Remembering Philip and Emilio
Published: January 15, 2009
Certain words take on a new and loved meaning when they come to life through how a person takes them to heart and lives them. Kindness and gentleness are words that I will always associate with our Father Philip. He passed away on December 4th. He suffered with Alzheimer’s disease for ten years and was in our infirmary all that time.
When I entered the monastery in 1994, Philip was still an active member of our community. He was a monk for 61 years. I can see him in my mind’s eye, slowly making his way from the stained-glass studio, walking toward the main building when it came time for midday prayer. He walked with care since he had a fear of falling. He had a ready smile and a soft-heartedness that never left him, even when most of his faculties were taken away from him by the disease.
I have been told that he was a worrier in his earlier years. As I knew him he grew to be more accepting of things that came his way. He was easy to love, and as Mark our infirmarian and Rose our nurse can tell you, easy to care for. Mark tells me that Philip’s gentle and accepting presence is missed in our infirmary.
Philip was laid to rest next to his father, Brother Ambrose, who entered our community not long after Philip’s mom passed away. Father Philip cared for his dad in his declining years with the same gentle love his parents had blessed him with. When Dom Francis Michael mentioned that in his homily at Philip’s funeral, I thought how beautiful and indeed rare it was to have a son and a father share this life and move from this life into eternity, helping each other along that way.
Emilio would hum softly to himself. When his thoughts seemed to be absorbed by one thing or another, he mulled it over with a gentle and soft hum. I did not recognize any of the melodies, but they reminded me of lullabies and seemed to have the same effect on me when I heard them from Emilio. I felt a calmness in his presence. His way was a very gentle and kind one. His heart was as good and as true as the effect his song had on us.
Brother Emilio died November 19th. His passing was not unexpected. Indeed, he knew that the time was drawing near and said that he would not be with us for Christmas. I was with him, and I saw that his breathing was getting very labored. Rita, a Latino woman who works in the infirmary, came into the room and walked over to the bed. She took Emilio’s hand, kissed it, and started to cry. She fixed whatever she could—his bed sheets, his wisps of hair, his nightshirt, all the while crying and telling him that she loved him. I went to get the abbot, Francis Michael, and he came up right away. Emilio was still breathing, and I moved aside to let the abbot sit near him. He, too, took his hand and held it to his lips and then moved his hand down to Emilio’s heart and, with Emilio’s hand gently held in his, Francis Michael leaned closer to Emilio and began to hum, in much the same gentle way as Emilio did for as long as I knew him. It was like a lullaby, a soothing, soft melody that maybe, to Emilio, was not unlike the voice of an angel, lulling him into paradise. I do not know what was going through the abbot’s mind and heart as he held the hand of a man he grew to love over the 34 years they shared together this monastic life. I prayed and watched and knew I was seeing the consummation of a life in Emilio and the meaning of life in the kindness of Francis Michael.
We believe that where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, He is as well fully present. I want to take Him at his word, a Word that soothes a few strands of hair, a Word that whispers love and cries, a Word that has a soft melody, beckoning the angels to come and to take to paradise one of their own.
Emilio is home, home for Christmas. And if he turns around on his way to Paradise, he can call to Philip, who is walking carefully behind him, and smiling.
Father James Stephen Behrens, OCSO, is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers.