The Evangelization Station
Pray for Pope Francis
Scroll down for topics
By Deacon Richard Tappe
In June of 1992 my Dad died. Eighteen months before, in December of 1990, my Mother died. Six and one half years before my Mother died, she sustained severe injuries while undergoing cardiac by-pass surgery. Air was inadvertently allowed into her bloodstream. The consequence of such an event is that the air forms bubbles which migrate to the furthest extent of the body’s arteries and there form barriers as efficient as corks in bottles. From the position of the bubble onward, no blood can pass to oxygenate the body’s organs. After a few minutes, the oxygen deprived areas of the organs begin to die. In my Mother’s case, the volume of air infused into her blood was so great and the subsequent damage so severe that literally no organ in her body escaped damage. Nowhere was this more evident than the damage to her brain. The doctor said that when he looked at the CAT scan of her brain it “looked like Swiss Cheese” there were so many dark-appearing lesions.
Seven days following Mom’s surgery, and before our suspicions concerning her prognosis were officially confirmed, I happened to be in the hospital’s intensive care waiting room with my Dad and one of my sisters when Mom’s doctor made an appearance. He walked up to my Dad and without preamble said, “You know she is not going to make it don’t you Albert.”
Dad replied, “No, I didn’t know that at all.”
To which the doctor replied, “Well she isn’t.”
Dad asked him, “What are you trying to say?”
His response, “What I’m trying to say is that maybe we should take her off the ventilator and see how she gets along.”
Dad rose from his chair and said, “But she could die.”
The doctor said, “Yes.”
Dad, his voice rising, said, “We’re not going to do any such thing. It’s only been a few days since her operation. When a person gets sick you don’t give up on them. You give them a chance.”
Visibly angry the doctor answered, “You suit yourself, but in six months she will be dead anyway, and you will be broke.”
My Dad was gentle, good natured, and very slow to anger. But he became angry on this occasion. He strode toward the doctor who had turned away to leave and grasped his arm and turned him around to look him in the eye and gave what can only be described as a heroic witness to his matrimonial covenant with my Mother. Dad said, “What business is it of yours what I do with my money? I have the best insurance available so you are going to be paid. But more than that; if I run out of insurance and spend my savings, or if I am forced to sell our home and even the clothes on my back to keep her alive, what business is that of yours? And if I had to do all that to keep her alive for just one more day, that’s what I’d do. And I’ll tell you why. Fifty years ago this month, I promised to love Vera and to honor and obey her in sickness and health until her death and that is exactly what I am going to do.”
The crowded waiting room was silent. The doctor, even angrier now, replied, “I’ll fight you every step of the way.” And he did.
In a stormy meeting with the hospital administration, Dad succeeded in removing the doctor from Mother’s case. A few days later, under close supervision and with her family present, she was weaned from the ventilator and began breathing on her own. One week later we moved her to the hospital in our home town. She remained in a coma for four weeks.
My sisters and I spent many long hours sitting with my Mom and Dad during that month. It was a period of grieving and adjusting for all of us. We somehow knew without being told that if Mom woke up, she would never be the same. None of us ever wished that she had died. We were happy to have her with us. And oh how we prayed for her and for Dad. Still, in spite of what we knew in our hearts, we could not help but pray for her full recovery. When we discussed our prayer with Dad, he told us that that is not what he prayed for. Instead he prayed that Mom would recover to the point where she could communicate with him and he could feed her, and then he would take her home and care for her. It is all he asked, and in the end it was Dad’s prayer that was answered.
I was present when Mom awoke. Her first word was “Albert.” Her next words were, “The Blessed Mother told me things.” When Dad asked what the Blessed Mother told her she pursed her lips and turned away. Clearly she was not at liberty to say. Although Mom repeated that statement many times during the last 6 ˝ years of her life, and despite repeated promptings, she would not disclose what the Blessed Mother had said to her. Apparently, whatever was said to Mom occurred when she was in the coma.
