On Saturday, Troy’s parents, my parents and brother helped us clean out the old house. We rented a dumpster, which at first seemed ridiculously large for the job at hand but by 3:00 pm was loaded to the top with broken remnants of a season passing. Does this make you feel sad?, I was asked by my mom whose voiced echoed off the emptiness of the girls’ now vacant bedroom. It didn’t. It doesn’t. I’m just thankful we’re all moving on together. Home is people to me more than a place.
My wonderful Mother-in-law ( I hope she knows I think she’s extraordinarily wonderful) and I were talking about family and love and loss. Love can be scary, we decided, because it hurts to have your heart-broken and death is inevitable. And yet, the more you love and connect with others, selflessly weaving yourself into their trials and triumphs, drop kicking judgement and envy with all their miserableness into no man’s land where they belong, the broader and stronger your support base becomes. Then suddenly what you thought mattered (stuff and admiration) becomes replaced with what truly matters: Love, and an unapologetic belief that faith in Love can move mountains. Then life is less confusing and disappointing because Christ’s Love is enlightening and fulfilling and freeing in a way that makes no earthly sense at all.
This truth was mercifully validated for me just last night when I heard about the death of Father Peter Gillquist. The news made me cry because, though I’d never met him personally, I was blessed throughout my journey into the Orthodox Church (as were literally thousands of others) by his great love for the Church and for people, and his insights. His parish, All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church, posted a chronicling of Father Peter’s deteriorating health, including his last moments. It’s all very moving; this passage in particular absolutely floors me:
These are holy days. God is so merciful, loving, and compassionate. After the Liturgy of Ss. Peter and Paul Thursday night, Fr. Peter asked for prayer at the Hospice House. Fr. Peter Jon arrived around 10 p.m. and asked, “Dad, would you like to receive communion tonight or tomorrow?” Fr. Peter stated clearly that he would like communion right away, so we began to pray and sing. Although it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to speak in complete sentences, Fr. Peter recited all the prayers by heart and sang perfect harmony with the communion hymns. Then he went to sleep. That is the last food he has consumed — the Bread of Life, and the Fountain of Immortality.
Fr. Peter didn’t awaken again until the following evening at 9:00 p.m. (Friday), when the wheels of Fr. Gordon Walker’s car hit the driveway. Fr. Gordon had driven six hours to be with his friend of 50 years in his time of need. They talked a while, smiled a lot, and then Fr. Peter went back to sleep following evening prayers.
The following morning (Saturday), we all gathered in Fr. Peter’s room for morning prayers, as he slept. Around 3:00 p.m., Fr. Peter awoke and asked if Fr. Gordon would hear his confession, which he did. Then a call was placed to Fr. Jon Braun, and the three old friends shared a few minutes together, talking about heaven. Then Fr. Peter fell asleep again.
Since that time, his vitals have changed dramatically, and he appears to be making the final sprint for the finish line. “Finish the race” is what his family members whisper in his ear. We are gathered by his bedside in prayer, Scripture-reading, and song. Finish the race, dad. We love you so much.
Does that not give you chills? Oh I want to embrace that brave family for emptying themselves and being filled like lanterns, like lighthouses, with the blazing hope of the Resurrection! I am emboldened, humbled, inspired by their example of faith lived, stripped down to its essence, not merely talked about or debated.
Memory Eternal, Father Peter!! Lord, give rest to the soul of your servant who has fallen asleep!