by Lisa Bourne, Managing Editor
Pregnancy Help News
I was fortunate recently to catch Terrence Malick’s film, “A Hidden Life,” on an airplane during a trip taken as a belated celebration of my husband’s and my 25th wedding anniversary.
The film’s main character, Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter, refused to sign an oath to Hitler and fight for the Nazis during World War II because of his faith. He could have agreed to and (presumably) eventually returned to his wife and three daughters and their simple farm life.
But his conscience dictated his obedience to God over man, and he was executed.
His story was largely unknown until the mid-1960s. Jägerstätter was later declared a martyr and beatified by the Catholic Church. The film was beautiful, brutal and inspiring all at once.
Among the many things it brought home for me was how each life is a story packed with importance and meaning, no matter what, even as most of those stories go largely untold.
My father passed away last Saturday, March 28, from complications of an apparent heart attack. He was 84. He’d been taken by ambulance to the hospital late Wednesday night, and received treatment for his heart, kidneys and more in the following days, but he became unresponsive midday on Friday.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic no one was allowed in to see him, not even a priest, until he was cleared from having the virus (he later was).
The first chance I had after my dad had been hospitalized, I inquired with the hospital on the phone into whether he could be denied care amid the pandemic, his being 84, having a weakened heart and compromised lungs. The nurse was taken aback at the question, replying that things hadn’t come to that in Dubuque (Iowa).
But what if they had? I’m sure there are many people across the world right now who never thought their parents would be in that situation. I remain confident that it would have been at least naïve not to ask.
I rushed with my brother through the several-hour drive to our hometown that Friday, praying we’d make it in time.
Because my father’s death was imminent, they began to allow us in, though only two at a time.
We took over for two of my sisters; my mother had gone home to rest.
My brother and I were blessed to stay overnight and keep watch.
Over the course of the next 14 hours we were able to get numerous responses from my dad, I think because the morphine he’d initially been given had worn off.
We were able to see, hear and say things that were an absolute blessing and a gift, for us and the entire family.
I video-called people who could not come, including his sister, the remaining sibling in his family of eight children. This also included my husband and kids - my eldest daughter and son-in-law with my three-month-old granddaughter, who my father had not yet met.
We prayed the rosary, played some of his favorite music, and listened to Mass on my phone.
As I texted my siblings to let them know he could hear us and was responding, even saying things, my sister told me to let him know that all of the abortion facilities in Iowa had been closed, referencing the governor’s clarification earlier that day that surgical abortion procedures were included in the state’s suspension of non-essential medical procedures in response to the coronavirus.
Though this was inexact and threatened lawsuits have since drawn out that some surgical abortions are still permitted in Iowa during the pandemic, nonetheless, in that moment it got a marked happy response from my father.
His nurse was nearby, saw this and laughed. I held his hand as I said, “They’re non-essential, Dad … but then, we knew that….” Another positive response.
These responses were just part of the gift of those 14 overnight hours.
I’m so grateful we were there, selfishly for us, but also for him.
I was exceedingly grateful as well to later learn that a priest had been able to anoint my father and he’d been given the full extent of the sacraments that he could have received in his condition.
My dad passed his commitment to life on to me, along with his devout Catholic faith.
Just as with Malick and his film about Bl. Jägerstätter, I couldn’t possibly completely sum up my father’s life, let alone what it meant to me or countless others, nor will I, even after I may come to terms with his death. He was and is my dad.
Our relationship hadn’t always been easy, in fact it was difficult for a time. And so, perhaps one of the greatest lessons he gave me was that life can be messy, but even so, it’s always a blessing, and beautiful – a gift from God.
He taught me too that some, really most, of its greatest blessings and beauty are found in everyday life.
As the funeral home appointment approached on Sunday, I tried to wrap up my part in putting together the draft of his obituary before we would sit as a group and craft the final document. I was in my pajamas, the shower was running, and I had to keep running back to the keyboard as things came to me.
As of this writing nearly a week later they’re still coming to me, and I hope they never stop.
So far, his death has punctuated the profound fact that – whether healthy or ill, elderly or nascent when it ends, surrounded by loved ones or alone, ended by the hand of God or that of man – every single life is precious to God.
There are no hidden lives. They may be hidden to us, but not to Him.
In your charity please pray for the repose of the soul of Charles Theodore, and for comfort for his family. Knowing my dad, he’d want you to pray unceasingly for the unborn, and all human life, as well.