I stood by his bed for weeks. I flew in and out of Birmingham in the middle of the night or so early in the morning it felt I was the only one in the world awake. I knelt on hospital floors, as rosary beads moved through my hands. I whispered pleas of desperation, begging Him for healing.
And then it looked like healing, in a different form, was finally coming.
Daddy, do you know who I am?
Oh that grin. Addie Paddie. Sprite.
Keeping fighting. Keep up the strength.
“I know, Dad. We all are. We are supporting each other. Taking care of Mom.”
He put his hand on my cheek.
No. Keep fighting! Keep up the strength. Keep fighting…keep up the strength. I love you.
And that was the last time I saw him awake.
Healing came, but not in the form any of us were praying for. Not in the way we envisioned when we made hundreds of bargains with God or let numerous prayers fall from our lips.
Grief is deep and suffocating now. I feel no joy. I feel parched, I feel like I’m walking through a desert seeking water that isn’t there. Sometimes, in the darkest moments, terrible questions plague my mind, race through my soul. I feel the devil nipping at my heels, trying to make me fall as I stumble through the days.
He will not win.
I do not understand God’s reasons right now. I do not understand why He had to make it end this way. I wish I had a indisputable sign that my father worships now at the feet of Jesus. That all of the hellish pain and suffering he endured in a brief seven weeks secured him a fast pass to Heaven.
I do know that the prayers we prayed were not wasted. I do know that, even if I do not feel it, my God is sustaining me right now. I know that, despite the nightmares and exhaustion, my father’s suffering has ended. I know that no suffering is wasted. I know that my God uses it for good. The greater the suffering and the more undeserved, the greater beauty He brings from it.
I remember when he was coming out of his initial coma but before he opened his eyes, my father was bowing his head at every Jesus we said aloud during the Hail Mary in our rosaries. I remember when he asked us to pray with him. I remember when I was leaving the last time he was awake, I offered to say a Hail Mary with him to which he responded, “As long as it’s a short Hail Mary.” And I laughed through tears. I remember that my father had great faith. I know it was something we bonded deeply over. I know he had a great devotion to the Holy Family. I know he died on a Marian feast day, during the hour of Christ’s mercy, at 3:19 pm which is St. Joseph’s feast day. I know this was his final reminder to hold fast to our faith, even in the midst of the terrible suffering and grief we would inevitably face.
I remember when he visited with my mom last January, he went everyday to the guest room and sat on the couch, as rosary beads moved through his strong fingers. I remember that I confessed that my daily rosary habit that had previously lasted years, had lapsed. I know I told him I needed to get back into the habit. I still remember his quiet but firm reply: “Yes, you do.” I know I will. I am.
I remember every time I was enduring any sort of suffering or difficulty, I would call him. I remember he would give me the best advice, offer such love. Then he would finish off with his favorite Scripture verse. That became our code, our favorite verse. I know he would say it to me now, as I struggle to breathe and move through the days.
I can do all things through Christ, Who strengthens me.
I remember how he would always tell me how proud he was of me. I have so many notes I in my keepsake boxes dating back years, finishing off the same way: I am so proud of you. I remember how much inflection he put into that. I remember the underlines in the notes. I know he’d say it now.
The devil will not win.
The questions invade, I cannot help it. But I remember his faith, and I turn them away. I feel the fatigue in prayer, I cannot help it. But I remember his devout prayer life and I keep up the groans of prayer. I have stopped my rosary habit again, I cannot help it. But I remember his words to pick it back up, “Yes, you do.” I have struggled to keep reading my Scripture, I cannot help it. But, I remember his love for God’s holy Word, and I will keep reading.
My heart hurts, my mind struggles, my faith shakes. But the devil will not win. Because my faith and my God are greater than all of this. Because my father, the man who loved people deep and hard, loved God harder. And I want to keep making him proud. I want keep the faith, I want keep fighting.
My faith will not be destroyed, my resolve not shaken. My God sustains me in my grief. And when it all seems too much, I will hear my father’s words again:
Keep fighting….Keep up the strength…I love you.
I am, Daddy. With your prayers and God’s grace, I will.