Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Three Men Who Have Affected My Faith and Life More than I May Ever Realize This Side of Heaven: My Dad, My Uncle, and My Godfather

Rich, Bob, Dave, and Jim Niermeyer at our wedding reception.
 I went to Mass at the Pastoral Center today in honor of my dad, who died seven years ago this morning; my uncle Dave Niermeyer, who passed away last month on July 24th which is my mom’s birthday, and my Godfather Richard Vivacqua (aka Stitch), who’s birthday is today, but who went to be with the Lord December 8, 2015. 

Interestingly enough, my dad’s oldest brother, Robert J. Niermeyer, passed away in 2008 on August 22, the Memorial of the Queenship of Mary, and my dad James Niermeyer’s funeral was held on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15, 2009.  My dad and his brothers have had a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother.  My Godfather did also, so it struck me as significant when he passed away this past December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception as well as the beginning of the Year of Mercy.
This photo I took at St. Mark’s Church in Rochester during our vacation this summer is how I like to imagine Mary welcoming her sons: my dad, Dave, and Stitch into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Wednesday after Mass then lunch with my mom, I went over to St. Michael Church where our family and friends gathered for my dad’s funeral. I prayed, took a few photos, and wrote by the columbarium where Dad's remains have been interred. 

A light breeze jostled the flowers.  I sat on a marble bench in the shade, looking over the fountain in the center of the courtyard.  I went there knowing that my dad isn’t merely contained in a small repository of ashes, but that he’s in and around me. I’m grateful for the blessing of faith, the promise of mercy, and the possibility of spending all of eternity with God, enveloped in unconditional love, perfect peace, and unadulterated joy.

I reflected on what a gift it was that I had been in a position and time in my life that I could do some of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy for my father during his final years.  Decades of feeling totally inept at taking away or even alleviating his pain in body, mind, or spirit, was softened by being able to get him groceries, bring in his mail, take him to doctor appointments, bring him the Eucharist, and assure him of God’s love. 

So much of the external elements of my dad’s life got stripped away.  No status symbols left. Near the end of his life, he had a weak body, a troubled mind, a broken spirit, an average car, and a one bedroom apartment, but the essence of who he was, part of which contained his desire to care for and provide for other people, stayed with him to the very end.   

I’m fairly certain my dad would have wanted me to grow beyond where he did, that he’d want all of his loved ones to develop an acceptance that we are God’s Beloved children. 

Did my dad love people the best way he knew how?  I believe much of the time he did.  His love was never perfect, unconditional, or without limits, but it was there even during the many years when I refused to let any of it in.  To watch a brief video (under 15 minutes) in which I talk about how God turned my NEVER going to have a loving relationship with my dad into something much better, click here.

Today, I considered going to the grotto to light three of the candles that are supposed to remain lit for seven days, but I slipped into the chapel instead.  I’d completely forgotten that there is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Wednesdays. I sat in the second to last row.  I prayed for dad, and I thought about how he died only 16 days after his 54th birthday.  (Yes, it’s rather sobering that Kevin just turned 53.)  We never know how long we have left. 

After praying for the loved ones who have gone before me, I again offered the Lord my mind, body, and spirit to use however He wishes.  It's still a kind of scary prayer for me to pray considering the of suffering I've witnessed and/or experienced. However, I know letting go of my pride and agenda are the best way to serve the Lord and love others.  

I take comfort in praying the Hail Mary for my dad, Dave, and Stitch knowing that they have prayed many such prayers for me and our family.  It is true that Our Blessed Mother watches over us now, and "[prays] for us sinners now and at the hour of our death."
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