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 what that those words are very true. My father, Michael Annunciato Squillace was born on the Feast of the Annunciation and died on September 15th, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. He was 84 years 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. The doctors said his heart just gave out. For me it was especially difficult because I had just taken him to the doctor’s on Monday, September 13th and then two days later my Mother and I are kissing his body in the emergency room and 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 Italian American 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 with out my Dad singing the well know 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 not only for the music ministry but fixing just about anything that needed to be fixed. He was the most Christ-like 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 September 26th 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, especially the physical challenges toward the end of my father’s life, 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 very competitive business of broadcasting and I believe his confidence in me kept me going even during some very tough times.
Despite all the tears and the pain and 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 make-up 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 entitled “Shackles.” The Gospel hit is several years old and I can’t tell you the last time I heard it on the radio, especially on a secular station which is why I knew this was no coincidence. 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.