Blessed is She hosted Advent retreat gatherings all over the world this past Saturday (and a few more take place this upcoming weekend). I offered my home as a location to host, but only a friend of mine expressed interest in coming. As it is easier for the two of us to get together during the week, we postponed until a few days later.
It was this fortuitous event that actually brought the lesson of “delighting in the Lord” home to me this Advent.
My grandfather has been in hospice care for a little over a year now, but the past few weeks saw a rapid decline after an illness he caught swiftly made him worse. Over this period, I was able to visit a few times and sit vigil with him as he completed his days on this earth.
Those times spent with him, I spoke a few words with him when he was able to hold a little conversation or shared memories with other family members who were visiting. But mostly, I prayed for him. I prayed with him and over him. It felt very much like time spent in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament–that veil between heaven and earth is so thin in His presence, and I could sense the same as I sat with my grandfather keeping vigil in his final agony.
On Saturday afternoon, when the BIS retreat was to take place, I ended up going over to my parents’ house with the family. While Steve stayed with the girls at their house, I drove over to keep company with my dad and grandfather. When I arrived, my dad was playing Big Band music for my grandpa, joking that he had asked my dad to play the music for him. It was his favorite, so I’m certain he would have asked for it had he been able.
My dad and I chatted. We checked in with the medical tech to make sure my grandfather was receiving his pain medications regularly. We helped him take his breathing treatment and replaced his oxygen when he was finished. We relished the moments with him as we didn’t know when would be his last.
It is not always easy to sit with a dying person. It’s hard to know whether to converse with them. It’s difficult to watch their struggles as they suffer mostly interiorly. It’s painful when others who love the person are present, to know what to say to each other as you mourn the loss of this person who is so dear to you.
But what I certainly did as I sat there with my grandfather was “delighted in the moments” — giving thanks for each breath that still held him here, giving thanks for all the memories of good times past, giving thanks for the family legacy he was leaving to us, giving thanks for his life that had touched mine so profoundly. His presence was still very deeply felt even as he was slipping away and I wanted to be with him every minute I could that was left.
As we went about our Sunday morning the next day, I didn’t know that he had passed on to eternal life in the wee hours of the morning. We took the girls to an early Mass at the cathedral as we were planning to go to the German Christkindlmarkt later that morning. When we arrived at the cathedral, Bishop Soto was greeting a few people after the earlier service. I rarely see the bishop casually waiting in the vestibule, so we quickly made our way over to say ‘hello’. Stephen asked the bishop for his blessing on our family, and he spontaneously prayed for our “strength and health”. I see this as a great act of providence, one of the many moments God was showing His delight in me as I struggled with saying goodbye to my grandfather.
Once in the church, I was thinking of my grandfather and I leaned over toward Evelyn and said we should pray for him as he was having a hard time. She paused for a few moments to do so, then turned back to me and said, “Great-Grandpa has left us.” At the time, she actually said Great-Grandma, and I thought she was speaking of Steve’s grandmother who had died that same day, four years prior. But I realized later, when I asked her about it, she actually meant Great-Grandpa. I got the message when I turned my phone back on after church that my grandpa had, indeed, entered into his eternal rest early that morning.
There had been some difficulty having someone with him around the clock to care for him as the staff were stretched thin with many souls needing care that week. It was weighing heavily on me that he might not have someone with him when he passed. I wanted to stay with him, but my little ones needed me during the overnight hours. My parents were able to bring in the lady who had cared for him at home while he was living there a short time after my grandmother passed away. She was to stay with him through the night. A short time after she arrived, he died. I am so grateful for her presence, that he was able to have someone with him as he passed. Another instance of God’s loving care, delight in His precious servant.
“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
As I reflected during the retreat I was finally able to do with my friend yesterday, I could see this message of the Lord’s delight written all over the past few weeks. I was able to see in those moments that I spent with my grandfather as he lay dying, in the circumstances in which he died, God’s love for me, God’s love for him. Each moment given was an act of His love poured out. I witnessed Christ’s love in that small room, carefully transfixed on him whom He was to carry home soon and on each one of us grieving his loss. Christ helped me to find joy in the midst of sorrow, in the midst of saying goodbye.
The waiting–the advent–of my grandfather’s journey to his eternal home was a great witness and true living out of this Advent season. I miss my grandpa dearly, but I rejoice that he will delight in the joy of heaven this Christmas alongside my grandma.
I see the countless Christmas trees,
Around the world below.
With tiny lights, like heaven’s stars,
Reflecting on the snow.
The sight is so spectacular,
Please wipe away that tear.
For I’m spending Christmas,
With Jesus Christ this year.
I hear the many Christmas songs,
That people hold so dear.
But the sounds of music can’t compare,
With the Christmas choir up here.
For I have no words to tell you,
The joy their voices bring.
For it is beyond description,
To hear the angels sing.
I can’t tell you of the splendor,
Or the peace here in this place.
Can you just imagine Christmas,
With our Savior, face to face?
I’ll ask Him to light your spirit,
As I tell Him of your love.
So then pray one for another,
As I lift you eyes above.
Please let your hearts be joyful,
And let your spirit sing.
For I’m Spending Christmas in Heaven,
And I’m walking with the King.