My father died at about 2 am this morning, January 31, 2013. In declining health for years the past 16 months had seen him pause at successively lower plateaus of health. He turned 91 in early September so decline and passing were not unexpected. It had been a few months since I last visited. Due to my own health issues travel over Christmas and New Year was not plausible.
At the very end of night prayer we ask God to grant us a tranquil night and a holy death, at least that is how I translate the Spanish title of this blog. I pray night prayer out of the single volume liturgy of the hours that Madre Carmen gave to me nearly 20 years ago and so I pray it in Spanish. My 20 year habit had been to pray morning and evening prayer with night prayer coming into my daily routine just this past summer. Fr. Roche closed each day with night prayer as he led the Oakland Catholic girls on their first mission trip. It is a joy.
I find great comfort in asking God for a good night’s sleep and a holy death. I expect the request to be honored. This brings us back to my father. The last day was difficult but by the time my son, James, and I arrived Dad was in a tranquil sleep. It kept running through my head, “What more can a person ask than a good rest and, upon a holy death, eternal life.?” It is comforting to believe that my father will have every tear wiped away; that he will be with my mother, wife of 42 years and this time without the cancer. He will be with my step mother, Mary Lou, wife of 25 years but this time without the dementia that came at the end. He will be with my brother Frank and Frank will be at peace as he praises Jesus. I can hope my father will find at the banquet his mother and brothers and perhaps his father who was Jewish. There is no harm in hoping and even reason to believe it can be. It is comforting to believe that my father will be worshiping in the presence of Truth and Holiness.
My father led the most wonderful and most ordinary life that you might imagine. Decorated for WWII service my father never once brought up the subject and always deflected questions. The Great Depression hit hard but you wouldn’t know it from Dad. Harry Miller was a pillar of Hoge Memorial Presbyterian Church and a tireless worker at the Y’s Mens Club. He loved Ohio State football and Cincinnati Reds baseball and I, for one, am happy that the two never competed against each other. He loved his grandchildren with the kind of love that gives me a sense of the vastness and depth of God’s love. I believe that I never made him more proud than when I became a member of the Ohio State Marching Band.
Life was tough. He lost a job with a wife and five kids to support while he was far from home. He made his way back to Ohio and there earned a living selling builder’s supplies. Dad and I came together over paint brushes. I painted my way through college, forming my own house painting business. He sold paint brushes and would give his best samples to me in return for my opinion. We shared paint brushes the way other fathers and sons might share golf clubs. We had rough times and good times. Through all the times he never wavered in his love for my mother. Then, after her death, it was just the same for his second wife as he became Dad to children whose own father died all too young.
In time of greatest need at the missions, when Padre Justi died and there was no money to pay teachers at San Bernardino or to pay the pediatrician who cared for the orphans and the existence of the Patzún missions was in doubt my father stepped into the breech. He was a man of modest means. Instead of holding back he shared the little that he had so that orphans that I told him about would have a roof over their heads; so that San Bernardino could continue to operate. It was the widow’s mite; giving without counting the cost. It was WWII all over again when Sgt. Miller, not armed for battle, led the men in his charge into the gap to face a German battalion that was not thought to exist. He faced them with nothing which was everything that he had. He never spoke of it but the citation that came with the bronze star that he never touched or even mentioned was unambiguous. This business of living is difficult. My father did it well. I am content, blessed to have had the parents that I had. I am especially happy that my father’s death came with a tranquil sleep and though I don’t get a vote in these matters I believe it a holy death. I pray for the repose of his soul.