The tension between absence and presence has been with me all summer. A sermon given by Fr. Michael Renninger helped me identify these two forces had been bringing up files from my random access memory, uploading related emotions, and allowing them center stage on the me-tube screen. In his sermon, Fr. Renninger talked about how a favorite soup his grandfather made could bring back so many memories of the man. He discussed the ways holidays changed, because his Pop wasn’t there shooing people out of the kitchen before he added the secret ingredient to his special soup. He was aware of an absence and a presence during family gatherings. His presence in their memories and in what he left behind was there, but a sense of absence could also be felt.
I could identify with his message right away. A food linking me to my dad’s mom who we called Nana came to mind: her extra creamy, super-smooth mashed potatoes. Nana passed away when I was eleven, but I have been reminded of her presence in many ways though she’s been physically absent from my life for a number of years.
Fr. Renninger told this story of loved ones lost to lead us to the absence and presence of Christ at Mass. We listen to Scripture readings about Christ’s life and remember who He was while aware that He is still with us. When we celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist, He is again physically present in Body and Blood, though not in the exact same form and appearance the disciples knew when He walked with them.
Since my dad James Lester Niermeyer passed away on August 10, 2009, I have felt his absence and presence. I can’t dial his number to check in and see how he’s doing, ask if he needs anything. He’s not there sitting in his favorite La-Z-Boy chair watching TV when I go over to his apartment. His oxygen machine is silent. The phone doesn’t ring. The TV is dark…
Yet I sense he is with me. I remember coming over to get his grocery list, knowing that he’d time me to see how long it would take me to finish his shopping, just like he used to time how long it would take my sister and I to do everything on the playground when we were little. I can smile when I see his oxygen machine off, his medicine on the counter, his cane in the corner, knowing he never wanted to depend on them anyway.
When I called to tell my cousin Mary Zeko that my father had passed, she made a comment that lifted my spirits. She said her dad, my uncle Bob, who passed away August 22, 2008 and my dad were up in Heaven whooping it up. I could feel my dad’s presence as much as his absence when she mentioned that. I can picture Uncle Bob and my dad causing whatever sort of trouble you can get away with in Heaven. I’m sure they’re making Nana and Pa laugh.
I take great comfort in thinking of the four of them together. My dad’s really missed his brother this past year and has been missing his parents for many years. For the first time in quite a while, I think of all of them, not knowing the whole of their lives, just some of the pieces, but knowing they’re still with us, wanting to be remembered, helping us see the love they gave and give us now.