The drive was the same, taking a left and following the sod fields toward the highway leading to Narragansett, where St. Thomas More Church sits like a beacon just blocks from the beach where ocean waves crash on an endless sea, a celestial place where God comes to visit those who stand at the shore.
This was nothing new to my daughter, now 4, who has driven this road for days on end with her grandpa going to daily Mass and always on Sunday, too.
But the entrance was different: no helping Grandpa with his cane down the long hallway; no racing him to the pew. Instead, she found some familiar faces as I clutched her to my chest in an effort to hide my face, overwhelmed with emotion, as tears overflowed. I saw the baptismal white draped over the coffin containing my father, a man known to every single person inside this parish, his second home, as Father Marcel Taillon remarked during the homily for the Mass of Christian burial.
Processing in with our family, Annabelle may have thought things were normal again, as we filed into the second row — just this time without Grandpa, who always sat in front. More recently his pew place was because walking was an issue with his cancer-ridden body, but forever, as always, he desired to be close to the tabernacle, where Our Lord is forever present.
Now, he has no more suffering. Now my dad doesn’t kneel as he did, even with a metal rod keeping his femur from not breaking. Through his faithful witness through suffering, my dad embodied the words of St. John Paul II as we used to sit together during Mass:
“For it is above all a call. It is a vocation … as the individual takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the Cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him. He does not discover this meaning at his own human level, but at the level of the suffering of Christ. At the same time, however, from this level of Christ the salvific meaning of suffering descends to man’s level and becomes, in a sense, the individual’s personal response. It is then that man finds in his suffering interior peace and even spiritual joy” (Salvifici Doloris, February 1984).
Music and song filled the sanctuary of the parish church. Next, laughter and tears, as Father Taillon told a story about a man who sounds like he must’ve been his brother. Completely familiar, totally missed, and ever loved by a priest and a parish filled with those who all had stories of a man who loved Jesus so therefore loved everyone else.