Conversation ceased as Christopher began the slide show and eulogy of his father, Mario D. Frank. Christopher and his wife, Diana, had worked lovingly on making this memorial service in their home special and intimate, with only close friends and family members invited.
Chris traced his father’s birth, family ties, and educational and work history. He dwelt on his father’s exceptional talents and interests, and some of the adventures he had experienced.
Enthusiastically friends and family members shared their memories, quite frankly enlightening me about things I didn’t know about Mario. Some memories were truly funny; others were touching. All in all, the service was well executed, and when everyone had left, I felt satisfied with the results of my son’s planning.
But somehow I couldn’t simply leave Chris’s house as the others had. A terrible pain in my soul held me back. As Chris, Diana, and I sat on the couch, images of Mario’s last days came to mind. Before he died, he was a mere ghost of his former self: emaciated, totally incapacitated, unable to process thoughts or even speak. Looking like a concentration camp victim, he experienced a living death.
As these images played in my mind, a painful memory took up residence in my heart. “Chris,” I said, “a few months ago I lay in bed one evening talking to God. I asked Him why He didn’t allow Mario to go to his rest. I confessed that I had no right to question His decision to prolong Mario’s life. I understood that as Mario’s Creator, He had the prerogative of determining when his life should end. But I told Him that my finite mind just couldn’t understand why He would keep someone alive in this horrible condition year after year.”
Mario suffered from Parkinson’s disease. We had watched him deteriorate, going from shuffling about unsteadily to being unable to walk at all. Then he couldn’t communicate because his mind couldn’t process thoughts. Eventually he lost his ability to speak. Then he couldn’t use the bathroom or care for himself. Later he couldn’t feed himself. Finally, his food had to be pureed. He lived that way for more than 12 years. It was heart-wrenching.
During the past four years, caregivers said that once in a while Mario had lucid moments during which he could speak and process thoughts for short periods of time. I wondered whether God had prolonged his life so that the Holy Spirit could reach his mind and bring Mario to repentance since he had left the truth and had entangled himself in Scientology. After all, I had been praying for his salvation, taking up this petition where his deceased mother had left off.
As Chris listened to my doleful thoughts, his face expressed sorrow, and his eyes filled with the tears he had not shed at the service. “Mama,” he agonized, “I know why God prolonged Dad’s life. It was for me. I was so full of pain, anger, and bitterness with his failure to be a father to me. God knew that as I spent time with him in his declining years, all those negative emotions would melt away.”
Then he choked out, “How could anyone be hateful and angry with someone who was in the condition my father was in?”
Although I knew my son had harbored pain and resentment about his father’s paternal dereliction, I simply had not factored this issue into the extension of Mario’s life. As I pondered the implications of my son’s explanation, I was deeply moved.
Chris had assumed responsibility for his father’s care after he learned the danger he had been in with his neighbors preying upon him as they saw Mario’s helpless condition. What a merciful God! He had given Chris time to make peace with his father.
God faithfully rewarded Chris for honoring his father by overseeing his dad’s health care and handling his personal affairs in addition to caring for his own young family.
Mercifully, God had replaced Chris’s bitterness and grudges with compassion and a commitment to do all he could to honor his father’s determination to live.
God says in His Word that He will not forgive our sins if we do not forgive others theirs. So He gave Christopher and his father the gift of time, resulting in emotional healing and forgiveness. Indeed, God’s timing is perfect in all situations, for He always has a good purpose not necessarily known to us. Because of Mario’s impairments, his response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit will be known only when Jesus returns.
Rosa E. Cardona, is an English teacher, mother, and grandmother who lives in Orlando, Florida.