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On the Death of my Father
  [ Mike's Theology home ] [ A Commentary on the Crisis in the Church with a solution ] [ A Catholic Apologetics problem: Sincere hearts but terrible results ] [ Perspective: The Annunciation and Birth of Our Lord ]
  [ For the "religious freak" in the family ] [ The Da Vinci Code and Opus Dei ] [ The Dialogue:
  Who is really Pro-Choice?
]
[ On the Death of my Father ]


On the Death of my Father

The purpose of this commentary is to share a few thoughts and reflections on the passing of my temporal father, Stephen William Humphrey Jr., into eternal life. Originally he had been diagnosed with colon cancer, that had not metastasized, but he had a reoccurrence that made him go down hill. Ultimately, it was a staph (short for "staphylococcus") infection that got into his blood that did him in.

My father's passing was a long, drawn out one where his health declined over a period of years. Reading theology and religious books is one thing, living through these situations and applying them the best you can is another. Don't be judgmental of others in similar situations until you have gone through an experience like this yourself. There had been numerous surgeries to "fix things" with some unpredictable reactions to medications. Sometimes it made him go crazy. For those who have NOT had to deal with a death in the family and:

  • continual hospital visits, sometimes at different hospitals;
  • hospice visits to my parents home;
  • continual visits to various nursing homes; and most especially
  • the end-of-life questions the doctors kept asking my mother

it can have a stressful and emotional drain on, not only the immediate family, but in-laws as well.

That was the case in our family and especially on my non-practicing Catholic mother, Dorothy, who has never been catechized in the Catholic Faith and shows no interest.

Because my dad "lost his marbles" over the last few years, she had to put up with a lot of verbal abuse. Mom may have tried to remind him to take his medication OR thought of something that would make him better off; nevertheless, dad always tended to get upset with her and her good-hearted suggestions. Dad always thought he could get back to normal and many times was too eager to get back to normal without the help of anyone. I tried to remind her not to take his "do-this, do-that, NO-do-this, do-that" attitude, personally. As a matter of fact, I was quoted many times saying that:

"My father's pride is going to kill him."

Despite the last few years of my father's temporal life, he and my mother had been married for 56 years!! Yes, it was a very rocky road at times and I remember my older brother telling me they once thought about divorce, but for our sake, their children, they preserved. (I'm the second boy in a family of three boys, now 48, 52 and 56.)

Another blessing the Humphrey family has received, compared to what I have heard in similar family situations, is we have pretty much been able to work out some very difficult issues in the final days leading up to my father's death in a fairly peaceful manner.

  • Have we had our family fights? Sure, we are human!
  • Have we forgiven each other by saying "I am sorry." and regrouped as a family again?
    Sure we are Christians!

Some may be envious of how relatively smooth things have gone in our family. Personally, I'm not surprised at all. Why? Because me and my younger brother, Mark, were blessed with an appreciation of the value of going to daily Mass, obviously in a state of grace. Because we have been daily Mass goers,
I believe many graces have fallen back in history to:

  • keep my parents marriage together,
  • get our family through the tough times of dad's passing and
  • have assisted in getting new housing for my mother who was evicted

Remember because the Death of Our Blessed Lord on Calvary IS ONE sacrifice that we enter into eternally every time we go to Mass, the graces we receive from each Mass, at God's will, can bless any part of our life here on earth. Jesus is not a human person but a divine person who died for our sins.

My opinion: A daily sacramental life for a Catholic is a life full of blessings!

Despite my father's later years, overall he was a very kind, giving, self-sacrificing father obviously along with mom. He and mom always put our childhood and well-being first. They wanted to make sure we had it far better then they had during the depression. Being a religious-oriented person, many times I could see the image of God the Father in him; and as his Son, striving to imitate Our Lord Jesus, knew I was bound to strive to give back to him the life he, mom, and The Lord had given me. Although I didn't see him as a Theology major, when I told him: "He was a good image of God the Father", I thought he really understood what I was saying.

The only thing I really feel bad about ...

The only thing I really feel bad about in the wake of his passing away, was that he never achieved one of his major goals in life: owning his own home. How do I know? Because after his death, I was one of the first to go though his top desk drawer, and I saw a "down payment"/check on a house he had an opportunity to buy, 40 YEARS AGO, uncashed! The check was dated 1967. I have that check today and somehow I hope to honor my father with it and pull a greater good out of what was a bitter disappointment for him.

Theological reflections

You may be asking though: What gave you the momentum to go:

  • all those hospital visits,
  • all those nursing homes and
  • to be with him when he or mom needed help?

My answer: Easy. God tells us in the Old Testament that those who take care of their parents in their elder years will receive many blessings. My motive was two-fold:

  1. because it was the right thing to do in God's eyes and
  2. I WANTED THE BLESSINGS! Yeah, a selfish motive. :)

During those visitation periods though, I received some interesting reflections.

Many times, dad would:

  • drop something on the floor by accident
  • need help go to or from the bathroom
  • need help putting on a shirt or pajama top
  • need help getting a straw in his mouth so he could sip his orange juice
  • had to be spoon fed because he could not feed himself
  • as well as other things.

One day I was visiting him, it dawned on me. Hey Michael, when you were a baby did you:

  • drop things on the floor by accident
  • need help go to or from the bathroom
  • need help putting on a shirt or pajama top
  • need help getting a straw in my mouth so I could sip my orange juice
  • had to be spoon fed because I could not feed myself
  • as well as other things.

