My dad used to tell me that, as an engineer, he would much rather deal with machines and math than with people and their emotions. He will note that the world in which I live and minister is sometimes a mystery to him, since I am often faced with assisting people in very challenging situations, when their emotions and feelings can be on full display. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that, following my mom's death three years ago, my dad has become something of an accomplished grief counselor.
At the time of Mom's death in 2015, my parents had been together for just shy of 60 years. When they married, Mom was working as a registered nurse, and my dad worked as an engineer for General Motors. When I came along, Mom made the transition from her nursing career to the full-time work of stay-at-home mom. Toward the end of my time in high school, Mom returned to full-time nursing at a local hospital. Throughout those years, Dad remained in the workaday world as his career took him to a variety of locations around the United States and eventually overseas. Mom and Dad were utterly devoted to one another and shunned a more gregarious social life in order to spend time with one another and with family. As their parents aged, Dad and Mom both stepped in to assist with their care. Throughout it all, Mom and Dad grew in love and in friendship for one another. Although both of them had friends, they much preferred being in the company of one another. They were two peas in a pod.
As my mom's final illness unfolded and eventually took her life, both my brother and I were concerned about how Dad would adjust to not having Mom around. Following Mom's death in 2015, we made sure to take extra time with Dad and tried to make sure that he had some resources to help him with his grief. One of my priest friends made sure that Dad received a series of faith-filled booklets that are designed to help a surviving spouse make their way through grief over the course of a year. My dad found these booklets to be helpful, but he would often share that he found his own personal faith and his daily prayer to be much more helpful. Dad's faith has always been rock-solid, and his trust in God is very open and honest. As one who reads the Scriptures daily, Dad is pretty clear on God's promises to us, and so he trusts that Mom is being well-cared for in her transformed life. He also trusts that one day he and Mom will be together again, joined in a communion of love with all the faithful departed. Dad's faith is pretty straight-forward: what God says is true, God is worthy of our trust and God will fulfill his promises. So, although he readily admits that he misses Mom each day, his faith gives him great comfort and a positive way to help him deal with Mom's death.
Dad's strong faith and simple trust in God have allowed him to become an able grief counselor to a number of people in his parish who have lost their spouses. Somehow, God seems to steer grieving folks to my dad, and in turn Dad is able to share his story and his faith, bringing comfort and healing to others who, like him, are grieving. The man who once shied away from the world of emotions seems to be doing a great job navigating not only his own, but assisting others in charting a course through their grief.
Even in his early eighties, my dad continues to surprise me. His combination of trusting faith and surprising ability to share that faith are an inspiration to me and an assistance to others. Just when I thought I had my dad figured out, he managed to surprise me in a wonderful way. Perhaps you have seen or sensed something similar in your dad through the years. Make sure to let him know – especially as Father's Day approaches this year. And so, our journey in FAITH continues.