Today is the second anniversary of Father Michael’s death. And it is Easter Sunday- a great day to reflect on the reality of everlasting life and love.
This past week , I have revisited all the sad and poignant moments of the last few weeks of Father’s life. Funny how those things never get old.…and really never will. For some reason, I’ve recalled how very often in the last few months of his life, Father M would tell me he didn’t take some of his meds. At first, I assumed that he’d just forgotten. (He’d mentioned a few times that he’d wakened at night in terrible pain- and would realize he’d forgotten to apply his pain patch.) So I thought he was absent- minded about it. So dutifully, I’d tell him to go over the pharmacy instructions and that maybe he could make up the doses on some pills.
But later on, I noticed that he’d tell me that he didn’t take the pills and then kind of look at me in a challenging way. I started to respond with “Well, that is your choice Father” or “It’s your life,Father M”.I never asked him for any explanation. I tried to respect his feelings and privacy. I think it was Father’s way of accepting his coming death and also to be truly present to those who loved him.Very often when I visited, he’d drift off to sleep in his chair. I ‘d think “At least he’s relaxed.… he must need the sleep”. But Father M would wake up and be so apologetic; he clearly felt he should be awake and alert. So I could see his reasoning -some of the pills knocked him out.
There was one time, when he’d told me that he hadn’t taken the meds. I responded in the usual way. Surprising me, he got angry and said “But I want to live! I need the pills to live!” I think he wanted a pep talk about complete healing and hope–and I didn’t come through for him. It was hard to know then how to be the best friend that I could.
But Father Michael was sacrificing his comfort and perhaps some of his remaining life-to “be with” me and so many others who came to spend time with him.… to have the pleasure of his company.
I pestered Father Michael for a long while with many questions I had about his life, his vocation, his faith. I received very few answers. Father would say, rather nonchalantly, “It is hard for me to talk about myself because I truly am ‘other-centered’ “. Well, I didn’t completely buy it because I observed many sides to Father Michael; he could be selfish -was not perfect. But this ‘no medication’ thing was again one of the ‘little things’ Father did-a small way which proved that he was more concerned about others than himself.
At one point, again in those last few months of Father Michael’s life, I started to notice a bit of distancing. He started to speak and make observations in a more hardened way. It was kind of chilling to see this behavior in such a kind, sensitive and holy person. I remember writing to him about it. I felt that he was showing the colder influence of his counselors and perhaps other confidants. I told him outright “Father M, whoever you are listening to, they DO NOT LOVE the way you do, they are not you. Please be yourself.”
Prior to those last months, though, Father Michael was the very best example of care, concern and love for others.The finest I’ve ever known. The man of the bottomless heart.
“Life’s for the living and death’s for the dead–and the depth of a heart is a fathom unknown”.—————Buffy Sainte-Marie