There followed a period of physical therapy, mostly wasted, and finally Dad took her home. Mom’s injuries left her completely paralyzed. Apart from limited ability to speak and make slight movements of her head and eyes, Mom was unable to make any other voluntary movements. Dad did everything for her. He bathed, dressed, and fed her. He would move her from her bed to an overstuffed chair in the living room for several hours each day. Although she was incontinent, he would never subject her to what he considered indignities. As much as possible Dad would assist her with her bodily functions. And if he was unable to render her timely assistance, he simply bathed her and changed her bedding – often as many as 5 or 6 times a day. Dad wore out two sets of washing machines and clothes dryers during those 6 ˝ years.
Mom never lost her mind as a result of her injuries. She always remembered us and would greet us when we came into her room. As time passed her speech improved somewhat and in a limited way she would join in conversation and laugh at jokes.
Mom had no cognition of time as we know it. Sometimes Dad would put her to bed, go to his bed beside hers only to have her waken and announce that it was time to get up. When Mom slept, he slept. When Mom was awake, Dad was awake. On one occasion he was up with Mom for three days straight.
The day before Mom’s funeral the funeral home director introduced himself and said, “I don’t know if you can handle this but I have to talk to somebody in the family.” He then asked if it was true that Mom had been bed-ridden for 6 ˝ years. I said yes. He shook his head and told me that he had seen many individuals who had been bed-ridden for long periods of time but he had never seen anyone whose body was in the condition of Mom’s. He said her skin was like a baby’s and totally without bedsore or blemish. The Director was clearly amazed at Mom’s condition and stated that it was unique in his experience. He asked for an explanation and I told him that even a short visit to their home while Dad was caring for Mom would provide the answer. I visited my Dad every day, and on occasion several times a day. During those visits I repeatedly witnessed his remarkable devotion to Mom. Every few minutes Dad would get up from his chair or interrupt his work to change Mom’s position in her chair or on her bed. Mom would often state that her ankle or her elbow or some other part of her was hurting and Dad would put lotion on his hand and massage the afflicted place. He would do this every time Mom complained – sometimes ten or twelve times per hour. When I would ask him about what he was doing, he explained that he was determined that Mom would not get any infection, and she never did.
Dad did all these things with very weak heart. He had triple by-pass surgery, and needed to ingest nitroglycerine tablets each time he moved Mom. Toward the end he was consuming an average of 20 tablets each day. And in spite of the medication and surgery he was experiencing constant chest pain. In spite of all this he never once mentioned placing Mom in a care facility. He would only say, “Vera is my wife and I’ll take care of her.”
I said to Dad once, “You will be relieved when this is over.” He instantly rebuked me and said,” You don’t understand. I love taking care of her. It is as if Jesus Himself is lying there.” I asked once, “Are you able to pray Dad?” And he answered, “I pray constantly and offer everything to Jesus.” I asked, “Do you ask Jesus for help?” Dad said, “I do not often ask Jesus for help, but when I do He always instantly answers my prayer.” And then with tears running down his cheeks Dad said, “There is one prayer He will not answer.” I asked, “What’s that?” and he answered, “Jesus doesn’t answer me when I ask Him if I can take Vera’s place so she can get up again.”
The day came when it was obvious that Mom’s time to pass from this earthly life had come. Dad said, “I’m ready for her death.” Mom died in perfect peace surrounded by her family. We spent the entire night before her death laughing and talking with her and enjoying memories of the life we shared together.
No one in this life will ever fully know all the good that was accomplished in their little house during those 6 ˝ years. But I know what I saw with my own eyes. I saw people deeply touched who hardly knew my parents. I saw a change in me. I saw my Mother’s holiness. I saw my Dad become a saint. For the first two years all I or anybody else saw was their suffering, and for the last 4 ˝ years all we saw was their love. I was often reminded of Robert Browning’s famous lines, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be, the end of life for which the first was made.”
Suffering nearly always accompanies the end of life. Why this is so is a mystery wrapped in the Mind and Heart of God. Just because we do not completely understand it does not mean we should abandon the person who suffers or that we should see the suffering of those who care for them as an evil to be eradicated. Suffering sanctifies. Suffering purifies. Suffering redeems. And so it was with my Mom and Dad.