What I saw here was a small giving back to my father for the many things he had given to me in his life time when I was a baby. I found it amazing how this patterned the Trinity in that God the Father gave HIS ALL to His Only Son Jesus and in return Our Blessed Lord gave HIS ALL back to His Heavenly Father. I may have not been able to give MY ALL back to dad, but I hope he now thinks I gave back something. :)

On further reflection on the Christian Life and Promise of Our Lord of a New Birth into Everlasting Life, I could see that his physical inabilities and weaknesses were just a new-born prefigurement for his birth into Everlasting Life.

One of the toughest periods during the last few months

One of the toughest periods during the last few months was when the doctors started asking my mother permission for DNR (Do Not Resuscitate). She was very honest, saying that she had one son who was a religious freak. I took it as a compliment. Fortunately, one of our part-time Catholic apologists, I am trying to persuade him to go full-time; Richard Chonak had a similar experience with his mother. I had been dialoguing with Richard for several days on the Catholic teaching on end-of-life issues. Our dialogue was very helpful and timely. Due to the length of the dialogue, and with Richard's permission, we have posted it in our knowledge base. This was just before my mother came to me personally to talk to me about the issue. I think the posted dialogue would be of great help to the Faithful: Catholics AND non-Catholics who are striving to do the right thing during a difficult period of in their life.

A reflection among in-laws

I'd also like to make a note of one other incident since my father's passing. My sister-in-law, Pam was very surprised at the casualness that both me and my younger brother Mark, Pam's husband, had to my fathers passing. She kept saying, "I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop; I'm just waiting."

To this day, Mark and I keep telling Pam, there is no other shoe that will drop. We know dad is in a better place; if not in a suburb in Heaven, Purgatory, where all his self-love and pride is being burned off; then in Heaven with "The Big Guy." Simple!

What I drew from this is the value of having a strong practicing Catholic faith. When one has a stronger faith, they tend to have more of a confidence and hope during tough emotional times because they know that our physical life is NOT the end, but a TRUE Birthday into eternal judgment and hopefully, if we have made good choices, into Eternal Life with the Big "J", as my humorous brother would say!

Personal Recommendations

I wanted to end this commentary by making some personal suggestions for those who have either:

  • gone through the death of a family member or
  • are in the process of going through the death of a loved one.

If you have gone through the death of a family member:

  1. Reconcile any differences among family members and in-laws. Sure, some family members may have not been as compassionate as they should have been to the faithful departed, but that's none of your business. Your business is to act and behave like a Christian and that starts with three important words everyone should learn: "I AM SORRY."

  2. Maybe you regret not having done more for a deceased family member when he/she was alive. Well, surprise, they are STILL alive. They are more alive in the Church Triumphant, then they were on earth. The main reason why, not only Catholics, but Christians in general, refer to their family members as dead, is because there is no better expression, other then "faithfully departed" to refer to them in contrast to the life WE are now living on earth.

    We are alive, but they, our faithful departed loved ones, are alive too!

    In Heaven there are no grudges, no vices, no resentments, just pure love and holiness. Because they are alive and want to help us we should talk to them regularly in our prayers. I talk to my father all the time and assign specific tasks in my life for him to pray for based on the best traits I saw in his life. I assign other basic tasks to my guardian angel, Michael as well.

  3. Let's say you had a family member who you think died with all the vices of the devil.

    Remember: No one can play God except God Himself. Many times in history there have been death bed confessions from extremely bad people. Make sure you offer up a set of regular Masses for that person! If that person choose to die refusing God's goodness, those Masses will be offered up for someone who didn't! Nevertheless, we won't know if they we effective until the general judgment.

    In the Church we have "Month's Mind" Masses. These are Masses that are offered for the repose of a deceased person, about a month after the death or the funeral. You can have it offered at any church, wherever you like; it's like scheduling any other Mass intention.

If you are in the process of going through the death of a family member:

  1. Pray regularly ...preferably the Holy Rosary. This will cultivate improved virtues where you need them and decrease the vices where they need to be decreased.

  2. Remember that the faith-spiritual journey you are on, is probably not the same as others in your family. Your goal: Be kind, open-minded and non-condescending. Strive to work together with family members on the tough end-of-life issues. Don't be demanding, but ask opinions of other family members and only after asking their opinion, pitch in your two cents, but in a non-threatening manner. Strive to work out an agreement all family members are happy in conscience with.

  3. Visit you failing family member often. Trust that despite any selfish motive on your part, God will keep his promise and bless you for taking care of your elderly loved one.

  4. If there tends to be a family member who is more spiritual than the others, if possible, let that person take the lead to ensure that:

    • the family member's Church and pastor KNOWS your family member is very sick.
    • the nursing home/hospital staff know your family member IS A CATHOLIC.
    • your family member IS interested in receiving Holy Communion at the nursing home and/or hospital on a regular basis.
    • on a secondary level, he/she receives private confession at the hospital/nursing home and most especially, the anointing of the sick.

      Side note: Strive to work with whatever priest you have. Remember, despite the earthen vessels of human frailty, the special character on the priest's soul allow him to bring down the graces of God from above!

  5. Finally, pray at the bedside of your family member when he nears his/her passing. Our Blessed Lord has promised great mercy on those who say the Divine Chaplet of Mercy at the bedside of a loved one.

Conclusion

It is my hope and prayer that this little commentary will assist others in similar situations. Any feedback is always appreciated.

My father, Stephen William Humphrey Jr. Eternal Birth: May 28, 2007, Pray for us.St. Stephen of North Sudbury, pray for us.

Mike Humphrey, his son ... yeah, the nutty one, No, that's Mark. I'm the religious freak :)

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