There are several connection points we share with one another and none so bitter as the family tragedy. The loss of a loved one - be it through natural causes, from a long battle with cancer or the unexpected - is overwhelming on your own and yet somehow we find the strength to lean on our own friends and family and to share our grief. And it’s a time when we hear some truly amazing stories. And this one, told to me this morning, seemed ripe for the retelling...
Three weeks ago a man who works in my building traveled to see his 72 year old father who was losing his battle with cancer. On that trip his father was in pain but still able to walk, talk and understand who was in the room and the nurses seemed to think he had time. Then he received a call that he should return as soon as possible as his father’s health had suddenly turned for the worse and “this could be it.” After juggling time off and finding the proper baby sitter for his young daughter he and his wife left for the hour and a half drive to the airport. They decided to stay in the airport’s hotel that night as they were on a very early flight the next morning and didn’t want to chance missing it. The night was long and sleep difficult so as he was standing there in the already long security line checking his boarding pass he looked down at his sneakers and realized he had left his good shoes up in the hotel room. There was no time to go back.
Once he and his wife arrived at his parents house things, at least on the surface, seemed okay. Except hearing that his father was sleeping all the time and was unable to acknowledge his arrival. As his mother opened the bedroom door his wife took one look at her dear father in-law and became hysterical. He appeared lifeless. His mother rushed her from the room leaving her son to sit quietly with his father. He put his hand to his father’s forehead. It was warm. He knelt and told his father how much he loved him and thanked him for being such a kind and loving father. Then he heard a loud exhale. His father had waited for his son to arrive before passing.
At that very moment a calm came over him like no other. He checked his father’s pulse to be certain and went to get his mother. He then asked his wife to call the Hospice nurse and soon he and the entire family were standing over their father hugging each other and saying their goodbyes.
The next morning his mother was already in the kitchen starting to prepare food for the next few days as there would be much company. They had decided to hold a memorial service at the church while the entire family was in town. His father had grown up here and worked very hard to ensure his sons would be able to find a better life on the mainland. And so, when he heard the entire village was shutting down so all could attend the ceremony he was thinking, with a heavy heart, that his father’s life was a good one. His riches far greater than he ever knew.
As he was pulling together the clothes he would wear to the church he remembered he had no shoes to wear. He went into the kitchen and asked his mom if he could look in his father’s closet. Knowing his father’s feet were smaller than his by a half-size he tried them all on and none of the shoes were fitting until he tried the last pair. A pair of nice dress shoes. They slid onto his feet as if there were made for him. They were perfect.
The day was heavy with sorrow and inside the church their hearts were lifted by the large crowd that came out of respect, love and friendship. Towards the end of the service the pastor asked the family to come forward and as they stood there in a circle embracing each other they bowed their heads as a prayer was being said. He was looking down at his father’s shoes when an immense feeling of calm and awareness came over him. At that moment he realized his father had been talking to him all along. He was meant to wear these shoes today. He could feel him near. “Hello father. I am glad you are here. Yes it is a nice service, so many loved you.” And then a great sense of pride and peace came over him and the entire family looked at him and then at each other and they all knew he was with them. Even in death. And this made it somehow tolerable.
Yes, it would be a difficult Christmas, and too, the many months ahead. But as they left the church they were filled with a new strength and the knowledge that true love has no boundaries in this universe of ours. And can even appear in an old pair of shoes.
A prayer for all of you that have lost loved ones this year.