It is especially monumental when you bury both of your parents. My mother died in 1980. We laid my father to rest next to her in our family cemetery in Arkansas. It is a passing of an era and the beginning of a new one. My three siblings and I gathered around my father's body and shared tears and memories of the heritage of faith that he left us; the knowledge and commitment to God.
I spent many years being confronted by this rejection and disappointment and did not always respond in a Christ-like manner; my passions and pride coming to a pseudo-defense of my wounded psyche. Everyone wants to be accepted by their earthy father. Unfortunately, those who have had a less than healthy relationship with their earthly father, often transfer their emotions and experience to their Heavenly Father. If one has experienced the rejection of this earthly father, he may have a difficult time accepting the love of his Heavenly Father. I have had such a challenge.
Time, and the grace of God, help heal human souls from these relational wounds that are a result of The Fall. With time and the grace of God, one can rightly divide the earthly and heavenly relationships. I did. The last few years allowed me to establish an amiable relationship with my father. Ironically, it was a scripture from the book of Sirach, a book not contained in my father's protestant bible, that influenced me toward a right relationship.
"Son support the old age of thy father, and grieve him not in this life, and if his understanding fail, have patience with him and despise him not when thou art in thy strength for the relieving of the father shall not be forgotten."
Obedience to this principle allowed me to put in right order the earthly and heavenly. I was able to set aside my feelings of rejection and practice the simple human courtesies that showed him honor. I called him on birthdays and holidays and visited with him as often as possible. I took his grandchildren to see him when possible. I wrote letters to him. To my loss, and his, we did not discuss any topics having to do with the faith. When he last broached the topic of our religious differences, he expressed confidence that I had had an "experience" of salvation. I received his olive branch in the spirit in which he intended and refrained from engaging him in a topical discussion of the doctrine of salvation.
The night before the funeral, my siblings and I gathered in my father's bedroom and watched a video interview recorded a year prior to his death. In this video, he spoke a word to each individual child, including me. I watched with trepidation as my turn came. Would this be a negative commentary from beyond the grave? I was relieved and healed to hear that, although "Nathan and I have had some theological differences", he was pleased that we had had a good relationship over the last few years. He also noted my strongest attribute to be my strong commitment and tenacity to what I believe.
The other day, a month past the death of my father, I was unexpectedly struck by an intense feeling of failure and an irrational feeling that I was a disappointment to God. Immediately, I was able to set in right order these profoundly erroneous thoughts. My God does love me. He is not disappointed with me. He does believe in me. Now, I am comforted to know that for all the weakness in my relationship with my earthly father, he now has the mind of our Heavenly Father toward me.
I stood alone in my father's room as he lay unconscious and dying, gasping for breath, his brain and body ravaged by bacterial meningitis. With my Orthodox Prayer Book opened, I quietly prayed this Prayer At The Death of a Parent.
O Lord, You heard Joseph grieving over the death of his father, Jacob, as he wept and kissed him.
Your own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, also knew the love of a mother, for as He suffered upon the cross, He beheld his Mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near her, and He said: Woman, behold your son. And to the disciple, He said: Behold your mother.
Good Master, look down from heaven and see the pain and grief which have laid hold of my heart and soul today.
Be merciful to me, Your servant, and receive the prayer which is offered to You by a child who has lost his (her) beloved father (mother).
Forgive whatever sins he (she) has willingly or unwillingly committed, whether of word, deed or thought.
Merciful Master, hear the grieving voice of one who has been taught by his (her) father (mother) to turn to You with true faith in times of need, and to raise my eyes and voice to You.
Show Your mercy, O Lord, and grant rest to my father (mother), making him (her) a partaker of Your eternal blessings and granting him (her) a place at Your right hand, for blessed and glorified are You unto all ages. Amen.I was present when my father's heart stopped beating, when the monitors would record no more brain activity, when his soul separated from his still, warm body. I will see my father again and I will greet him, but only briefly, as I turn my affection to my Heavenly Father, as my earthly father taught me to do. Until then, I will pray the Prayers for the Departed for the theosis of the soul of Billy Homer Lewis.
O God of spirits and of all flesh,
Who hast trampled down death and overthrown the Devil,
and given life to Thy world,
do Thou, the same Lord,
give rest to the souls of Thy departed servants in a place of brightness,
a place of refreshment,
a place of repose,
where all sickness, sighing,
and sorrow have fled away.
Pardon every transgression which they have committed,
whether by word or deed or thought.
For Thou art a good God and loves mankind;
because there is no man who lives yet does not sin,
for Thou only art without sin,
Thy righteousness is to all eternity,
and Thy word is truth.
For Thou are the Resurrection, the Life,
and the Repose of Thy servants who have fallen asleep, O Christ our God,
and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father,
who is from everlasting,
and Thine all-holy, good,
and life-creating Spirit,
now and ever unto ages of ages.