I have heard it from so many people over the years regarding the passing of a loved one, especially a parent: “No matter how old or sick they are, when they go you’re never ready.”
I now know those words are very true. My father, Michael Annunciato Squillace, was born on the feast of the Annunciation and died on Sept. 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. He was 84, and went so peacefully, simply falling asleep in his favorite chair at home.
My dad’s passing did not come as a total shock, as he had been struggling for several years with Parkinson’s and heart disease. For me it was especially difficult because I had just taken him for a doctor visit on Sept. 13, and then two days later my mother and I were saying goodbye. I was also extremely close to my father.
It was very tough over these last few years watching this brilliant, handsome and, most importantly, very loving man struggling so much. My father was a mechanical engineer. He spoke three languages. He literally sailed the seven seas for many years while serving in the Merchant Marines.
He was also a gifted vocalist. No midnight Mass at our parish was complete without Dad singing the Italian Christmas carol “Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle” (“You Descend from the Stars”).
His close relatives and many friends who kept pouring into the funeral home talked about his many talents, but most of all about his kindness and generosity. One family friend told me at one point she actually thought my dad worked for our parish because he was there so much. He was the most Christlike man I ever met. He rarely said “no” when someone needed something, and he rarely lost his patience, and never judged.
He and my mom would have celebrated 57 years of marriage on Sept. 26, and I never saw two people more in love. My mother insisted on taking care of my father, and as my pastor said in the homily at the funeral Mass, their relationship was such a witness to the rest of the parish community.
My dad encouraged me to get my education and to go after my dreams. He never doubted my abilities to break into the competitive business of broadcasting, and I believe his confidence in me kept me going even during some very tough times.
Despite the hole that is formed in your heart when you lose a loved one, be assured that God is always with us, if we remain open. One particularly poignant moment came the day after my dad died. I was in the bathroom trying to make myself look somewhat presentable before heading back over to my mom’s. As I was putting on my makeup I turned on the radio. I knew right then and there that the song playing at that moment was God telling me my dad was free of all the chains and shackles of his illness. The song by the gospel group Mary Mary is actually titled “Shackles.” The song is several years old, and I can’t tell you the last time I heard it on the radio, especially on a secular station. The tune is all about breaking free from the problems and pain in this life:
“You broke the chains, now I can lift my hands.
And I’m gonna praise you.
I just want to praise you.
Take the shackles of my feet so I can dance.
I just want to praise you.
I just want to praise you.”
The word chains and shackles weighed so heavily on my mind as my mom and I helped my dad inside the house after his last doctor’s appointment. When I heard the refrain of the song I laughed, I cried, and then I danced. I danced in thanksgiving that my dad went so peacefully and was now free, and I danced in thanksgiving for a God who always lets us know that we are loved and never alone.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.