On a Saturday night in March of 1999, at around 11:30 pm, the telephone rang. Our children were all home so my first thought was, “I wonder who that is? I hope everything’s alright.” It turned out that everything was not alright. Georgette answered the phone and it was one of my relatives. She said that my cousin Harry LaHood was in the hospital and it didn’t look like he was going to make it.
We rushed to the hospital. The phone call was the first indication we had that something was wrong with Harry. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the hospital, his soul had already passed into eternity.
To say that the loss of my cousin Harry LaHood, III, was devastating would be an understatement. He and I were named after the same man, our grandfather, Harry LaHood. We were born one month apart. I was born in May, 1957, and Harry was born a month later. My grandfather had died 3 days before I was born. When my mom decided to name me after her dad, she called my uncle, Harry LaHood, Jr., and asked him if he had any objection to her naming me Harry. He encouraged her to name me after their father and a month later he gave his newborn son the same name.
I was closer to Harry than I was with some of my own brothers. Every time there was a family function, we were together. The earliest memory I have of staying overnight alone at his house was when I was in fourth grade. After that, we frequently talked on the telephone and made arrangements for sleepovers, either at his parents’ house, my parents’ house, or our Grandma Ceil’s house. And when we were old enough to drive, we would periodically jump in the car and go camping.
Life with Harry was one continuous adventure. He was a “city boy” and I was a “country boy.” He had a lot more “street-smarts” than I had and from the time he was a young boy, he could smell a deal from a mile away. I envied him for his ability to find and negotiate deals that were immensely favorable to him. He owned 2 cars by the time he was 14 (two years before he got his license to drive), and as I recall, he didn’t have to pay much for the cars. He worked out deals with the owners of the vehicles where he traded some stuff he owned along with a little bit of cash. His deal-making abilities and skills benefited him and his family throughout his life.
So the night Georgette and I went to the hospital and learned that Harry had died, it was as if a dagger had been plunged through my heart. He had developed an infection from a work related injury that had spread throughout his body. It was one of those horror stories you never want to think about. He was in a lot of pain, and over a period of a few days, he went to a prompt-care facility, and then to the hospital on two separate occasions. The medical personnel failed to properly diagnose the massive infection that ended up shutting down his organs and killing him.
I experienced an immense amount of guilt after Harry died, primarily because I had failed to keep in close contact with him. Of course, we were both married and raising children, and we were both running our own businesses, so it was understandable that we had too many other important things going on to get together on a regular basis. But I still felt terrible. He had been one of my best friends while I was growing up.
When Georgette and I went through the receiving line at the visitation, I came face-to-face with Harry’s younger brother Joe. As adults, Harry and Joe were inseparable. They were not only brothers, but they were also good friends and business partners who had built, from scratch, a very successful business.
When I extended my sympathy to Joe, he looked straight into my eyes and said: “Harry, he really loved you.”
I was speechless.
Questions started racing through my mind: “Did Joe mean that, or did he just say it to make me feel better? Why did he tell me that? What did Harry tell him about me to make him believe that?”
It’s been over 10 years now since Harry died and every time I think about him, I think about what his brother told me at the visitation. It makes me feel good knowing that Harry cared as much about me as I cared about him.
Last week Georgette’s uncle, Camile Ghantous, passed away after enduring over 6 months of suffering while in the intensive care unit at St. Francis Medical Center. Camile was a younger brother of Georgette’s dad, Dumit Ghantous. Dumit visited Camile in the hospital every day for over 6 months. So did Camile’s son, Leo. Most days, Camile wasn’t able to speak to his brother or his son, but he knew they were there with him. At times, Dumit would hold Camile’s hand and say, “Camile if you hear me, squeeze my hand,” and Camile would sometimes respond by lightly squeezing his hand.
For those of us who knew Camile, it was obvious that he had a great love for his son and his brother.
At Camile’s visitation, there were at least 20 people in the receiving line. Next to the casket were Camile’s wife and their son, Leo. Next in line were the rest of Camile’s children and their spouses, as well as some of his grandchildren. The last part of the receiving line consisted of Camile’s sister and his brothers.
Ordinarily when I extend my sympathy to a family member at a visitation or funeral, I will say to him or her: “I’m praying for your family,” and then I actually do offer up prayers for the family. Although saying “I’m sorry for your loss” or “please accept my sympathy” is acceptable, I think it means a lot more to people if you tell them you’re praying for them. It gives them a sense of hope that your prayers will help them get through their grief.
When I shook Leo’s hand I looked him in the eyes and told him, “He really loved you Leo. You were a great son to him.” And I meant it. Leo was fiercely devoted to his father and he deserved to hear what I had to say. At the end of the receiving line was my father-in-law, Dumit. When I shook his hand, I looked him in the eyes and told him the same thing: “He really loved you Dumit. You were a great brother to him.” And I meant it. Dumit was fiercely loyal to his brother and he deserved to hear what I had to say.
The morning of Camile’s funeral something occurred to me. What if I had lived at the time of our Savior’s crucifixion and was in a position to extend my sympathy to His mother and His apostles before they knew He had risen from the dead? What would they have said to me?
I think I know what they would have said. The Blessed Mother would have told me: “He really loved you, Harry. That’s why He was willing to sacrifice His life for you.” St. Peter would have told me: “You don’t realize how much He really loved you, Harry. He would die for you again if it was necessary.” St. Stephen would have said: “He loved you so much He allowed mere mortals to torture and kill Him so He could open up the gates of Heaven for you. Would you do the same for Him?”
So here’s my question for you: How much do you love Jesus? Are you devoted to Him and His Church? Are you loyal to Him and His Church? Have you proved your devotion and loyalty by visiting Him in the Adoration Chapel on a regular basis? Have you committed to spending one or more hours each week in His Divine Presence?
Our Lord remembers and appreciates every moment you spend with Him in the Adoration Chapel and He will certainly remember every one of those moments when you come “face-to-face” with Him after your death. When that happens and you tell Him, “I really love you, Lord,” how will He respond?
Whether you like it or not, that conversation (or a similar conversation) will take place when your time comes to pass into eternity. You want to do everything in your power now to make sure that when the time comes, our Lord will say to you, “Yes, I know you love me… I remember all of your visits… come and enter into my Kingdom.”