How do I begin to share with you what the following days were like after Rob passed and we left the hospital that morning? My dear friend Angie always tells me, “you have to be in the boat to know how it rocks!” And we were sure rocking! At times, it felt like we were going under but we hung on and clung to those who God sent in our path to console us. For me, Jesus was present . . . so very present.
He was a life preserver through this horrific storm.
He showed up in all areas in surprise “guise.”
He was standing before me when the doorbell rang and I was greeted with platters of sandwiches wrapped in colored cellophane.
He was in the neighbors who brought over a wagon filled with water bottles and snacks and treats.
He was present in the friends who brought over dinners and dropped them off with delicious desserts.
He was in the flower deliveries, the phone calls and the knocks on the door.
He was present in all the cards and messages of consolation.
Certainly “He” was present at the funeral parlor, in every one of those who came to visit us and pay their last respects and say good-bye to a special man that lived his life with love and kindness. That love was poured right back upon us as we were grieving. It made those days tolerable and almost joyful to get through. Love stilled the storm, and the waters surrounding us soon became calm. We weren’t rocking so violently.
Samantha, my daughter- in- law, rose to the occasion immediately by making photo boards and helping with decorating the funeral parlor so it looked more like a living room. Pictures were hung everywhere. There were lines of people waiting to speak to us and stories to be shared. And then came the last night . . . the night when you know the “next morning” is fast approaching. The dreaded funeral Mass followed by that last road trip to the cemetery. The boat was beginning to rock again. I felt seasick, and knew that Nick, Samantha and Rob did too, as well as the rest of our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.
I remember walking up the church’s steps the morning of the funeral Mass and the funeral director reporting to us that there was a “big presence“ inside. I knew I had told the Ministry of Consolation to print at least 150 booklets and as I entered into the sacred space of St. Thomas the Apostle Church, I knew the number needed for the booklets would go well beyond that number.
Not too long ago, I remember hearing a story about a little girl who went to visit her grandma in a funeral home. Her mother was hesitant about her daughter seeing the grandmother lying in the casket but decided to let it happen as it is a life lesson that we all get schooled in. When the little girl walked into the room where her grandma was, she let out a joyful exclamation with the following words: “Grandma is in a Treasure Chest” How beautiful. . .for we are all “treasures” in the eyes of our Creator!
It made me think of the word “casket” in a totally different way. My treasure on this earth was before me, making his way slowly down to the main altar with the pallbearers beside him. Greeting Rob in his “treasure chest” was our close friend, Fr. Joe Costantino, S.J., the Jesuit who I worked for at a retreat house for 6 years. Our pastor, Msgr. Frank Maniscalco was present as well as Deacon John Ford, who married my son, Nick and his wife, Samantha only the year before. We were led into the front row to be seated and we knew we were surrounded by loving hearts. “Love” was the oxygen we needed to breathe in at that moment. We were all in communion and united together in sorrow.
How many times did I sit in that church with Rob at my side holding my hand at Mass or making me laugh about something he observed around us. He had a knack for making me laugh when I was trying to be so serious and just pray. One time he called my attention to a woman who was apparently engrossed in seeing something before her, but her mouth was widely open. Rob whispered to me quietly, “now you know where all the flies went!”It took quite a long time for me to regain my composure!
He wasn’t beside me now and I already felt the great loss of his absence in my life. I was flanked by my two sons, Rob and Nick, and my daughter- in- law, Samantha. I was so grateful for their presence and closeness to me at this grievous moment for us all. I knew the path of loneliness without Rob was waiting for me in the days and years ahead.
The Mass was beautiful. The music that was chosen were songs that Rob and I had both liked and that we had heard at other funeral Masses. Before I knew it, the Mass came to a conclusion with the incensing of the “treasure chest” and we were making our way back to the limos for the trip to the cemetery. I remember there was an endless line of cars behind us and one of my son’s friends who is a policeman, had to get out to stop traffic so we could all go into the cemetery entrance at one time. Rob’s cousin, Frank, would later tell me, “Anita, you sent my cousin out in style!” In my state of “seasickness” it was good to hear those words. In the land of surreal, maybe I did have some wits about me. Jesus was surely running the show for us.
