Two years ago, I spent the day saying a last goodbye to my dad. Parts of our relationship – the parts that would never have made a Hallmark card - will continue to fade away and perhaps remain unexamined forever. There are others - the kinder, empathetic, truly love-filled parts - that I will relive and hang onto forever. I think those memories, the good and the not so good at all, make us both flawed human beings, who tried to "do better" and move past the mistakes we made with each other.
My dad was a complex man who held simple beliefs. Knowing that I won’t ever fully understand every person and event that shaped his life, I find myself in a place that tells me none of it really matters. Especially during the last ten years of his life, I found plenty to admire about my dad, including his unwavering faith in God. (He was sort of a poster boy for the story of the prodigal son, if you know what I mean.) His faith transcended his life; it actually gave me some peace when he died.
Here’s what I believe. When my Dad arrived in heaven, he found a place filled with the people he had loved and lost here on earth, people who loved him so much during their own lives. First he found his Mom - and he hugged her and kissed her - it had been 56 years since the last time he did that. He embraced his mother-in-law and father-in-law. He looked around and saw family, friends and neighbors whom he had loved so much during life and missed so much here on earth - smiling and waiting to welcome him into this new place of joy and love and contentment and peace that is heaven.
As he settled down into his little corner of his new home, he noticed he was surrounded on three sides by flowerbeds filled with vibrant blooms, and not a single weed. He found birdfeeders that never needed refilling, that nourished beautiful songbirds like the ones he loved to watch every morning from his kitchen windows. He also noticed extremely well behaved squirrels, who never ate the seeds or scared the birds away. He thought he heard the Notre Dame fight song playing softly in the background, as the team seemed to celebrate championship after championship after championship. And finally, he looked behind him and saw Marine Corps dress blues hanging nearby, just his size, that he could wear on special days. But he decided he’d mostly settle for the Semper Fi cap he found in his pocket, and put it on instead.
I believe that even while he felt completely at peace in his new home, he found himself missing all of us - everyone he left behind so suddenly. Sitting on what felt like his familiar old front porch, watching the world go by on what felt like his old street, something wasn’t quite the same. He watched us pass right in front of him - but when he called his usual, "Got a minute?" no one seemed to hear him and when he gave us a wave, no one seemed to notice. He picked up the phone at his side to call a few friends and say hello but never got an answer.
In an instant, he understood. He’s living in our hearts now, not by our side. He’s alive in our memories of him, not sitting in the chair across from us. We hear his voice and his laugh and his standard goodbye of "God bless" now only in our own minds.
And he smiled - that’s just fine with my dad. He touched many people in many ways during his life - and we touched him. He’s content to patiently wait for us to join him in God’s time. I’m positive he’s sitting on his heavenly front porch, enjoying his perfect flower garden, praying for every single person that meant so much to him in life - maybe even praying that all of us take that one minute of human connection he treasured so much, even once in a while, to embrace the people we love.
The last thing I believe is that my dad saw God and gave him a wave, too - but this time, he got a response. And when Dad softly asked, "Got a minute?" God said, "Before I answer you, let me just say this: Well done, good and faithful servant. And yes, I do, but we have much more than a minute to chat. We have eternity."