Sunday, August 31, 2014


There are people in this world who live every day in pain.  It varies from person to person, but it is still pain.  For some of these valiant souls the pain that they suffer would debilitate many of us who are presently reading these lines.  Some people go to work daily while suffering the discomfort of nearly failed kidneys.  Some do the same while staving off the effects of 500 blood sugar levels.  There are those who have incorrigible back pain caused by some other condition that robs their body of the symmetrical balance that it requires to be comfortable.  Finally, so as not to prolong this enumeration, there are those who have to go through life with mental and emotional deficiencies.
A few short weeks ago, my loving spouse and I participated in a funeral Mass that was very meaningful to both of us.
It was for a 31 year old Down Syndrome woman whose mother is professionally close to us.  I am writing this because I could not stop thanking God for filling the church for this celebration. Small church, but wall to wall people, 350 according to my count, from a stuffed up choir loft!  God's little ones sure have a way of dragging us behind them, don't they?  I kept remembering what my Internet preacher brother, Reef Lector,  wrote about his daughter Laurie some time ago. In the case about which I am musing here,  we had learned just shortly before her dying, that she was not well.  We also learned about her personal spiritual relationship with God.  She was so close to God that it did not frighten her when she said "No" to dialysis.  Some few days later she went home.  Five days after that she filled the church.  I was glad to be there.  It was a moment of high spirituality for me and for Belle, my spouse..  
It somehow reminded me of the last time I celebrated the Holy Mass.  It was a funeral for a seven year old boy.  He too filled the church with more Protestants than I ever thought could fit into a Catholic church for any reason.  Baptists, every last one.  This was a military child who suffered bravely before going to the bosom of Abraham.  We had a big church in El Cajon, CA, and it was full.
The father was Catholic and the mother Baptist.  You should have heard the singing...they were rocking the place.  The whole thing lasted for nearly two hours and we still had to go to the cemetery.  The cemetery was almost too small!  As we were hugging and wiping our eyes I found myself being hugged by Mama and when the squeeze got a little looser she said from the depths of her heart, "I'll never be Catholic, but I will carry this to the grave in the happy corner of my heart."
I left there and started my journey into the future from LAX six hours later.

I remember my father.  From the time he was still a pre-teen lad he was in pain. He had broken his leg in a winter sledding accident.  The family was financially incapable to have a doctor intervene in the setting of the leg.  The lad contracted a case of pneumonia during the setting period of the leg.  The infection got into the bone, leaving the leg nearly two inches shorter than the one on the other side.  The resulting disequilibrium caused skeletal pain that was always present. Despite it all, the man led a normal life.  He never graduated from high school, but at age 35 he passed the state exams to qualify as a tool engineer - on his one and only try.  
He was a holy man.  He never suffered alone.  He walked the Way of the Cross every single day side by side with Jesus.  He was rewarded with a sudden death at the ripe old age of 47 years.

This past Saturday I presided over the Celebration of the Memorial for a dear aunt of mine who died at the age of 88.  She endured many different sorts of pain during her last few years.  She shared her journey with God and she shared it with her loving son and daughter-in-law.  Through it all, the art that she created lives on behind her.  The love that she shared is still shaking those that she left behind.

At that Memorial service some of the siblings of our dear cousin David shared the suffering of their brother who had just died in Idaho, 1,100 miles away.  I spoke to two of them and they are happy that they had participated in their brother's preparation for his departure from here into Eternal Life.  His suffering was intense, but they all knew that is was a shared reality, both physical and earthly, spiritual and heavenly.  

Those of you who are familiar with this blog know that I am not afraid of death.  I am not afraid of pain, chronic or otherwise. When I see people die in the presence of God and in the presence of God as presented to the dying person by and through loving family members I am not moved to tears of sadness.  Dying is a spiritual exercise.  We learn that from the Gospel.  It is there that we hear the warning, "Stay ready."  I once heard a priest who was talking to a church full of simple villagers in a country far, far away, "To stay ready, practice every night. Tell God that it's OK of you don't wake up.  When you wake up thank God sincerely for the new day and tell him that you are ready now and will be again as you lay down to sleep."  So, I do that every day too.  