My Dad’s health continued to deteriorate to the point where he could no longer walk or even drive the two blocks to Sunday mass. And so during his last months I would bring him Holy Communion each Sunday after Mass. On one occasion, 6 weeks after Mom’s death, following Holy Communion, and after a period of thanksgiving, Dad related the following experience to me. He said he awoke from sleep the previous night to find a bright red light in the center of his bedroom. He said he got up and sat on the edge of his bed and stared at it for a while and it didn’t move or change. He rose up and looked out the window to see if it could be coming from outside the house, but he saw nothing to indicate that it was so. Then being a practical man he smoked a cigarette to be sure he was awake. The light finally disappeared and he went back to sleep.
He then asked me if I knew what that was all about. I thought I knew but suggested we wait and see. To myself I was thinking that often times, when God wishes to reveal something profound in a mystical way, He will preface it with a mystical manifestation. And that is what happened. A second deeper mystical experience followed the first.
Six weeks later to the day, I had again brought Holy Communion to Dad and afterward he began to cry and he said that he didn’t want me to think he was losing his mind but that something happened the previous night that he had to tell me about.
Now my Dad was not a person who would ever seek or relate to mystical experiences. So much so that if I would have told him that I had a vision while praying in church he would have scoffed and probably left the room.
I was therefore astonished as Dad related the following to me. He said that the previous night he was again awakened to find red light in his bedroom. This time there were three lights instead of one. He said he again got up and looked out the window to discover whether the light could be emanating from outside the bedroom. He said he even closed his door and the curtains to eliminate the possibility. He then again sat on the edge of his bed to smoke a cigarette to make sure he was awake. After the cigarette was put out he said, “I looked into the lights and suddenly the bedroom disappeared and there was Heaven. And there sat Vera on a throne. She was wearing a beautiful blue robe and looked as she did when she was about 30 years old but even more beautiful. There was a great light shining on her from beyond the edge of what I could see. Also standing beside her was an unrecognizable person all made of light. I thought it was her Guardian Angel. Seated on her lap were four children. I said to Vera, “I recognize the two sitting on your knees as Roger and Patricia (my brother the first born of my siblings, and my sister Patricia the last born both of whom died within one week of their birth) but who are the other children sitting on your lap?” And Vera said, “These are the two children we lost through miscarriage. They do not have any names. What do you want to call them?” Dad answered,, “Joseph and Mary.” Dad then said that standing near Vera’s side was a little girl. Dad asked, “Who is the little girl?” And Mom answered, “This is Katherine, the little girl that Phyllis and Richard lost through crib death." (She was our daughter who we lost at seven months.) Next my Dad said, “Then I saw the most amazing thing. Below Vera, beside her on both sides, and above her, as far back as I could see there were millions of babies. All of them looked different. And I asked Vera, “What are all these babies?” And she answered, “We got these from the abortion chambers.” Then Dad said, “Vera told me many other things but they are not your business.” And until the day he died in 1992 he never told me what Mom told him.
It is for the reader to discern both the validity of the experiences my Dad related to me and to glean insights meaningful to him or her. As for me, I have thought and prayed about what my Dad told me many times in the years since his death and am personally comfortable with any number of personal insights and interpretations. These I will keep mostly to myself. There are some the reader will find obvious, the consolation Dad received in seeing Mom and the children in Heaven, the joy of speaking to her and seeing her whole and happy. One can speculate about the secrets and assume some of them concerned my Dad’s destiny to be with Mom forever in heaven. But of all that transpired while Dad was caring for Mom and of all those things he related in his vision of her, there are these two that I think about most often. The first is Mom’s often repeated statement, “The Blessed Mother told me things.” I have often thought that, while Mom was in her coma, the Blessed Mother gave her a choice -- to die right then or, for reasons unknown to any of us on this earth, to accept the sacrifice of a 6 ˝ year crucifixion. I do believe that Mom’s sacrifice, among other things, involved the salvation of her family and perhaps the Blessed Mother made that precise promise to her.
The second involves Dad’s vision of the aborted babies in Heaven. My mother was an ardent right-to-life activist, literally from the time of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States. I find it fascinating and heartwarming to think that God will for all eternity associate my mother with those children whose lives she prayed and worked so diligently to protect.
St. Catherine's Parish Boulder, Montana