March 26, 2013: Fr. Mel

Fr. Mel died a year ago. That's so hard to believe. The above photo was forwarded to me from Louie, a mutual friend of Mel's. Funny how life has interesting turns. A year ago Louie and I were honorary pallbearers at Mel's funeral and now I see her frequently at physical therapy. My ACL surgery brought me the pleasant surprise in sharing a bit of life again with this awesome lady.

We both knew this anniversary was approaching when we chatted at my last visit. With smiles and teary eyes we remembered our old friend. Louie shared some notes and pictures from his family. His memory is very much alive despite the year that's passed. It amazes me how many people he positively touched during his time on earth. Heartwarming stories of him have frequently popped up over the last year. His empathy and connection with the human spirit are evidenced by these stories.

I only knew Fr. Mel during the last years of his life when he was battling illness. With this timing came an unexpected gift. I started a friendship with Mel's brother. We met, by accident, one day at the assisted living center where Fr. Mel last lived. Father hadn't made it to the daily mass that day. I went to talk to the nurse and check on his well being.

A man stood with his back to me. For a brief moment I thought it was Mel. It was obvious to me that a  relationship existed when the man turned and introduced himself. The man with the like resemblance was Mel's brother, Jerry. This was the beginning of my friendship with this very kind-hearted and humble man. The apple obviously didn't fall far from the tree.

Through the last month of Mel's life, I got to know Jerry quite well. From e-mails, sharing stories, hospice visits, and many hugs and tears; Jerry and I became friends. He is a big teddy bear and makes me smile; just like Mel. After Father's death, our interactions have been few. But the bond that was formed during that short period of time will always be a part of each of our life journeys.

As Louie shared with me her friendships with Mel's family and I thought about Jerry; I was quickly reminded that Mel continues to give us blessings. It is a bit of paying it forward, isn't it? A person who is impactful in their lifetime, plants many seeds that flourish even after their physical presence is gone. Now that's a real gift.


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