My busy week began with the anniversary of an event seventeen years ago. Surprisingly, the date seems like it was just yesterday. It was the day Lil’ Partner went to say goodbye to the greatest man he ever knew.
I received word that my dad was critically ill after a misdiagnosis of his condition (discharged from the hospital with instructions to take antacids for his severe belly ache—a ruptured aneurism). I rushed from Long Island, where I’d gotten the news, up to my home outside of Albany, returned to Long Island to pick up my brother, and drove through the night to my parent’s North Carolina home. Before daybreak, somewhere in Virginia, my cell phone rang to deliver the news: we would not be able to say goodbye. Lil’ Partner, as my father called me in moments of affection, would never get to say goodbye to the greatest man he ever knew.
Country Singer Reba McEntire sang a heart-wrenching song that “the greatest man she never knew lived right down the hall.” The lyrics describe how her father had never said he loved her, but she always knew. Still today, those words go right through me. My stoic, German, marine dad was in many ways outwardly unaffectionate. But I knew he loved me. And I loved him. And I always will.
He was my role model. He taught me humility and the importance of serving others. He introduced me to faith. Quietly and privately, he was the most spiritual person I ever knew. When he passed, I shared my grief with Father Dennis Tamburello, a Franciscan monk who taught at Siena College. He was teaching one of my seminary courses and suspended the class to hold an impromptu memorial in the chapel in my father’s honor. He used the Ash Wednesday Matthew 6 passage about praying privately to exemplify my dad’s faith practices. That gift remains with me today.
No one can explain grief or put a timeline for it. I’ve learned the more incredible the suffering, the greater the love; it is strictly comparative. Grief is our receipt for having loved. It is a sacred part of love. No one can take it from us and even though it gives us the most profound pain of our lifetimes, it is a reminder that we are alive, we are human, and we are the human embodiment of love. As strange as it may seem, rejoice in grief. Give thanks for the love the one no longer physically present gave us.
Life is full of continued pain and mourning. It seems as I get older—as I suspect others feel—we lose more people in our lives. Recently, I was greatly pained over someone I greatly admired, someone I had to officiate at his funeral. Chris Balos was taken from us far too soon. Chris was a guy’s guy. I had never met someone who unconditionally loved his wife and family so much. His smile was contagious. His laughter was joyful. He had a far different personality from my dad, but I know his beautiful children—Chris’s Lil’ Partners—will always remember him as the greatest man they ever knew.
Join us this Sunday and every Sunday. We gather to celebrate the greatest man any of us ever knew- Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Lil’ Partners of Jesus, we gather Sunday, February 12th at 8:00 AM (spoken liturgy), 10:15 AM (traditional liturgy), and 6:00 PM (contemporary liturgy). We celebrate Jesus, the one who is our resurrection hope and the promise of eternal life.