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Father Ted HesburghLike many Notre Dame students and alumni, I recently received the Notre Dame Magazine, which commemorated Father Ted Hesburgh’s life. Father Ted died late on the night of Feb 26, 2015.

I just couldn’t put this magazine down, and yesterday being Memorial Day, was such a perfect time to read and reflect on the great man. I remarked to my husband that his accomplishments and full life were more like that of 20 people! But what really stuck out for me was what he said, and how he lived his life: first and foremost, as a priest who vowed to say Mass every day.

I loved Father Georgio Di Prizio’s advice to Father Ted, this in his early days as a priest.

“Ted, don’t be too professional…Most think that the faster they get rid of the person, the better the job they’ve done. A good priest will spend time with the person at the door. He won’t be satisfied until he knows why the person rang the bell. Priesthood means service, no matter who rings the bell.”

(Source: God, Country, Notre Dame, 1999)

We sure felt this as Notre Dame students and alumni. He was there for us: our education, our faith and our wellbeing. He was there for so many good causes such as world peace, civil rights, the poor, and disadvantaged. This is also sage advice for anyone in our personal lives and in business, especially in today’s rush, rush digital world.

Another inspirational Hesburgh quote to live by,

“My basic principle is that you don’t make decisions because they are easy, you don’t make them because they’re cheap, you don’t make them because they’re popular; you make them because they are right.”

(Source: What Works for Me, 1986)

Maybe this is why he could make so many decisions, and quickly.

Father Ted never carried bitterness according to former Senator Alan Simpson (Republican-WY) who recalls him saying,

“If you can’t forgive a person, it’s like letting them live in your head rent free.”

That is such a huge part of the human condition: forgiveness. No wonder he was such a successful leader and coach towards world peace.

I am particularly inspired as I am dealing with health issues these days with Father Ted’s credo in facing one’s later years.

“Do as much as you can, as well as you can, as long as you can, and don’t complain about the things you can no longer do.”

Soon before Father Ted died, Father Monk Malloy, Notre Dame’s 16th president visited him. He asked, “Ted, what have you been thinking about?” Father Ted said,

“Eternity. The phrase that keeps coming to my mind… ‘No eye has seen, nor ear has heard what God has in store for those who love him.’”

How comforting.

“The greatest gift a president can give his students is the example of his life.”

(Source: The Hesburgh Papers, 1979)

Right up to the end, Father Ted Hesburgh was a great example to us all, and I feel lucky to have been touched by him as a Notre Dame student and alumna.

BTW, today would have marked Father Ted’s 98th birthday.

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Mom & Dad: March 2006

Yesterday marked one year since Dad died. Actually Saturday felt more like it, since he died on a Saturday. Even this year my stomach and body were tight all Saturday as though he were dying all over again, until just about the same time he died, around 6:30 p.m. Then somehow I became relaxed.

Last year, I had stayed up most of the night to be with Dad so he wouldn’t be alone were he to die during the night. So I was really tired on his last day, as I had sat up until about 4:30 a.m. when I finally caved in and leaned forward on his bed and did a face plant and slept for 1½ hours. He awoke at 6 a.m., and as soon as he did I gave him some pharmaceuticals to relax him since he seemed to be miserable. He was done talking at this point. The meds relaxed him. He stopped putting his hand to his head every couple of minutes, which he had been doing even as he slept.

Time does heal wounds. I recall dreading going to Mass the day after Dad died. In fact, my brother and I left early. We just couldn’t take it.

A year later, my family and I looked forward to attending Mass together, which was the feast of Christ the King, which goes along so nicely with how I feel about my Dad. I couldn’t have picked a nicer or more caring man to be my Dad and mentor.

There are still reminders around Mom’s home of Dad, aside from pictures. Mom now sleeps in his hospital bed, the bed he died in. She has physically declined so appreciates the help getting in and out of bed that a hospital bed affords. She also hangs out mostly on Dad’s chair, a glorified lazyboy.

I can still smell Dad in our towels as I dry off after a shower, even a year later. Just last week, Mom had most of his clothes taken away and spread hers around to fill up his closet. It was very emotional for her to give away his suits. I think she would have liked to know who was going to wear them.

