Yesterday evening, instead of the traditional Catholic blessing by a priest called “extreme unction,” we held a Blessing Ceremony for our 96-year old dying father. This we did at the suggestion of one priest who has been a friend of the family for 15 years.
We had set up enough chairs in the living room of Mom and Dad’s new apartment at Mount St. Vincent in Seattle to hold all of us, plus four of the eight siblings’ spouses, and set the time for 7 p.m. Mark traveled from Cheney, Washington, John from Anchorage, me from Bloomington, Indiana. All the rest live here, except Paula, who lives in Baton Rouge and has been here for the past month to help with the folks. She plans on remaining for the duration. We are so fortunate to have this generous blessing from her during our parents’ climactic passage.
This blessing ceremony marked the first time we had all been able to arrange to be together since Mom’s 90th birthday four years ago.
First, we sang a beautiful song that Mark had composed, “The Heart of Love.” (we had held a hasty rehearsal just before in the next room with the door closed).
Then we began. After reading a few things from Catholic tradition, Father Jack invited us to come up to where our Dad sat, sit in the little chair in front of him, and speak of our connection with him in some way. And he held a little vial of holy oil in his hands, which he invited us to then anoint Dad with, on his forehead.
Immediately, we began. I was as surprised as anyone by how quickly we descended into the heart of love, each of us speaking with a quiet intensity, holding his hands, speaking directly into his eyes, bringing up memories of times with him, values that he had taught us, how much we appreciate and respect his qualities of steadfastness, discipline, hard work, speaking truth. It was as if a sudden intimacy flooded the room and for the first time I was able to witness how his face changed with each of his sons and daughters. This stern gruff German doctor had nurtured a special and unique connection with all of his children. Each of us enjoyed a private relationship with our own personal father inside the group relationship which also feels so very cohesive and loving.
Everyone was weeping.
Then we segued into what we have always done, a sing-a-long, in the old German tradition. Many four-part harmonies that we learned when we were kids, singing like the Lennon Sisters used to sing, for events with our Mom as coach, and look-alike dresses . . .
We concluded with a bit of wine, ice cream, lemon water, meat and cheese.
An astonishing memory, forever indelibly engraved.