December 28 marked 16 years since my father passed away. Listening to Christmas music this past Sunday, I found myself teary and emotional. For several years after my father died, Christmases were difficult for me.
My father was a proud but yet a very stubborn man. Genetics didn’t help as he was the son of a German mother and Irish father. While I always knew my father loved me, he wasn’t one to express that verbally. Going through pictures recently, there were numerous photos of me and Dad. They were the typical little girl sitting on her father’s lap, laughing with glee over something funny he had just said. It’s interesting how as you grow up and change, your relationships with those you love can often change. Many children go through the “my parents are so dumb” stage, and when it came to my father, I was right up there.
While life at home was not perfect, I knew I was loved. My parents were probably the two most opposite people you would ever want to meet. Mom was quiet, very ladylike and proper. Dad was loud, boisterous, often confrontational but never knew a stranger. Over the years, it still amazes me that they were attracted to each other. The phrase “opposites attract” definitely applied in our house. Rather than get into disagreements at home with my father, I simply chose to walk away. My husband will attest to the fact that I still abhor confrontation and will walk away, biting my tongue, rather than enter into most disagreements.
Some of you know I grew up in a strict, Catholic family. Thirteen years of parochial school left me in shock when I ventured out to a Virginia state college. Our faith was the heart of our home. I knew in my heart that my father believed in Jesus, that He was born, died and rose from the dead for our salvation. When my father was suffering from gangrene, I took a deep breath and called a priest I knew at my old parish.
My parents were both married before they met each other. Mom’s husband was killed by a Japanese torpedo on his ship in the Pacific during World War II. Dad was married and divorced. In the Catholic church, this was taboo. Consequently, my parents could no longer receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. This was an issue of great concern to both Mom and Dad and saddened them greatly. Neither of my parents received communion until my mother took communion at my father’s funeral mass. When I called the priest asking for Last Rites for my father, I explained the situation to him.
Dad ended up having his leg removed because of the gangrene. All these years, close conversation were difficult for me to have with Dad. I suppose I’ve inherited some of his stubbornness, and found it hard to talk with him at times. Walking into his room after Dad came out of recovery, he looked at me, gave me a smile with tears in his eyes and said “I received Communion.” I wasn’t sure whether Dad was going to be upset with me or not, but once I saw his face, I knew all was well. I simply nodded and said “I know.” If you know me, you know being at a loss for words is not how you would describe me.
Dad died about ten days later. The last conversation I had with him was the day before he passed away. When I look back on it, it is almost as if somehow in his heart he knew he was going to leave this earth. One of our sons was sick, and I couldn’t get to the hospital that day to visit Dad. His last words to me were “Tell the boys I love them.” Why I couldn’t say to him “I love you, too” is still beyond me. I knew my father loved me, and he knew I loved him. But those words were never spoken. I always told my mother, grandmother, husband and children every day how much I loved them. For some reason, I couldn’t say “I love you” to my father.
The night Dad died, I cried myself to sleep, saying the rosary over and over. The catholic religion teaches that souls sometimes go to purgatory and not straight to heaven. I wanted Dad out of purgatory if that’s where he was. When I finally fell asleep, I had vivid dreams. My father was walking through a maze of quilts at a Farmer’s Market. In the dream, he looked younger, healthier and had both of his legs. I knew it was him, but he looked a bit different. I kept following him with a handful of grapes in my hand. I finally caught up to him and said “Dad, you have to take your medicine.” He looked at me and said “I’ll never have to take medicine again.” Dad continued walking around a curve in the path and said “I’ll be seeing you.” I woke up sobbing. The dream was so real, it was as if God allowed me to know that Dad was alright.
These dreams continued for awhile. There was always a message of some sort. The second night I dreamed there was a snowstorm, and I was walking in the snow with Dad. I still remember the dreams as if they were yesterday, even after all these years. I finally had the courage to tell him things that I couldn’t do in person. In this particular dream, he told me that he was proud of me, something he had never said. Years later I again had another vivid dream where I saw my father. He was standing near three elevators, dressed in a suit but looking like he had been up all night. He often used to visit his friends at the Catholic War Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars and would come home in the wee hours of the morning. In my dream, I went up to him and said “I just have one question. Will I see you in heaven?” His response was “Every day.” One of the last dreams I had about my father was so real it was as if he was in the room. In this particular dream my father appeared in the doorway of my bedroom. He sat down on the bed next to me. I reached over and finally was able to say the words locked up inside of me. As I touched his face, I said “I wish I told you how much I love you.” As I said those words, he disappeared in front of my eyes. When I awoke, the pain was as fresh as the day he died.
I will always believe that God allowed me to know that Dad was safe and in heaven. Through these dreams, I found peace because I finally was able to tell Dad with words that I loved him. As the years have passed, the ache in my heart has slowly dulled over Dad’s death. I will forever be grateful that I finally got to express to my father that I loved him, even if only in a dream.