing stab of grief.
But then, peace. A deep peace, as inexplicable as the anxiety that had preceded it.
In the few days I have had to live with this new reality, I have felt that my family and I have been wrapped in grace. So many have been praying for my father, for my mother, brother and me.
As important as that has been, even more importantly, I believe that my father is now living in the fullness of peace and is radiating that peace to us. I do not imagine the peace of God's kingdom to be like a passive green meadow of eternal indolence where everyone "rests".
No - it is an active, living peace - one that loves and loves and loves, continuing more deeply the life of the spirit first tasted in earthly form. My father knew and lived that life of the spirit - in his love for his family, his prayer life, his acts of service and gifts to those in need. That life has not died and will never die.
I will miss him. I do miss him. I miss the younger, healthier father who did so much and was so much for me. I am sure that I will experience more emotions and sorrows as time goes on - I am not trying to hide from them or deny them.
But I also feel a great joy - certainly for all that has been - but even more for all that is yet to be known in the the eternal kingdom of God. And that is a joy that no person, no circumstance, no illness can ever take from me. Or from any of us when we choose to follow the Way.
(Heartfelt thanks to the many friends, patients and communities of mine that have surrounded my family and me with prayer and loving intention. Know that my prayers are with you as well as we walk together through both the joys and sorrows of this life.)