A lot can be learned from the little ones in our lives, if only we take the time to listen and to pay attention. Too often it is the other way around. We are so busy trying to teach them this, that or the other thing that we fail to realize how we need to allow them to teach us and to lead us. While I have been active in the pro-life movement for more than 20 years now, it was my 9-year-old nephew Anthony who recently taught me a very powerful lesson about the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person.
It happened recently during the passing of my father-in-law, Anthony Pastore. My husband and I were gathered around Dad’s bed in his home in Scranton, Pa., along with my mother-in-law Mary and about 15 other family members.
The doctors often described my father-in-law as a walking miracle. They never expected him to live past 50. He suffered his first heart attack when he was 40 and four heart attacks after that. Then there were three open-heart surgeries and a number of experimental medical procedures that helped him live until the age of 82.
The doctors were convinced that it wasn’t their efforts but more his strong faith and an equally strong will that kept him alive all those years. He had a number of other medical issues, including a blood disorder, and eventually his body was just too tired. He passed away on Pentecost Sunday.
My husband and I arrived that Friday afternoon, when my father-in-law was still lucid. He was thrilled to see us and did his best to ask how we were doing. He was especially interested in learning about his son’s parish assignment as a new deacon. And being a devout Catholic and a proud Italian American, he was always excited to hear about my latest pilgrimage to Rome.
That Friday evening, the many family members there laughed and cried. We each had a chance to say our goodbyes, including the youngest grandchild, Anthony. Interestingly enough, while many children are afraid of death, Anthony and his 12-year-old sister, Camille, had no problem with being with their grandfather at this difficult time. Their grandfather had been such a big part of their lives. There were the countless baseball games, dance recitals, birthday parties, pool parties, picnics and Christmas mornings. As long as Grandpa could move, he would be at one of their events, and so they wanted to return the favor and be with him as long as possible.
By mid-day Sunday, it was obvious he only had hours — maybe minutes — left. My husband led the family in the rosary. Soon after the prayers ended Dad took his last breath. The tears flowed as we realized he was no longer with us physically. All of a sudden, without any prompting from anyone and without saying a word, Anthony grabbed some fresh flowers from a Mother’s Day bouquet in the living room. He walked softly but purposefully up to my father-in-law’s now-still body. He gently placed the flowers on his grandfather’s chest and then turned and went back to his seat.
That one simple gesture spoke volumes about not only that little boy’s love and respect for his grandfather, but a child’s understanding and appreciation for life and the sacredness of our physical bodies. While we were consumed with our own grief, a little child reminded us about the importance of respecting the human person in life as well as in death. For me this will forever stand out in my mind as one of those incredible Holy Spirit moments, especially being that Dad passed on Pentecost Sunday.
And a little child shall lead them and all of us at times, indeed.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.