We will remember December 8, 2015 for three reasons.
First, it was the Feast of Immaculate Conception.
Second, it was the ninth day of Ainsley's first Novena. She had overheard me praying my first Saint Andrew Novena. What's a novena, she wanted to know. It's a kind of soaking prayer, I told her, a time when we pray with persistence. Catholics traditionally pray for nine days. Novena means nine, and it represents the nine days between the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven and Pentecost.
Ainsley wanted to join in. And she offered up her first ever Novena for Grandma and Papa and Grandpa and Oney. Only, in true Ainsley form, it was forGrandmasandpapandgrandpaandOney run together and said very, very fast.
And that leads to the third point . . . On the ninth day of Ainsley's first Novena, