There are people who come into our lives and make it better, people who make you want to smile. They might not do anything in particularly special but to you those simple actions; a kind word, a crooked smile or a hand and heart of support make them everything to you. These people matter and when they are gone, the space is empty and the emptiness left in their spot is felt. I’ve known this emptiness: when I lost my uncle Narciso, when I lost my uncle Ramon and when I lost my third pregnancy.
Yesterday, our beloved Monsignor suddenly passed away in his sleep. He had the flu and then, he was gone. We’re all in shock. We’re all in mourning. We don’t understand and it’s hard to accept, as it always is.
You see, he was more than just the leader of our parish, he was like everyone’s favorite Grandfather. He was a genuinely kind man with a smile that put you at ease and made you feel like everything was going to be okay. His voice was comforting and he carried himself in a way that was confident yet humble. He was all of this and more but the thing that I adored about this man the most was the way he loved the children. It was a genuine adoration and fully reciprocated by every single child who attended our school in the past 30 years.
My girls go to Catholic school. I was raised in the Catholic church. Priests have always been a part of my life, my family’s life but never on this level. Growing up, our father was someone who we saw on Sundays. Growing up, the Father of our church was on one level and we were on another. It was not a human relationship, it was more of leader and worshipers. Nothing like our relationship with Monsignor.
My children saw Monsignor almost daily. He was the living, breathing heart of the school. All the students were his children. He’d been at the parish and the school for 30 years, so even the parents were like his children. Most have known them since they were small children and attended the school.
He had a special way of talking to children and adults alike that made them feel special and important. When he did the children’s mass, he always got down on their level and talked to them like they were people. He always listened to what they had to say. He never took himself too seriously.
When I joined the school board a couple years ago, I got to know him on a different level; on a human level and I have to say, I loved him for his humanity. I loved that he was openly fallible and that behind closed doors he could crack jokes and give us a hard time, just like any dad would do. But the thing I will never forget is his smile; that kind and soothing smile that put you at ease and made you feel like no matter what you did wrong, God would forgive you and Monsignor wanted you to know it was all going to be okay. Words cannot convey exactly what I am feeling at the loss of this man, all I know is that there is a hole in my heart where he used to be.
My daughters are gutted. The entire parish family is mourning and it feels like nothing is quite right without him here. He was retiring at the end of this school year but he said that he wanted to stay near his “family”, us, his children, and so he had bought a condominium in the neighborhood behind the school just so he could be near us always and still visit and now he’s dead and all we have left are the memories of him.
We’ve been talking about Monsignor a lot the last couple of days and sharing stories about what we loved the most about him. It’s hard to believe he won’t be giving mass again. He won’t be greeting us with his kind smile and gentle eyes. He won’t be sending us into the world with his reassurance and fatherly love anymore but he will always be in our hearts.
I’d like to believe that, if there is a heaven, he’s there with my uncles having a good time and keeping watch over the baby I never got to hold and one day, I’ll get to see them all again.