Everyone was invited back to the house which turned out to be a hot, sultry day in August. It was way too hot to be out in the garden, but everyone grabbed a chair, a cold drink and told stories. I just remember Samantha greeting me with a very chilled glass of wine while I chatted with friends. It’s the little things that count at times like these. As Bob Goff writes in one of his books, “Love Does,” and that says it all, Love is never idle or just talk.
The “love” was palpable at our home that day. It helped me to be courageous when in reality I just wanted to let my knees buckle; to just free fall to the ground. Something like the scene in the play Wicked” when the bad witch slowly melts into a crumpled ball on the floor!
Where was my husband?
I knew my heart kept asking that question interiorly as I smiled and listened to all the conversations that went on around me. Well, two weeks later, Rob would show me quite clearly where he was through the eyes of a friend named Flora who had never met Rob in person. Flora never had a vision prior to this experience and would never make up such a story like the following, but this is what happened to her personally during the Funeral Mass for my husband:
Flora related to me that “during the Funeral Mass, she saw on the altar . . . a very joyful handsome man, young with black hair with twinkling eyes and holding a glass of champagne. “Salute!” he seemed to be saying to everyone present in the pews. Flora thought to herself, “this has to be Anita’s husband!”
What Flora did not know was that right before Rob passed away there had been a “champagne conversation” in his hospital room. I had expressed to our sons and daughter in law that maybe we should have a champagne toast to celebrate Dad’s life at his bedside. Samantha did, in fact, go out and get the champagne but we never did get the chance to make that toast. But it seems to me, my precious husband heard my words and acted them out at his own funeral Mass. Of course with the approval of the”Big Man!” Rob, throughout our marriage, would always tell me that anything that I wanted, he could do for me and the champagne toast was his way of continuing this.
Reflecting on this “gift of presence”three years later, I realized something the other day. Rob’s family had invited him to a banquet in his dream shortly before he died and now he was showing us that he was truly present at the “banquet of the altar” here on earth, A place to be “fed” and “sustained” throughout our life’s journey. A “Salute” toast means “good health” in Italian and clearly Rob was showing us that he was now in good health, young and restored through the Powers of Jesus Christ. He was showing us where “Good Health” could be found. How very powerful, then and now, when I reflect on the vision that Flora had of my husband on the altar.
Of course, when she shared the story with me over the phone, I was taken aback. I never had heard of anyone being present at their own Funeral Mass! I was intrigued and had to invite her to our home. She came that day with other friends and as she was admiring all the cards and photos displayed throughout the house, she came across an image of Rob and I toasting each other at our wedding. All she could do was point her finger at the picture and tell me that “is him!” the man I saw on the altar! Flora also brought champagne that day to add to the dinner and it just happened to be the brand that Rob always bought for company, Prosecco.
What a gift to receive from Heaven at my husband’s Funeral Mass! “Resurrection” and “New Life” was clearly being shown to us in such a powerful way.
I would like to close this posting with a final stanza from a sympathy card that Rob’s cousin Karen had sent us. She didn’t know about Rob asking to be freed from his hospital bed that Tuesday afternoon, but I believe she turned out to be chosen by Rob to deliver the following message to us:
Perhaps my time seemed all too brief,
don’t lengthen it now with undue grief.
Lift up your heart and share with me –
God wanted me now, God set me free.
This certainly won’t be the end of my sharings about a special man named Robert Guariglia!
He has shown himself to me in countless ways in the last three years through dreams, signs, words spoken to my heart and most of all at the “banquet table” of the altar where I meet him with all our family and friends who have gone before him.
I wanted to leave you with an “upbeat” song and so I found a “Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay. As you watch the video and see the band walk through the streets singing their song and then finally mount the stage, they are met with cheers and huge white confetti falling from the sky. I would like to think this is what it was like for Rob when he entered the “Square of Heaven” to find his family and loved ones waiting for him, cheering him on and welcoming him to his Eternal Home, that he so justly deserved.
I know Rob . . . you are waiting to be cheering me on too! Until that time, I will be looking for you in a “Sky Full of Stars.”
©2018 Anita Guariglia
Photo Credits – Anita Guariglia
Youtube – Coldplay – “Sky Full of Stars”