BY ELIZABETH ROSE REARDON-FARELLA
I loved the feeling of holding my father’s hand as we walked out of Mass each week. My child-sized hand felt so tiny and safe enveloped inside his warm grip. My father was tall and strong, and, to me, he seemed invincible.
I do not remember exactly when things started to shift. I noticed that my father did not reach for my hand after church anymore. He would lean on the end of each pew as he walked or place his hands on my siblings’ shoulders for support. The father who had patiently taught me how to tie my shoes now needed help tying his.
By the time I started high school, my dad was in a wheelchair full-time. As the outside world became smaller for
him, our relationship grew deeper, and I would look forward to coming home from school to see him each day.
My father was a storyteller, and in our quiet moments, he would provide stories about his mother, grandmother, and even the generations that came before. Often the stories of his clan involved their love of learning, their determination through dark days, and their deep Catholic faith.
As the years progressed, my father continued to decline, losing all of his in-dependence. Up to the end we still had our words, our Bible passages, and his stories. When he passed, my solace was knowing that he was reunited with all those family members he spoke so lovingly about.
Before the burial, the funeral director asked if our family wanted to say a final, private good-bye. I drew a deep breath,thinking I was completely ready, but as it turned out, I was not.As I gazed upon his face for the last time, fear and panic suddenly gripped me. When they took him away, what would I have to remember him by?
My father was a simple man. The only jewelry he owned was a thin gold wed-ding band which hung on a gold chain around my mother’s neck. He received a watch from the company he worked for, which was given to my sister since she now worked for the same company. He had one family treasure that had belonged to his father which would then be passed to my brother since he carried our family name.
I longed to touch something that would keep us tethered to each other. I could not think of one tangible thing to pass on to my own children and say, “This once belonged to your grandfather.”
The following Sunday I decided to attend church alone, waking early before my husband and children. I felt the need to face God on my own and see if I could regain the peace that came so easily to me as a child. I listened intently to the Bible readings, the hymns, and the words from my pastor. My heart still felt broken over my loss.
Numbly I filed along in the Communion line and glanced ahead to see how many people were ahead of me. Seeing the long line stretching before me, I thought, Why did the line have to be so long on this of all days? I did not want anyone to see me there or stop me to ask how I was doing. What would I say in response to the concerned inquirers? That my father had died and left me with nothing to remember him by?
Suddenly, as I looked again at the long line moving slowly toward the cross, I flashed back to my father’s stories. It occurred to me that a long line of people was exactly what had brought me to church on that very day. My father was just one person in a long line that had passed on the Catholic faith from parent to child for generations.
His faith was his greatest possession and his dearest family heirloom. It was what has sustained him through the worst of times. He had handed me a rugged faith that stood strong in the face of adversity and allowed him to tenderly accept help from others and share his heart so willingly. His gift of faith was exactly what I would pass on to my children with the hope that the line to God would continue to form behind me for many generations to come.
When I attend church now, I still get emotional standing in line to receive Communion. The image of the line has stayed imprinted on my heart, and I am grateful for all those who stand before me and help support my faith.
I only stand in the line, sit in the pews, and sing the hymns because my father showed me the way. His legacy of faith is more precious than a gold band, more timeless than a watch, and greater than any treasure I could have received. Someday I hope I am woven into the stories my children will tell their children about a woman who carried a treasure she had been given from generations ago. With God’s help, I will not break the chain.