I finally finished writing the sympathy cards as I finished my second glass of cheap champagne. I miss my dad. He’s in heaven. He’s not here. He’s all around me now, all around me, but not here. Not with my mom who is all alone now – she who hasn’t been without my dad since 1936.

I am comforted by the fact that Pop died a happy death on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception with his children all around him. I held his hand as he breathed his last breath. That truly does comfort me. But it doesn’t negate the fact that the unthinkable has occurred. And life is going on. Without Pop. The world hasn’t stopped spinning. Somehow I think it should.

When my dad arrived in heaven he must have surveyed the situation down here on earth. He saw his eldest son struggling in the nursing home after having suffered a brain aneurysm in 1998. I picture Pop petitioning God to end the suffering. And God said yes. So as I watched the New Year’s Day Parade, three weeks after my dad died, I got the call: My oldest brother, Pat, was dying.

Agony comes to mind to describe the pain which wracked Pat’s body as I entered his room. Had it been anyone else I may have been repulsed. But this was my brother. A brother who had already suffered far too long here on earth and needed to go where his suffering would cease. I will never forget looking into Pat’s eyes. He was there. Completely and totally there. And he knew he was dying. Once our eyes locked his breathing quieted. As I stroked his arm his agitation lessened. He became calm. I felt God working through me. I was the conduit. It was one of the most profound things I have ever experienced.

The doctor didn’t know how long Pat would live. Eventually I went back home. But I knew it was coming. I could feel it. I went to bed that evening and something awakened me. Something. Or someone. Out of the ordinary. I turned to look at the clock and I knew. The clock read midnight. And I knew Pat had died. He had. I got the call a little later.

So how has all this recent sadness changed me? What have I learned? That there is a huge world out there about which I know so little. That silly little trials on earth are so insignificant in the grand scheme of things. That people are what matter – not things. That if we have the opportunity to do something good for another we should do it. And if the opportunity doesn’t readily present itself, we should make it happen anyway.

I remember George Bailey wearing a black armband in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” after his father died. A subtle reminder that, Hey, this person is sad – give him a break. Be nice to him. You don’t know what he’s been through. And I thought what a great idea that was. Too bad we don’t do that today. But since progress has taken away such a simple hint as to how our fellow human beings may be feeling, we must use our detective powers to ascertain a person’s mental state these days. People lie. We say we’re fine when we are anything but. We need to be more aware of others’ feelings. Let’s make the effort to look into each other’s eyes when we speak – really look – because eyes speak volumes without uttering a sound. Eyes mirror the soul. They can soak another in love, and are able telegraph emotions from exhaustion to elation. The more deeply we look the more clearly we’ll see. So let’s truly look since I seriously doubt black armbands will make a fashion comeback.

Copyright 2011 Maureen Locher