I write on what would have been my father’s 96th birthday. My dad, for whom I was named, was born in 1908 and went home to God in 1977, just a few weeks short of his 69th birthday. He died of a cancer that was first identified in May of that year and died at the end of August. His death came quickly, although not without warning. At the time, I thought he died too young. At my present age, I hold that thought more strongly.
Like you, I have been praying for the deceased in a special way during this month of November. I have since I can remember. I have been praying for the eternal rest of my parents, grandparents, all family members, friends and all who have nourished my life. In keeping with the suggestion first made to us in a Tuesday afternoon released-time catechism session by a lay catechist, I still pray for those who have died alone with nobody to care for them or support them with their prayer in their hour of need.
Over the years, two further elements have become more a part of my prayer as I remember the deceased in November or at other times.
One is the practice of asking for their prayers. I do believe most deeply that those who are transformed in Christ and live fully in the communion of saints do not lose interest in those they have left behind. Rather, my conviction is that we become more deeply and ardently a focus of their attention, support, love and prayer. So today, in a special way, I ask my dad in peace and confidence to hold me close in his prayer and his affection. I even made so bold as to ask him to help me with some of the specific concerns and questions that seem burdensome to me just now. He’ll be there for me in sustaining prayer. Of that I have no doubt. I just have to remember that, even though the relief I seek may not come in the form I expected or with the immediacy for which I hoped.
A second, more recent feature of my prayer for my mothers, fathers, and friends in the faith who have gone to new life is a conversational one. Let me remain with the example of my father for a moment. I love my father and I know that he loved me. But neither of us was or is perfect. When my dad died — even though there was some warning — I knew that things between us were not as settled or peaceful as they might have been.
I don’t mean that there was animosity or ill will between us. Rather, I refer more to things that I wish I had said to him or that I wish he had said to me before he died. There are questions I wanted to ask him that I never had the nerve or confidence to ask. And, I know I regret very much not having shared more about myself with him through the years of my growth and even into maturity. I am confident — isn’t hindsight wonderful? — that had we both done more of that work, we both would have been the richer for it.
So, now I do those things when I pray with him and for him. I tell him about myself and entrust my concerns to his loving care. Occasionally, I go back through the stages of my life and speak with him about things I held to myself in those days and ask him now the questions I wish I had asked him then. It’s not just about the lacks or the “I-wish-that-he-or-I-hads.” It’s also a time to say thanks for the good things he gave to me, especially for those gifts I appreciated fully only after he was gone. And, I’ve re-enjoyed in prayerful memory some of the great times we had together.
This kind of November prayer has become more important to me as my own years grow in number. It is healing. It helps to put life’s ups and downs in a broad and helpful perspective. It enhances self-understanding and my understanding of others. I am glad to have caught up a lot with my dad — in part because I am now close to the age he had achieved when the Lord called him home.
Peace to all.