I have been going through family pictures for the last couple of weeks and have pulled out my favorites to scan into my computer before the quality degrades further. I have so many memories of good times with my family and friends, so going through pictures is enjoyable!

Yesterday we got up at 6 a.m. for 7:30 a.m. Mass. This was particularly hard on Mom. She almost couldn’t keep her balance first thing this morning, and I wasn’t much better since I had insomnia so had slept very little. We made our way through Mass. There was no singing or exchange of peace so it was recitation of prayers throughout. Our priest is one of my favorites and remembered Dad with warmth as the Mass intention right at the start of Mass.

We were sorry our priest couldn’t join us for a very delicious breakfast at the Hay Adams. It was yummy and Dad would have enjoyed it, and breakfast was his favorite meal! The Hay is a happy place to eat as it’s airy, cheerful, with white walls and lots of windows and white orchids. The service is excellent, which makes you feel so welcome.

Well, we got through this year without Dad. I had hoped I would be done grieving. I still miss him. I think you will always miss a parent you love after they go.

Today I have been in and out of the house several times. It’s been a sunny and windy day. There are miraculously some Aspen trees that still have their leaves by our mountain home. They make such a delicious, wavy noise as they rustle in the wind. These leaves are old, no longer Fall yellow and just about ready to tumble to the ground.

These old leaves bring back memories of an old friend, my Dad. Last weekend a year ago, my brother had the insight and will to declare it Duffy Christmas. Dad had lost his sense of time, and was happy to celebrate Christmas. We decorated the house a little for Christmas especially in the area where Dad would open his gifts. He enjoyed opening up each present so much that he only opened about half of them before he became too weary. Many of them were books, either cartoons or pictures since that’s what he enjoyed. But it was my oldest brother who gave him the gift that delighted him the most: a military soldier in fatigues that moved to the tune of Over Hill Over Dale. He listened to it repeatedly with delight and that broad smile we all remember him for.

It was the last time we were all together celebrating a happy although somewhat bittersweet occasion. It was happy since Dad was. It was bittersweet since we knew his end was close as both his body and mind had degenerated so much. He had difficulty walking, even with a walker and assistance. He used a wheelchair frequently. He was in a hospital bed at home, a real joy since that allowed him to live at home which was his strong desire. We had a wonderful lady who came in every day to care for Dad and get him cleaned and ready for the day. She is still a member of our family as she now helps Mom with chores around the house as Mom has trouble with cooking, shopping and driving too much. We had a lot of love around caring for our Dad.

Mom was Dad’s constant companion, doing what she could for him given her physical limitations and his mental limitations. One thing they could always do was pray together. They said the Rosary most days together and I joined them when I visited. Although Dad’s mind had weakened considerably, it amazed me that he could still pray and express love, and read stories aloud to Mom. I admired Mom since she realized he was still capable of reading, and it gave him such satisfaction to read aloud to her in his warm voice.

I don’t take anything for granted, especially the gift of life. At this time last year Dad was hospitalized with internal bleeding. I had just returned to my home from their home, and made arrangements return to their home on a one-way ticket.

Duffy Christmas was the last Saturday that Dad had a good time and was in any shape to enjoy sitting up and socializing so much. Somehow I had the presence of mind to take a family photo. The next 3 weekends Dad became progressively weaker until his death on Saturday, November 21, 2009. How did my brother know to schedule Duffy Christmas so perfectly?

July 2 was one of my emotional days on the planet except for the day when we lost Dad, Nov 21, 2009. It was our 27th anniversary and that’s always a happy time since life with Rodgers is so good and our love only gets stronger.

I had called the church rectory the day before since I had heard about the death of Father Mickey and that his funeral was to be at the Basilica in downtown Denver on our anniversary. Oh God, I thought can I bear another funeral just now! Father Mickey wasn’t much older than me, and had died within the space of 3 weeks. We had had more hopeful news from Father Jim the previous weekend, until he added that Father Mickey had pneumonia.

Rodgers worked at his art show that day, and I wasn’t needed as it was within driving distance of our home. I had a project with a deadline and all kinds of excuses not to attend Father Mickey’s funeral. Yet, I knew I had to. I liked what he stood for: a late vocation to the priesthood. He was simply so happy being a priest, and didn’t have high aspirations for promotions. He just wanted to be a good priest and that he was.

