Seeing as how my father was a United Methodist minister, it’s obvious that I’m not Jewish, but I read Sheryl Sandberg‘s essay while my father was in hospice care and her words resonated for me. Having said that, we didn’t sit shiva, but I did observe sheloshim, the first thirty days of mourning. I backed off any activities that were optional. I backed off social media. I attempted to be gentle with myself and not force things. Today marks the thirtieth day.
“Live your life so there’s standing room only at your funeral.” I don’t remember where I saw this but it was true for my father. It was a standing room only crowd. Family who loved him. Colleagues who respected him. Friends of the family showing their respect.
In the brief time between his hospitalization and his passing, family members came to share time with him. They were saying their goodbyes, they may or may not have known it, but we did. With his wife always at his side, he laughed, he sang, and he showed his mischievous side. He applauded prayers. Always encouraging family members in the ministry. That was the way he was. Always.
In the brief time between his hospitalization and his passing, I shared many pictures. Pictures that showed him as a young man in love, a young father, a grandfather, a man who loved where life had taken him. This was a man who could have climbed high in the church’s hierarchy, but turned down opportunities for advancement by saying, “I am where I need to be”.
He loved what he did. As the head of church development he travelled to areas in the United States where Latinos were moving into and he helped establish ministries that would meet their needs. He taught fledgling ministers how to minister to congregations from various Latin American nations. He taught them that you didn’t minister to a Puerto Rican congregation the same way you would minister to a Mexican congregation. At a memorial service, we heard a minister say that she wished they had adhered to the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry, a plan he wrote. She said that the way was written for them, all they had to do was to follow it; and they didn’t. Hindsight is always 20/20.
In the brief time between his hospitalization and his passing, we heard from people who remembered him from his ministry in Haverstraw. Kids who enjoyed Sunday School and Vacation Bible School while he was the minister there. We heard from people who enjoyed their time as campers at Aldersgate, a United Methodist camp in Swartswood, NJ. We heard from people who entered the ministry because of the example he gave them, as a man of God. And we took all those memories and treasured them in our hearts.
I of course, remember him as my father. The father who checked the weather here while he was living in Florida. He was always worried about us when it snowed. The father who showed up when we called out in the middle of the night. The father who understood when I decided to leave my husband. The father who backed my sister in her contentious divorce. The man who gave his grandchildren the man that they all needed. The man who played with his great-grandchildren.
I would put my head on a plate for him. I would jump in front of a train for him. Or so says Bruno Mars. I definitely would. But my father wouldn’t have tossed it in the trash like the woman he referred to in ‘Grenade’.
It’s been an emotional day, so I leave you with the words I wrote for his funeral service:
Well done good and faithful servant. Now rest in my arms.
So said the Lord to our father.
Here lies the earthly remains of one of God’s most faithful servants. What remains is the vessel that held our father’s soul. His was an old soul. We constantly teased him about his never owning a pair of jeans. After retirement, he bought a pair of jean shorts and made sure to send us a picture of him wearing them.
His name was the one we called out in the middle of the nights when the Cuco paid a visit. Daddy, Daddy!!
He was the one who fished me out of the cold waters of Pelham Bay when I slipped into a hole no one knew was there. We both shivered on the subway ride home.
He became Pop, instead of Daddy, when we were teenagers. And just so you all know, I’m only responsible for 50% of his white hair. We sucked our teeth and rolled our eyes, as teenagers are prone to do. One look out of those cat eyes of his was enough to quell our rebellion. As adults, and parents ourselves, we understood that he was only trying to keep us from harm, but at the time…
Despite a grueling travel calendar, he was there for every graduation, every wedding, every holiday. Family was everything to him. He became a grandfather at a young age and he took to it like white on rice, or beans on rice if you want to be culturally correct. Many was the time that we caught him fomenting rebellion in his grandchildren. He was both grandfather and godfather to my older daughter, and he acquitted himself in both roles.
He is much beloved and much respected by family and friends alike. Our parents traveled to Philadelphia on May 22nd, for what was to be a four day visit for a family gathering. But God flipped the script on us.
On May 25th he was admitted to Aria Hospital Torresdale Campus in Philadelphia, and our final journey began. By May 27th we knew that the end was in sight and despite our grief, we thanked God for his grace and mercy for having him within reach. Our family members were able to spend some time with him, pray with him, and say their farewells. Many times he applauded the prayers.
On June 2nd he was transported to my sister’s home and began to receive hospice care. He was surrounded by comfort and love. By June 9th, we knew the end was near and hoped that he would not be called home on June 10th, his granddaughter’s birthday.
On June 11th, his loving wife and lifetime partner told him how much she loved him and to grab God’s hand when it came. A few minutes later he took his final breath in her arms. The same arms that surrounded him with love during 57 years of marriage.
God has shown his mercy and grace towards our family again and again over the years. We praise His name.
We give thanks for all of the communications we have received in the last three weeks. We’ve heard from people who have been mentored by our father. People who entered the ministry because of him. People who have been inspired by his work. We are aware that there are thousands of people who worship in UMC because of his work, and they will never know it. We’ve been told of the donations to MARCHA in our father’s name, and we truly appreciate the fact that our father’s ministry will continue.
We, his wife, his daughters, his grandchildren, his brother, his nieces and nephews, great grandchildren, cousins, uncles, and family members will miss him forever. There will be a void in our lives that no one will fill.
We thank God for the time we spent with him. And again, we thank God for His mercy and grace. My sister and I hit the lottery when it comes to fathers. We sorta knew it then. We definitely know it now.
Victoria said it best when she wrote, “it is now your turn to rest your voice and let your family tell your favorite stories.”