Editor’s Note: As Father’s Day approaches, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., has re-issued his award-winning essay “Some Thoughts on Father’s Day” which first appeared in 2006 in CUA Magazine. It has been updated for this reprint.
My father died six years ago this summer. I did not want to let him go, but he had suffered too much. Along with my mother and brothers, I was fortunate enough to be with him in his final moments on earth. No matter how “grown up” we may be, when a parent dies, the child dies within us. No matter how “ready” we think we will be, in a parent’s death we lose a part of ourselves that no one can ever replace.
I have thought of my father often these past many months, sometimes in ways and at times that took me by surprise. An old song that he liked. A phrase that he used to say. The smell of the after-shave he used. The sight of his empty chair. My reactions in those moments were often equally surprising. The tears welled up quickly. He was my dad. I loved him. I miss him.
What we lose when a parent dies is not simply a presence in our lives, someone who was hopefully a loving presence. What we lose when a parent dies is a person who from our earliest days taught us — again, hopefully, with love — the difference between right and wrong, between good and bad, between what will help us in life and what will hurt us. A parent is supposed to nurture and protect us, to teach and guide us, to help us form our response to the world and, ultimately, to let us go free.
This time of year, on the sixth anniversary of his death, the memory of my dad looms large in my mind and heart. Because of its timing, I do not believe I shall ever begin a new academic year without also thinking of him. I say that not to be maudlin or sad but, rather, to recognize that life brings moments and people and events together in a way that — if we allow it — can teach us something.
Our time on earth is brief, no matter how many years measure it. We need to live each day to the full. There is no time to waste on pettiness or past hurts or anger. There is no time for grudges or the unwillingness to forgive. Death freezes in an instant everything that has gone before it in the changeless span of human history. Perhaps that is why Our Lord wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus, and gave him another chance. Life, and life alone, affords us the opportunity to change, to make things better, to grow, to give, to love. No one, to my knowledge, has ever been more fortunate than Lazarus. Perhaps that is why Our Lord proclaimed in John’s Gospel, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.” If only we realized the depth and breadth of those words.
No one can ever replace those who leave us in death. But if love, true love, is the characteristic that fills our living, no one will ever have to. Thanks, Pop. I love you. Happy Father’s Day.