When my father lay dying, I remember that one of the losses I began to grieve was that he was the keeper of so many family stories. He was the one who could look at an old family photograph, identify all the people, and tell you something about each one. As I saw him lying there, no longer able to talk much, I thought of all the memories stored up in his mind, all the stories, all the people he once knew and had spoken of so vividly.
And it was not just the family stories he held; he was also a great historian and a great wellspring of the classics. He had read all of the “Great Books,” all of Shakespeare, all of Sacred Scripture, and so many other worthy writings. And he had memorized many lengthy quotes from each.
Such an encyclopedic mind! He was full of vivid thoughts and vivid memories. He was the keeper of our family story. And though I knew he would take it with him in his soul, I grieved that his magnificent mind was now closing to me. I regret that I did not more carefully retain all he told me over the years.
Thankfully, he wrote a family history that stays with us. All his many photos and family films, that we worked to preserve, stay with us. We, his sons, are moving much of this to the digital realm, but it took Dad’s living presence to really bring these things home.
The video below put me in this reflective mood. It depicts an old man who lies dying in a hospital bed. In various flashbacks we see his life, told almost as if from God’s perspective. We see his story, his good moments and his tragedies—and then he passes.
I remember a Bible verse my father jotted down on the frontispiece of a book he was reading at the time of his own father’s death:
But as for man, his days are like the grass, or as the flower that flourishes in the field. The wind blows, and he is gone, and his place never sees him again (Psalm 103:16).
Reading that as a young teenager, I realized for the first time that the Bible was very beautiful. And I was startled to think that the house in which I was sitting would one day “never see me again.” All the stories, all the memories would be gone with the proverbial winds.
The photo at the upper right is the last one I ever took of my father. He standing in front of our family home. I took the picture as he was leaving it for the last time. He moved into a retirement community for a brief time, but was not much longer for this world. There he is, standing in front of the place that would “never see him again.”
Yes, there is something very precious about our memories, our stories. They are meant to be shared, handed down. But there is something irreplaceable, something that dies with each person: a personal glimpse of history, a personal story, something that can never be fully shared with anyone but the Lord.
Only the Lord really knows our story, and he knows it better than we ourselves do:
O LORD, you search me and you know me.
You yourself know my resting and my rising;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down;
you know all my ways through and through.
Before ever a word is on my tongue,
you know it, O LORD, through and through …
For it was you who formed my inmost being,
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I thank you who wonderfully made me;
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being fashioned in secret
and molded in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me yet unformed;
and all my days were recorded in your book,
before one of them came into being …
at the end I am still at your side … (Ps 139:varia)
Yes, the Lord knows. He knows all about us.
An old spiritual says, “Nobody knows the trouble I seen, nobody but Jesus.” For in the end, He is the keeper of every story: my father’s, mine, and yours. And whatever is lost in death will be restored a hundredfold, with understanding besides, in the great parousia. Not a story, not a word will be lost. We shall recover it all and tell the old, old stories once again.
Enjoy this poignant and moving video of a man’s life, told almost as if from the standpoint of God, the God who knows. Though the man seems to die alone, someone is remembering his story. Maybe it’s God who is doing the remembering.
8 Replies to “Every Life is a Story, Only Known Fully by God – A Meditation on a Moving Video”
Beautifully written Monsignor!
Thank for reading!
Thank you for posting this! I needed to slow down and remember some family memories of my own dear Dad. God is good to have called you to your vocation, and I am the blessed one that gets to glean so much from your writings .
God Bless you, Msgr., and all your family!
Thank you for the reminder that our time here on Earth is short.
Father, you moved me to tears. Such a beautiful witness to the precious presence of those we have loved and lost. My father-in law, Grampy Raymond George was similar to your father. How i loved sitting by him as he told me off his parents leaving Norway and coming here. Their travels from Wisconsin to Klamath Falls, before settling in Fairfield California. He was a true historian and a fount of wisdom. i miss him terribly. Thank you for sharing your father with us. May God bless his soul forever.
Thank you Monsignor for this beautiful article. I enlarged the picture to have a closer look at your father leaving his home for the last time. I truly admire the kind of person you said he was. It reminded me of my own parents who are no longer with us. We accompanied them when they bravely left their home to move to another place they had to call home.
My father has also been an avid learner through all his life. His last illness was a brain cancer which all of a sudden took away most of his memory. It was hard to witness his failing mind which had been so bright.
He surpassed most of us by his intellect and his wisdom. After his death I made a scrapbook of his time in the aviation during World War II and gathered a collection of his numerous postcards from this period. But we are still left with a great sense of loss. I like the consoling part of your article which says about God being the keeper of every story: “not a story, not a word will be lost. We shall recover it all and tell the old, old stories once again.”
Thank you, Msgr. Pope for this edifying piece. If not for our Faith in the Risen Christ, losing our loved ones would be unbearable. May our Good Shepherd bless and keep you, your Dad and your family.
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