Late like Father Mickey was for many events, I was late for his funeral. The only place to sit was in the front of the church ironically near some fellow parishioners from Conifer amidst this crowd of some 1000. I was so sad and memories of Dad’s funeral kept returning to me. I eventually found Father Jim, our pastor and Father Mickey’s roommate of several years sitting in the pews not far from me. “Oh that’s right,” I thought, “Father Jim would be a pallbearer, a place of honor and sorrow for him.” Jim had lost his Father earlier this year, so I can only imagine the pain was much deeper for him than for me.

Meanwhile in front of me was my friend’s son. I had never met him and tears were streaming down his face as he was so close to Father Mickey as an altar boy. His parent’s attempts to comfort him just weren’t working.

Meanwhile the Mass was progressing and we got to the great “Amen” after the Consecration. It was then that I realized that the 6 – 8 priests/bishops on the altar had a lot of company; about 50 more priests sat to the left of me and took up the entire front of the church. I had no idea they were all priests, as I had been absorbed in my own world oblivious to the energy of others except for the suffering boy in the pew just in front of me.

I had never felt such support, warmth and love in the resonance of 60 voices saying “Through Him with Him and in Him.” These clergymen were so connected, passionate and supportive of their lost friend, Father Mickey. From then on I was more present outside of myself and absorbed this energy of love, caring and kinship.

After Mass, we congregated outside, and my friend’s son almost leapt into Father Jim’s arms who just held and comforted him while he wept and tried to tell Jim how sad he was about the loss of Mickey. There has been a lot of controversy around the Catholic Church and priests. Anyone witnessing the love and comfort that Father Jim gave this young boy, would be totally moved. Somehow Father Jim, who had to be aching from the loss of his dear friend, was able to find room to support and hold this young boy and just let him be.

June 21 was the first day of summer, my sister-in-law’s birthday and 7 months to the day since dad’s death. Memories of dad just keep cropping everywhere. I guess that’s to be expected since I knew him over 50 years, and I still grieve over him.

Somehow I got through father’s day without as much pain. But I started to anticipate father’s day at the start of June. I sent cards out to the fathers in our family and that helped blunt the pain. Fathers and mother’s days are both hard for me since we couldn’t have children, so those days hit that cord too. We got through father’s day since we were so busy cleaning and working on stuff around the house that we didn’t have time to go to church where all the dads would be acknowledged during Mass. Although if we had gone to church, as Father blessed the fathers, dad would be standing in my heart for my love and blessing.

I had some good memories about dad in the last week. Rodgers and I drove to Colorado from DC in a little over 2 days, an aggressive pace. It brought back memories of childhood trips with my family where we drove across the United States and stopped to visit neat parks along the way, and relatives who all spoiled us. How wonderful of mom and dad to take us along on those long trips, and to have the patience to deal with restless, screaming kids in the back seat. We often had picnic lunches by the water and I inevitably ended up in the water much to my parent’s chagrin since we would have to dig out dry clothes for me in an overpacked trunk. I also recall the wobbly picnic tables which dad often balanced. On more than one occasion we abandoned him when bees visited. There he would sit, just barely keeping the picnic table level so our food wouldn’t slide off.  He often smashed the attacking bees with a newspaper, and sometimes even with his bare hand, all the time balancing the rocky picnic table.

Rodgers celebrated a birthday recently and in his honor I made apple pie, his favorite. It was also dad’s favorite desert. On those trips across country, we would order lunch and dad would say, “I’ll just have apple pie and a cup of coffee.” When queried about ice cream, he never turned it down, so he was an “a la mode” man.  Interestingly enough he usually didn’t order it a la mode, but happily accepted it.

My cousin recently visited us from New England where dad grew up. Dad had a New England accent right until he died although he hadn’t lived there since graduating from law school in the early 1940s. My cousin has a New England accent and Dad’s similar enthusiasm for life and its many events. I love his sense of adventure as he drove his motorcycle all the way from New England to Colorado, some 2000+ miles each way! I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of our cousin, although I am not sure I’m up for such a long ride on a motorcycle. I really don’t like to battle the elements like that! Oh, and did I mention my cousin likes apple pie too, a la mode.

