A few weeks ago, we lost another member of the Greatest Generation when hubby’s father, the son of Greek immigrants and veteran of the War in the Pacific, passed away. While our loss is personal, I feel that every time another of that cohort dies, our country is a little poorer for it. Raised on an ethic of hard work, faith, family and service to country, they were the backbone of the twentieth century and too often, their (sometimes spoiled) children and grandchildren fail to appreciate the basic truths these men and women lived.
We laid my father-in-law to rest on the Wednesday of Holy Week. There is never a good time for a funeral, of course, but having the service as we went into the holiest days of our year made both his suffering and his death more profound and our Easter joy more tangible. At Mass on Holy Thursday, the day after the funeral, the words of Psalm 116 brought tears to my eyes. “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones. I am your servant, the son of your handmaid; you have loosed my bonds.”
Tony (yes, my father-in-law was named Tony Anthony) was 92 when he passed, and dementia and the normal physical failings of age had isolated him, a terrible fate for such a gregarious man. So his funeral, as funerals should be for the elderly, was more a celebration of a life well lived here on earth and the hope of his life to come with God. He was truly loosed from the bonds of this world’s suffering.
But the days, even weeks, leading up to his death gave us all a glimpse of the joy of Easter, the joy of everlasting life that the resurrection promises. Tony fell ill just a few days after arriving in Atlanta to visit his daughter and her family. I was concerned the plane ride would be difficult on him, but he was excited, seemed to understand exactly where he was going and exhibited none of the dementia-induced anxiety we feared. He embraced those few days with his family, enjoying his wine and the company before he had an episode of labored breathing. After he was admitted to the hospital, we heard that Tony had seen his mother a couple of days earlier, and he spoke with his (deceased) older sister when he was being treated in the emergency department. At that moment, I knew that no matter the outcome of this particular health incident, he was moving toward death. I firmly believe that, except in sudden instances, death is a process and that loved ones, especially mothers, approach us as we draw closer to the next world. My own father’s last word was “Momma” while he lay in a coma; I know she visited him and, just as she ushered his soul into this world, she comforted him as he passed out of it. And so, as Tony’s body failed, secure in the knowledge that his wife of more than 60 years wouldn’t be alone at this difficult time, he went and joined his own mother.
The love we have for one another is a reflection of God’s love for us, a love made possible by the Easter miracle. Witnessing this love, then death, then the prayerful celebration of Tony’s rebirth in Christ during Holy Week was profound—a living reminder that love and hope triumph over the grave. He is risen, and because of that, Tony, too, was raised up. So, with Easter hope, we raise our prayers (and a glass of wine) for a sailor, a husband, a father, and a heck of a squash player. So long, Tony. I know we’ll see you again.