“If a Buddhist, Hindu,Muslim, Catholic and a Jew stood in front of God, who would you say he loves the most? These three questions are really just one question, and it is this: Have you actually convinced yourself that God plays favourites?” James Blanchard Cisneros
My mother was a good mother who had all kinds of advice for her children, especially her daughters. Her advice was always one of self-preservation and she use to make me laugh when she said things like, “when you go on a date, always have an exit plan, leave by the back door if you have to and always carry a quarter so you can call a cab.” The one piece of advice that she repeated over and over again was, “never discuss sex, politics or religion with a group of people, unless of course you want to start a storm, throw in a comment about sex, politics or religion and then sit back and watch the fireworks.” My mother did that at times, she would make a comment, innocent comment about sex, politics or religion and then sit back and laugh. She had wit mixed with the most innocent face, so much so that when the fight was over no one knew who started it.
I was brought up Catholic and my earliest memory was the Sunday morning ritual of getting all dressed up and joining my three siblings, my mother and father for Mass. I was never afraid of God, I always felt welcomed in his home and I was in awe of his grace and acceptance of so many people who visited his house. Through the eyes of a child, I thought everyone got God and that everyone felt him like I did. My parents divorced when I was a child and it was during the divorce that I saw what I thought was God’s plan begin to unravel.
There was much bitterness and resentment between my parents and my mother filled the house with hostility against my father. I didn’t feel any of the hate and hostility toward my father that my mother felt and I couldn’t understand why my parents turned their back on God’s love. After time things fell into a routine and my father had visitation rights. My father was a foodie and during our visits, my father and I spent a lot of time talking and eating. My father was a smart man and I give him credit to this day that he never said anything negative about my mother other than that I was to listen to her and she was a good mother.
At the age of sixteen my father revealed to me during one of our conversations that he was a man of no religion and that he was agnostic in his beliefs. He said to me, “I don’t believe there is a God and I’m sorry to tell you this Jo, but heaven and hell don’t exist either. Heaven and hell are right here on this earth. I’ve seen heaven and I’ve seen hell and when you die you are buried in the ground and that is the end of the road.” My father served his country in the second world war and I knew he had seen devastation, but I didn’t realize how much the experience effected him until that moment as he was a typical ex-serviceman who didn’t talk about his experiences.
My childhood experience of sitting in God’s house believing that we were all in God’s presence was shot and his comment took me by surprise. I asked him “why did we all go to church every Sunday if you didn’t believe, why didn’t you drop us off at the church door and pick us up later if you didn’t believe?” Thinking back, I was grasping because I was sure that there was no way that he could sit in that church and not feel God’s presence in some way, he must have forgotten. His answer was simple and in his answer I started to comprehend why my parent’s relationship crumbled into divorce. He said ” I did it to please your mother.”
Several years passed and my father and I talked about many things but religion never came up again. The year I was just shy of 18, I was visiting family in Toronto. I had no plans to visit my father in Montreal but my brother called me and said he was going to Montreal for the long weekend and asked me to join him. I jumped at the opportunity, not only to see my father but many of my friends still lived there and Montreal is a happening place for young people. The weekend went by fast and I hardly saw my father as I was out with my friends the whole weekend visiting all of our favourite clubs and dancing into the early morning hours. Finally getting a chance to sit down with my father, he asked me if I would stay the rest of the week so he and I could visit our favourite restaurants and hang out.
The house had been filled with activity that weekend as people were in and out and the Monday afternoon after everyone had left, the atmosphere took on a stillness. The peace was welcomed after a busy weekend.
After dinner that night my father and I sat down together and he complained about a pain in his shoulder. The way he was holding his arm, I gathered that the pain was shooting from his shoulder down his arm. I suggested we get him to the doctor the next day because I didn’t like the sound of it, but he was insistent that he was fine. Our talk that evening led us to many places and he talked about his love for his children, circumstances of the divorce from my mother, his experiences during the war and his lack of belief in God. We argued back and forth about his agnostic view and I was able to meet his reasons of non-belief with my reasons for belief. Before I knew it, the time was 3:00 am and I told him I was exhausted, gave him a big hug, declared our love for one another and turned in for a few hours sleep.
I woke the next morning with an odd feeling that something wasn’t right and when I walked into my father’s room he was lying horizontally across the bed and he was a shade of grey I had never seen before. His lips were blue and there was a smell in the air that I instinctively knew was the smell of death. He was still breathing but I knew that death was imminent. I realized his lips were moving and he was trying to raise his hand to reach out to me, I bent down closer and he whispered that he loved me. I told him that I loved him and before I knew it the ambulance arrived. As I watched the ambulance attendants take my father away on a stretcher, a morbid feeling came over me as I realized that would be the last time I saw my father alive. By the time I arrived at the hospital he was gone.
The week I was supposed to hang out with my father turned into a week of viewings and a funeral. I was stunned most of the week, but when I came up for air I kept going over that last conversation that my father and I had. He knew he was dying and to this day I believe he wanted to die. My father had many personal burdens, burdens that weighed him down during his life, and I believe he wanted the pain to stop. It was interesting to me that he kept insisting that God wasn’t there for him that last night. Ironically, I believe God sent me there to be with him in his final hours, his child that had a strong enough faith to insist that God loved him and was still at his side. Unknown to my father, the final hours that we spent together was part of God’s plan. Death is a part of life and how we live and how we love is through God’s eyes.