Yesterday was the anniversary of D-day. We had a crashing end to Rodgers’ art show, in the pouring rain as we tore down. It was a successful show on all accounts so it helped us deal with the torrential rain and getting thoroughly wet. Working at art shows keeps us flexible since the variables of weather and customer whims keep us on our toes. Setting up and tearing down will keep you nimble too as it’s quite a workout!

As I was taking down the infrastructure that we use to hang Rodgers’ paintings, including the little hooks, I thought of dad. The last time he and mom visited us in 2006, he came down with us on the last day of the Littleton art show, and so wanted to help us with tear down. He was quite weak, but he could still walk, although slowly and unbalanced at best. We were creative as we gave him things to do, so he could help us without hurting himself. He took down the picture hanger rods and hooks and was so happy to be helping, and knew he was helping. He put away all the price tags. We had the director’s chair set up for dad, so he could sit as he put away the price tags, stacked the picture hangers and put the picture hooks in their box. He stacked the picture hangers all so neatly before putting them away. He supervised us with such warmth and care as he noticed things we might forget as he had keen eyesight and attention to detail. We were so careful not to hurt him as we tore down around him. It’s easy for a panel to fall the wrong way, and so many other things. We were glad to be spared of any accidents and dad left with a smile on his face that he had been useful, since so often I don’t think he felt like he was in his later years. During the rest of their visit I gave him things to do, so he would feel helpful since that was important to him.

I have a feeling it’s hard to be old. Dad was 87 then and he realized how limited he was in what he could do physically, yet was still so aware that he wanted to be helpful. Dad always had such good intentions, right up until he died. I’ll never forget the hospice doctor’s reaction when they first met and he took her hand, kissed it and said he loved her, less than a week before he died. At this point he had stopped eating. She was expecting twins, and was so shocked by his ability to interact since so many who are dying have lost the ability to interact, never mind warmly. She didn’t have great words to describe her surprise, but her astonished, caring look said it all.

Today is another “first” since dad’s death: it is mom and his 63rd wedding anniversary and I’m sure he is staring down from heaven at his bride! Oh how he loved her right up to the end of his life. On his last night, he was almost too weak to sleep since his body could hardly stay in position. But when he heard his bride snore in the bed next to him, he fell right asleep. I sat up next to dad that night since we didn’t want him to be alone in case he died during the night. I was grateful he slept for a few peaceful hours. It was a testament to their strong bond since he was out of words by then, and just slept.

Last weekend I attended our annual church retreat with 17 great women. Attendance was lower this year, but I felt that the right people showed up for each other. We had ferocious winds all weekend which reflected our spirits and emotions which were swirling as we reflected upon our lives as individuals, with God and with others.

There are a couple of sayings I particularly liked.

“We cannot do great things only small things with great love.” Mother Teresa

“Peace is something you make, are and give away…not something you can wish for.” Mother Teresa

Most of us aren’t the mover and shaker that Mother Teresa was, but we can do the small things in our everyday life with love for the person we’re with whether it’s a family member, a friend, a stranger, the nameless cashier at the grocery store… Isn’t nice to think that if we hold an attitude of love in our hearts that all things we do accumulate and make our hearts big and full of God’s love! I feel similarly about peace. Like so many things in our lives, we are looking for peace. You can replace many other words for peace that we are looking for, when actually we have just what we need inside us, and need to have the confidence to move ahead in our lives.

I still grieve around dad’s death, as of today 6 months and 6 days ago. Here are some words that comforted me during my retreat journey.

“Every tear I cry: You hold in Your Hand. You are not alone your grief…as He wipes our tears, He wipes his Own.” Casting Crowns

Here is another that I read which spoke to me from Everyone’s Way of the Cross by Clarence Enzler from Station 13, when Jesus is taken down from the cross.

I beg you Lord, help me accept the partings that must come—from friends who go away, my children leaving home, and most of all, my dear ones, when you shall call them to Yourself.

Then give me the grace to say: “As it has pleased you Lord, to take them home, I bow to your most holy will. And if by just one word I might restore their lives against your will I would not speak.” Grant them eternal joy.

Happy Memorial Day weekend!