Date: November 19, 2022
By: Rosanna M.
My father passed away from cancer in late May of 2015. I was with him in the hospice room as he was dying, pumped full of prescription drugs and unconscious. I had arrived, somewhat miraculously really, earlier in the day at the very last moment when he was still alert. It was one of the oddest moments of my life. I had literally just been picked up from the airport by my brother and brought to his room. I was not sure what to say to him, but I took his hand and somehow uttered: "Dad, I came, and I will pray for you." He seemed to understand me, as he opened his eyes a little and then closed them again.
My father and I were not close. In fact, we had a very difficult relationship, to say the least––one in which we lost contact for several years. And yet, I wanted him to be okay. I knew he was not going to be alive much longer but I did want for his soul to be saved.
To be fair to him, I didn't really know him. I knew one part of him, a very troubled part, and I even hated him before. But, as I continued to pray for him over time, I realized that there must be more to the story then what I knew. Only God knew who he really was and what he went through. I offered him back to God.
My father was born in a small village in Bosnia Hercegovina prior to World War II. I was told by others that his family were devout Catholics, and that they experienced extreme trauma and poverty. They encountered different groups of soldiers from opposing sides of the war that used their farm as a base at times. The Communist forces then took over the region forming part of the nation of Yugoslavia. I don't know much of the story then, but I know my father tried to fight for the freedom of his people. This often meant there were consequences. He left Yugoslavia, in what I heard was a daring escape, and came to Canada in the mid 1960s. He seemed to establish himself as a helpful member of the Croatian community in Toronto for a time. He had a child out of wedlock, and this caused much hurt for my sister and her mother. He then married my mother, who was not aware of this previous situation, but their marriage was a very troubled one, and ended in divorce when I was a teenager. My father lost custody of his children as he was not a fit parent. He struggled for many years with mental health and other issues, and eventually found someone else to share his life with. This was not without bitterness however on the part of my mother, my siblings, and myself who also experienced much hardship because of this.
In the couple of months prior to his death as his condition deteriorated, my mom, my brothers, and I tried to reconcile with him. We had tried this a few times previously but problems lingered. There were many unhealed wounds. At this time, he also was not thinking clearly which complicated matters. We travelled on a few occasions from Calgary, the lower British Columbia area, and Ontario, to Penticton, British Columbia, to try to visit with him while there was still time.
During this time, I was away for a short trip. When I landed again in Calgary, I got the text from my brother that dad was likely going to die that day. I was already in the airport and my friend was waiting to pick me up. Before I left on this trip, I had checked the flight schedule to Penticton and stored it in a note on my phone, so I knew there was one flight going there from Calgary each day. My friend met me and my carry-on, and we looped back to the airline counter so I could buy a ticket to Penticton. I boarded the second plane a little over an hour after the first one landed. If I had not been in the airport at this moment, I would not have made it on this flight. It was surreal how smooth the whole process was.
In the hospice room, I set up "camp" so to speak on the sofa-bed across from his hospital bed. I was not really sure what to do but I figured I would pray often and read a little. As I prayed the Rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet for my dad, I wondered what he was going through and who he really was. I did not feel much affection towards him, but I missed him. I missed that we did not have the relationship many fathers have with their daughters. But then, I started remembering some good things too.
My favourite memory of my dad is when I was in elementary school (but I don't remember my exact age) and he helped me design my castle. I had drawn a floor plan of a castle on a scrap piece of paper, and then I got frustrated because it was not looking how I wanted it to look. My dad, in one of his few serene moments, asked if he could help me. His work involved making blueprints, and he supervised engineers who designed plants and other major projects. I was nervous as he analyzed my drawing, but he seemed calm. He then proceeded to teach me how he drew floor plans, using technical terms, but he still asked me what my ideas were. Where did I want the princess's room to be? Where should we locate the banquet hall and how big should that be? He taught me about egress: I needed to provide a safe exit for the princess in case of fire from the dragon. I had to make complex decisions about how many bridges would cross the moat surrounding the castle, and each had to have a good-sized passageway from the entrance to the other parts of the castle, while still considering defence strategies. We worked together on my plan, protecting the castle home from dragons and other invaders. I remember being charmed and thankful, and I think I even hugged him that day.
Eventually, I fell asleep on the sofa-bed in the hospice room, only to awake at three in the morning. I looked over to my dad and he was quite still, but now it sounded like fluid was filling his lungs. I again prayed a Divine Mercy chaplet. The nurse who was doing rounds greeted me. While talking with the nurse, I mentioned that I had tried to contact the local priest earlier in the day. The nurse said he knew him and would see if he could get a hold of him. I continued to pray while in a tired blur.
I was very surprised when the priest entered the room within the next hour. He was kind and very helpful. Father spoke with me for a short time about the family situation and I asked if my dad could receive last rites. He agreed to it immediately, although my father would not have his final confession as he was not conscious. As Father prayed over my father, I listened to the words of the rite, not really thinking, but still answering in prayer when I was supposed to do so. Father then gave the final blessing: "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy . . .". My dad was suddenly silent; the gurgling noise from his lungs had stopped. Father continued without interruption, ". . . Spirit. Amen." I cannot say for sure but my dad seemed to be in peace for the moment. I thanked Father for coming on short notice in the middle of the night, and he said to me, "Let him rest now." I don't think either of us realized what had happened exactly at that moment. Father asked me to come to Mass later that morning, and said that he would pray for my dad.
After Father left, I stared at my dad, adjusting his blanket trying to make him feel more comfortable. Something seemed different. I checked to see if he was still breathing and could not detect a breath. I went to the nurse's desk, "Can you please check on my dad? He suddenly seems really quiet." The nurse grabbed his stethoscope and followed me to my dad's room. He checked for my dad's heartbeat, and not hearing it, called the time of death.
Quite numb, I continued to pray for my dad while seated on the sofa-bed. Then, while it was still early in the morning, I contacted my siblings and my dad's partner and let them know he died. I later made the announcement to other family and friends. Another brother made immediate plans to fly into Penticton to help with the funeral.
For the rest of the week, my second brother and I worked to take care of all the arrangements. The priest offered a Mass for my dad on the Friday morning following his death, and a prayer service for my dad at 3 p.m. later that same day. Father deliberately chose that hour for the prayer service for my dad as it was the Divine Mercy hour, the hour that Jesus died on the Cross. When it was over, I stayed behind to pray. I thought I heard my dad's voice. It was a simple thank you. I do have an overactive imagination at times so I was not sure if I should trust this. Over time, I have come to accept it: maybe it was him and maybe he is okay. I do not know and I will not know in this lifetime. My mother and I have offered several Mass intentions for him, including Gregorian Masses, and we will continue to do so.
On a previous visit before he died, I asked my dad if he believed in God, and I was surprised when he said that he did. He had not been a practicing Catholic for some time, and said he was not sure of Who God was or what He wanted, but he knew that something was there. He said that he could sometimes sense God's presence when he was hiking in the mountains.
My father and I had many conflicts, and despite all the suffering that occurred, I am learning to be grateful for what I learned from him. There is a common saying, "Hurting people hurt people," and this is very true. He did hurt me––very much––but that is not the end of the story. I can forgive him. I hope he also could forgive me for what I have done to hurt him. Both my dad and I fought several dragons in our own lives. Sometimes, regrettably, we even acted as dragons to one another. He was a sinner, but all humans excepting Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are sinners. Perhaps his sin was grave matter, but perhaps he did not have full knowledge or full consent of his will to be culpable for this sin. It is not mine to judge him, but to offer him to God in prayer.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May the souls of faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.