FROM POPE FRANCIS PRiVATE LIBRARY TO MY DAD'S DYING WARD
It is one year today since my father’s passed away. As I read to him from Psalm 73, “and afterwards he will lead you into glory” he breathed his last.
Catholics do death better than Protestants. I have been impressed, and deeply touched after both my parents death that it does not matter how far after the death if I meet a Catholic friend they will always go out of their way to give consolation.
I think the monthly mind Mass is a helpful way of leading people through grief. A Mass a year later also helps us remember and again take another step in mourning. Protestants close the gate of the cemetery after the funeral and never speak about the person again. I am so thankful to those who still share sympathy with me.
I have spent 52 weeks surmising and wrestling with THAT week. In THAT week, I experienced over 5 days the very highs and very lows of this adventure of life. It was indeed life in all its fulness; the fulness of joy, the fulness of grief.
It has been hard to get my head and heart and soul round that shift in emotion. One moment we are laughing and throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain and the next I am falling through the hole in my dreams to land, with a bad news bump, in a side room in the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine.
That juxtaposition was like a violent rip in my soul. I am in Rome. The sky is blue. There is some heat on my back. I am with Janice. And Fr Martin Magill, our dear friend. As well as us there visna team of Catholic students led by Fr Dominic and Shannon and Fr Eddie. The craic is high. Pizza across from the Colosseum.
In the middle of all of that we all get a private audience with Pope Francis. For Fr Martin and Janice and myself that was an honour for 10 years of the 4 Corners Festival. Having the freedom of the Vatican was utter fun. All of it was an utter honour.
I am so thankful that the call came about my dad the morning after we had met Pope Francis. I was mentally free in the Vatican. BUT the next morning all changed. Should I go home immediately? My daughter Caitlin stepped in. It looked like I had time… and then doctors said I hadn’t.
There is that stress of changing flights, catching flights, buses from Dublin airport not every half hour as they used to be. Twelve hours from the Irish College to Causeway Hotel. 5am. Alone with a dying father. Awful coffee. What just happened. Where have I ended up.
My dad has had dementia for many years and was asleep the entire three days. Yet, I had as good a time as saying goodbye to a parent can be. BUT it was a traumatic shift in mood and life experience.
I have not come to term with that. I have tried to write a poem. I used to unpack my life with rhyming couplets. I haven’t got past a line or two and have written nothing else. The first year in 45 years not to write a lyrical rhyming poem.
I am stuck in the making sense. Its as if I have unfinished business in Rome. We lost two full days and we had lovely plans that we missed. Dad though has not more business to do.
One good thing. I have my dad back. He was my dementia ridden dad for years and now I am able to go back to the years when he was leaving me advice, mostly about sport. All his phrases are trotting out of me and I am back when he first said them. As I sang to him minutes before he left me, Luka Bloom’s “The man is alive in me…”
Rome. It certainly had lost some of its glow by my dad’s passing but this week I have been celebrating with those students from the QUB Catholic Chaplaincy and I am beginning to release the joy of those few days and that one special hour.
Grief is a journey. This is a bit of my unique one. Be vulnerable. Open up to it. Surmise.