These were my Dad’s words, as he lay dying—and were repeated to us several times over, no matter what we replied back to him, trying to reassure him: “No, Dad, you are not in hell.”
The reason why he was struggling with doubts on where he was spending his eternity began when one day he heard a strong voice—vocal—he said, telling him: “Clarence, no matter what you do, no matter how much you pray—you are in hell.”
He told us he felt deeply that this was the devil speaking to him, and ever since he heard that voice, the depression settled over him, and no matter what he did—no matter how much he prayed, his life on earth seemed like hell.
Now as he lay dying, a frustrated family of children and grandchildren, tried in vain to get him to see differently. “Dad, you and mom raised us in the faith—you lived loved daily, you prayed faithfully—God is not going to let you go to hell. The Blessed Mother and all the saints, your family—we are all praying for you.” But all was to no avail, he kept repeating his words, “I think I am not going to make it.”
I finally prayed a silent prayer—“Holy Spirit, he is not hearing the words he needs to hear. Give me the words to say.” Immediately into my mind came these words that I gave voice to.
“Daddy, when did you hear those words? 'Clarence no matter what you do, no matter how much you pray, you are in hell.’ “
"Was it before Momma died or after she died?”
“Oh, it was after she died.”
“And Daddy, what was life like without Momma---no matter what you did or how much you prayed, was it like being in hell?”
“Oh yes,” he said, “it was like being in hell living without her.”
“Daddy, that wasn’t the devil you heard, that was just your grief—which was so strong—your inner human spirit cried out, ‘Clarence, no matter what you do, no matter how much you pray, you are in hell.’”
Those were the words he needed to hear, for as the last three days passed before he died; he spoke no more of those words or his fears.
As I left to go back home, I asked him to do me a favor: “Daddy when you get safely home, come to me in the song of a mockingbird.” The mockingbird was Daddy’s favorite bird for it was always singing as my Dad did through life’s trials----and come to me in the mockingbird’s song, Dad did.
The day we buried Dad, I went up to the cemetery by myself and as I entered the gates—I heard a warbling, weak and off key. “Is that a mockingbird?”I thought to myself. Then as I walked to his gravesite, the bird flew over me, again singing weakly, nothing like the strong notes that bird usually sings. I laughed and said out loud, “Boy you sure are doing a lousy job singing like a mockingbird!” In my heart came the words—“What do you expect of a 90 year old mockingbird!” So like the way Dad would speak, his reassuring words spoke to me that he made it safely home. Daddy was definitely NOT IN HELL!!
Now the words at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer have taken on a special meaning for me. “Our Father who art in Heaven.” As I say that line, I send Dad a wink and a smile. This year in the Arkansas Democrat newspaper, was a picture of a white mocking bird with hazel eyes that was published the week of All Saints and All Souls Day. Was this another of God’s mysterious humorous ways to speak love into my heart? It made me smile, as I do believe so. Dad got promoted! No wait that is a female mocking bird— confirming what my family already knew—Mom is a saint!
Dearly beloved family of God---sometimes in life, in our grief, in our struggles, our illnesses, our financial woes, in a family situation that is dire and seems hopeless: it may seem like we are in hell, but really we are just in the tomb with Jesus, waiting for Resurrection Day. Never forget that praise, thanksgiving and music is the quickest way out. So sing like that mockingbird—just for the sake of singing—sing out your praise and thanks to God.