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    A View from the Pew

    Love and grace: that's good enough for me

    My dad left St. Luke’s Hospital last week after six days spent in the care of some of the competent and compassionate health care providers in the world. In my opinion, these people wear invisible wings. Physicians, nurses and assistants, housekeepers, technicians, transport attendants and dietary staff loved my dad and treated him with reverence and integrity. To my dad and to me, this staff walks on water.

    Even in the midst of serious illness and very uncomfortable medical procedures, Dad called them all by name, asked about their lives, listened to their stories and greeted them with an affable smile whenever someone came into his room to see to his care. He never failed to leave them with his message of gratitude, “Much obliged,” his hallmark parting.

    As he sat in his chair and looked out of his fifth floor window to gaze on his beloved hometown of New Bedford, he would comment, “I’m living like a king.” He pointed out all of the buildings that he could see and name to his visitors. He watched the fishing boats and the island ferries from his ‘throne.’ Most importantly, Dad could see the cross on the steeple of Our Lady of Guadalupe from his throne. He used it as his point of reflection every day of his hospitalization.

    92 years of age and in possession of a mind as sharp as a tack, Dad serves as my family’s historical touchstone. He remembers the history of his native hometown and talks about key points in the city’s business changes, political climate, cultural shifts and the growth of the church over almost a century of New Bedford and world history. A permanent deacon for 25 years, Dad places the poignancy of his ordination second only to his 60 year marriage to my mother, the birth of his four children and the death of two of his sons. Profoundly deaf at a very young age, Dad is a United States veteran of World War II. He is a first generation American who helped his family begin a wholesale distribution business. He married and raised a family. And he responded to another call, taking on on a second career of service in his sixties through holy orders as a permanent deacon. Dad’s life wisdom can be summed up in his parting greeting to me whenever I would leave the house as a young girl. “Soyez prudent.” Be prudent. Sometimes I remembered.

    Released a week ago into skilled care at Sacred Heart Home, Dad’s advanced directive includes comfort measures only. “Let nature take its course,” he said. He called his own shots. After a week at Sacred Heart, I watch again as he learns people’s names, smile at his caregivers and express gratitude for even the smallest kindness. “We want to clone him and put him in about 100 rooms,” one the nurses commented this week. His attached apartment in our home seems extremely empty. We miss him in the back yard, at meal time and hearing his “Go! Go! Yay! Ho ho ho!!!!” on the other side of the wall as Pappy hits a homer.

    It occurred to me this week that even as he advances in his illness and he continues to pray his way through discomfort, for prayer intentions in his care (and for the Red Sox to win) that his work here on earth is not over. A holy presence has entered Sacred Heart Home. The health care providers, all magnificent caregivers who possess the patience of Job as they care for the elderly and the dying sense Dad’s charism, not because he is ordained or because he is old and wise but because he is authentic. He’s the real deal who loves people and will embrace them until he breathes his last breath. “I’m ready to go,” he peacefully told one of his nurses. I marvel at his acceptance of his illness, his attention to the present moment and the wideness of his generous spirit. Long story short, Dad lives in the presence of God whose love and grace is enough for him. I have a long way to go before I can even begin to reach that level of being fully human, whole, holy. Even as he lives into his dying, he remains the consummate teacher for all who encounter him.

    For me, the psalms sang volumes. "Our eyes are fixed on the Lord and pleading his mercy." So are mine on behalf of my gently parent. I pray for a kind end to my father’s life because he has been the kindest of men. This morning, I dressed Dad, shaved him and wheeled him to the chapel in Sacred Heart Home for Sunday Mass. God has given me a grace: to be completely present to my dad in these last weeks of his life. I have moments of great fatigue, impatience, pain and frustration. But there are moments of deep and profound mystery and wonder as I hold my dad’s hand and we walk together through this final chapter of dad’s very full and rich life. I reflected on how often I prayed, like St. Paul, that I be spared a thorn, this heartbreak of watching a little more life bleed away from Dad day by day. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. “ Hold that thought.

    I know that I am heard as I plead for God’s mercy, as are we all when we pray earnestly, with faith and confidence in the God who gives life who leads us through the desert and finally calls us home. Jesus walks with us and heals a few sick hearts in our hometown. We feel the goodness of God pour out through the gentle touch of hands, the humor and the rich blessing of marvelous family, friends and caregivers. We know that Jesus will not depart from us because of our lack of faith. Our eyes are fixed on the Lord and pleading for God’s mercy. That love and grace is good enough for me.