58: Being There

58: Being There

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

Being There

Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.

~Anne Sexton

It was nearing Christmas, and we had already planned to fly to Chicago to visit my father-in-law, probably for the last time. I still had so much to do before our trip. But then the phone rang and I learned that Dad wouldn’t make it to Christmas, or even through the week. My husband was already at his side, two thousand miles away.

I was paralyzed by shock. But then I sprang into action, running through the house, pulling suitcases from closets and clothes from drawers while calling the airline to change our flight. My two-year-old was asleep for the night while the other two kids took advantage of their later bedtime due to my distracted state.

Tears flowed down my face as I packed. My father-in-law meant so much to me. He was one of those true, gentle souls.

In the midst of my frenzied packing, I felt a warmth on my shoulder, as though someone had placed a hand on it. I felt an instant calm. I looked around for the source of the touch, but no one was around me. Normally, a physical contact of unknown origin would put me in a panic, but this was different.

“John, Julia. Want to pray the rosary with me?” I asked.

They were nine and seven at the time. Until this moment, I had never prayed the rosary before. As a convert to Catholicism in my early twenties, I had never learned how to do many of the rituals of the Catholic Church, but something pushed me to round up the kids and pray.

In seconds, John and Julia were in front of me. “Yes, Mommy, let’s pray,” John said. Julia nodded her head in agreement. They had no idea why I had asked them to pray. I can only guess that they felt the same pull I did, not only because of their quick response but also from their wide, understanding eyes.

“I don’t know how to pray the rosary. Can you teach me?” I asked.

“Yeah, be right back.” John sprinted from the room and returned with the large rosary his second-grade class had made two years earlier.

“Let’s sit on your bed, Mommy,” Julia said.

The three of us sat in a circle, the hefty rosary clasped in their small hands as though the weight of it were too heavy for one person to hold.

“Grandpa is very sick and needs our prayers,” I said.

“Is Pop-Pop going to die?” John asked, on the verge of tears. Dad and John had always shared a special bond.

“I don’t know, but I think God wants us to pray,” I said.

Since my father-in-law’s diagnosis six months earlier, my faith had weakened. I don’t know how anyone’s faith doesn’t falter at least a little when they watch someone suffer the way he had. I prayed a lot during those six months, sometimes begging God to take him so he wouldn’t be subjected to another day of pain, but somehow he remained.

We prayed aloud for twenty minutes. John and Julia were entranced, with their eyes closed and their fingers traveling over each walnut-sized bead at the end of every Hail Mary, Our Father, or Glory Be. There was a peaceful calm in our circle when we finished. I felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted from our hearts.

Julia broke the silence. “God, please be with Grandpa. We know he has to go to Heaven. Tell him we love him, and we’ll miss him. Amen.”

“We put him into your hands, God,” John added.

Their faith was so much stronger than my own.

We continued to sit in silence, and then the phone rang.

Both John’s and Julia’s eyes met mine. A flash of understanding on their faces squeezed the breath from my lungs. I reached for the phone as they reached for each other’s hand.

“He’s gone,” my husband said and sobbed.

I listened to him cry, desperate to hold him, while tears escaped my own eyes.

John ran into his room, grabbing the paper airplane kit that Pop-Pop had given him months before and clutching it to his chest as he cried.

“When did he pass?” I asked my husband.

“About ten minutes ago.”

“We were there with him,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“One minute, I was frantically packing, and the next I was praying the rosary with the kids.”

“I’ve never seen you pray the rosary.”

“That’s just it. I never have. I didn’t even know how. You said he passed about ten minutes ago, the same time John asked God to take Dad into His hands,” I said. I was filled with awe for this miracle that allowed me to be with my father-in-law, and my children to be with their grandfather, at the exact time of his passing.

A few months after my father-in-law’s death, we were all in the car. My youngest, Jessica, was carrying on a conversation with herself as she gazed out the car window.

“What are you talking about?” I asked her.

“I’m talking to Grandpa,” she said and pointed to the window. “He’s right here.”

No one laughed or told her she was silly because we all knew that what she saw was what we felt. He was still with us.

~Jan Steele

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