My father passed away in May of 2020. During the most severe of the Covid restrictions. He’d been declining for years, a victim of Alzheimer’s, the disease that takes loved ones slowly. He was 89 when he died and though the last few years of his life were spent in memory care, we visited him often and he knew he was loved.
Until “that” day. The day when the “two weeks to flatten the curve” forced mandates that didn’t allow us to visit dad anymore. I was there that day, with mom, when the nurse gently told us we’d have to wait those “two weeks” before seeing him again. My mom bravely kissed him on the cheek and said, “I’ll see you in two weeks.” Then, in one of those rare moments of clarity seen in dementia, he replied “two weeks? That’s a long time!” He was obviously aware of the visits from his loving wife of over 60 years.
A few months later (and still unable to visit), we got a call. Dad, who was then on hospice, was dying. My mother, my siblings and I, were thankfully allowed to visit dad one last time. To say goodbye to the amazing man who raised us. The husband and father who showed us what it meant to love your family, who defined what it meant to be a good man in this world, who epitomized the meaning of achieving success by following your dreams. Our precious father.
And so, we said our a final good-byes. He received last rights from the parish priest. My parents were (and mom still is) devout Catholics and having the priest visit was essential at the end of his life.
We weren’t able to have a funeral mass due to Covid restrictions. So we plowed forward with a visit to the funeral home, planned a cemetery burial and did the best we could do to honor dad.
The burial took place on a day of unpredictable weather, but the rain stayed away long enough to allow a few local pilots – friends of dads, to perform the “missing man formation” over the cemetery. He was also honored with a 21 gun salute as he was a Navy veteran.
The priests performed the graveside service and my family convened for a light meal afterwards. Several employees of our family business put together a drive by parade in honor of dad – drive-by celebrations having become the “go to” way to participate in life events during Covid.
The human capacity for resilience and creative innovation in times of crisis and need is amazing. Covid has forced us to pivot in so many ways and how we deal with the death of loved ones has been especially challenging. It was the best we could do under the circumstances. And I thought that would be it.
But mom wanted a proper funeral mass. She started mentioning it a year after dad died, when churches were opening up for in person services again. She’d been attending “parking lot mass” during the lockdowns. I’d joined her a few times and had to admit, I kinda liked the option of sitting in my car, tuning in to the church station and listening to the priest while relaxing in the drivers seat.
We even took communion from the comfort of our cars, rolling down the window and extending our open palms when the Eucharistic minister approached. God bless them – literally, as they braved the freezing Illinois winters to minister to the faithful. For my mom, it wasn’t the same as attending a true mass though.
And so, when restrictions were loosened, she arranged for a proper Catholic funeral mass for dad – 15 months after his death. Family and friends attended an afternoon service on a sunny Friday in August. Mom’s siblings drove down from Chicago and we saw cousins we hadn’t seen for years. It was an odd sort of family reunion.
As I made my way up the church aisle to the reserved family pews, I reflected on how long it had been since I’d been inside our church. Not just because of Covid restrictions, though that was a convenient excuse. I just hadn’t been attending much at all.
The beauty of the Catholic Church and the reverence of the mass struck me anew. The stained glass windows, statues, hymns and even the incense set a mood that, for a somewhat lapsed Catholic, called back memories of a more spiritual time.
When the priest began speaking about my father, quoting a passage about my mother from a book he had written, and focusing on what made him and exceptional husband, father and Christian man, I realized that I also needed this closure. We needed to honor dad in this way. And as the priest said, my mother wanted this mass “for herself” but my father also needed it. Turns out, we all did.
I am so grateful to my parents for the wonderful example they’ve given me and my siblings. For marriage, for parenting and for living a life of faith. After over a year of turbulent times, anxiety over Covid, the economy, contentious politics, violence and all the other issues the world is faced with now, we really need to focus on two things. Faith and Love.
Thank you, Monsignor Deptula for an amazing sermon honoring my father. And thank you mom, for making sure dad had the funeral mass he deserved.
In memory of my amazing and loving father, Rudy Frasca.