Finally, I say, remember the last words of the Ave Maria, "...pray for us now and at the hour of our death."  
If we all did that we wouldn't have to cry at funerals.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


In the interest of honesty and in the wake of a frank and sincere exchange between the original author of the message about which I wrote these comments, I, upon the advice of someone whom I deeply love respect, hereby expose the unexpurgated text of the sincere exchange.


I may have been remiss in not expressing my views about what death (in this world) means to me but as you stated "that's your job".  I saw my job as keeping my siblings informed with the progress of the process Dave is going through.  I didn't realize that my news was being forwarded.  Had I known, I may have been a little more detailed in conveying my thoughts.  It most certainly was not my intention to be insensitive to the bigger picture.

When I used the word release I was referring to the pain and suffering he has been experiencing.  You may see it as a privilege but I find it difficult to share your view.  Each time he woke up he expressed his disappointment that he had not been allowed to leave.  Don't get me wrong.  He has accepted his lot with the greatest amount of grace and has been extremely compliant with what he has been asked to endure.  I couldn't be more impressed with the person he has been throughout his life and throughout this process.  I could go on and on about Dave but will just say that a finer person is hard to find.  I'm sure they are there but he's right there with them.

Call me weak and ungrateful, if you wish, but I I pray for a speedy exit from this world and into the arms of our Lord and the wonderful souls that have proceeded me.  Whenever, that may be will be great, if it's today or many years from now.  My uneducated view of the death of God's only begotten Son was to clearly show he had SUFFERED and died and was brought to life in all His glory.  I'm sure I won't be taken up in body as a sign for all to see so I don't believe there is a real NEED for me to suffer.  I will and will do my best to accept that lot if necessary but I certainly prefer not to.

I do view death as the ultimate REWARD.  You know that our family has always "celebrated" death and any tears shed were for ourselves or their loved ones loss and definitely not for the one that had been accepted into heaven.  I guess when I get the news that he has passed I will announce it as they announce the passing of the Pope.  "The Pope is dead, long live the Pope.", or just use the phone and call a few people that have been following his progress toward his Reward because I may not have the grace to express my deeper feelings through my selfish tears and the ache in my heart knowing I will not see him and have the pleasure of his company for a while.

I'm not unhappy with you for pointing out my lack of expression but sorry that I came across as not seeing the big picture and disappointing you with a representation of our family's point of view.  Please accept my apology.

With love and respect,
Your cousin, Al

The first reaction I had to these wonderfully expressed sentiments was to re-read them over and over again for a couple of days.  When I gathered myself back into one bundle, I wrote to the person who had forwarded me the original email and said, "Al is a saint!"
The answer came flying back, "Tell him yourself."  
By the time the "Tell him yourself" order rang the Gmail bell, I had already begun my response, which follows.

Al; Patty:
Know what?  I have read and re-read your touching expression and so it has taken me this long to thank you, sincerely for bringing the grace of your gentleness into my life at this moment.  It is a communion of heart and soul that happens only rarely and quite often in moments like this when we are all "dying a little bit and living a little bit' that we discover the depths of what pre-death suffering is all about.  It's almost as though we sense the sweetness of Eternal Life through the family pain.  Your letter drove me to those reflections.  
Everything you said about David is incontestably true.  What you said about David will be said about you, Howard, Daniel and Ronald.  The Matriarch, the Elder will surely come into her well earned praise as well, some day.
I confess that I pray every day that when it's my hour, that God makes it a minute, not an hour.  I pray every day to die like a true Dion...a lightning strike and gone...  But then, Iook at my Godmother, Grace and the power of her suffering; rare until my sister Jeanine suffered and now, David.  So what is dying like a true Dion?  It looks to me like we're seeing a great example of it before our very eyes...and every day we lay eyes and spirit on it, we too die a little and grow a little in the life that we have left.  That's God's way, looks like.

Al, I do not have the finesse and the grace that you boys have.  I know that I am more porcupine than otherwise, more cactus than rose.  I admire the tone of your communiqué.  I will never forget it and I will continue reading it because it contains the spirit of the Lord and it admonishes and invites at the same time.  I wish I had that grace.  I've never had it and I think even God wonders what to do with me about that.  So thank you, Allan.  Don't you dare apologize to me and, by the way, don't cry at my funeral.

Thanks for the Love and respect,
I'll try to live up to that challenge,

Peace to you all,


PS:  Totally off topic:  Jackie Dion died on August 20.  I found out today.  No further details.

Monday, August 18, 2014


"Here's the latest note I received about our wonderful cousin, David."  (An email) 

First my introductory comment:

David is a person who is loved and respected by us all.  He is a polite, loving, gentle,quiet and resolute individual.  He has a wonderful wife and two marvelous children.  David will never be forgotten, neither by his relatives nor by the hundreds of people that he must have influenced somehow in his life.  

Now, the text of the "latest note"

"As promised, I have e (sic) went down Friday and just arrived home this (Sundayafternoon.  I said good bye for the last time and it was difficult to say the least.

"When we arrived, T... was there and had been for a few days helping
Veronica as much for support as for caring for Dave.  We relieved her 
for the night. Dave hadn't had any food (one spoonful) of pudding or drink

since last Monday and continues to have no nourishment.  He's on a morphine

drip which was increased a couple times while we were there to try to keep

him as comfortable as possible.  He's pretty much comatose 95% of the time,
coming around enough to know he realizes that he's being spoken to but try
as he might, he can't respond or, I think, focus on the person talking to
him or caring for him with the exception of once yesterday when he did
reach out enough to get Veronica and bring her in for a hug.
Continue your prayers for his release and strength for his family."

Upon reading this note, I was struck by the absence of the presence of God in the narrative.  I don't expect long meditations and reflections about life and death from people, not even those whom I know.  I know that expressing those Sentiments is "my job."  Still, I was shaken by the request for "...prayers for his release and strength for his family."
That's it?  Release from what?  From sharing pain and suffering with the One who suffered, died and resurrected for us?  I have not been praying for Dave's release.  I have been praying for him to remember us all in his moment of connection with the Suffering Christ.  Also praying for his proper preparation for the never ending celebration in the company of God and the Heavenly Hosts.  That's not a RElease, it is a REward and it is worth praying for.  I seem to be under the impression that Dave's life was more focused on the REward than on the RElease.
"...strength for his family."  Indeed, that has been my prayer and continues to be.  That strength comes from God above and it seems as though Dave has been liberally bathed in the fruits of that strength for a long time.  The strength that we are seeing now is the strength that took Dave and his beloved Veronica from the day that they stood before the altar to this point.  That is the strength that we are seeing.  That is the strength that is being harvested from the field of loyal matrimony and persevering, loving and generous parenthood.  The end of that is not RElease, it is the beginning of the REward, the celebration of True Life, the Life that we all prepare for while we walk in the Valley of Tears.  
Finally, we Catholics firmly believe that those who go first share the love and joy that they celebrate in the Eternal Presence of God, dancing around His Golden Throne, with us who stay behind for a while longer.  The pain and suffering that we shared with them while nursing them and caressing them lovingly through it all, is now turned to the joy of celestial happiness that they sprinkle upon us from on high.  Since they have come to be closer to the Father who created us and loves us enough to have us with Him for all Eternity, they have His permission to watch over us during the time that we have remaining before the Great Celebration of never ending Life.

This is what I have to say about what our family is experiencing at this time.  It is not a time for tears, it is a time to celebrate the glimpse of Eternity that God is giving us and to prepare for our own personal moment of "dying as we lived." As it says in the Gospel, "stay ready for you know not the day nor the hour."

So, that's my sermon.  I leave you with the constant reminder that no crying is allowed at my funeral.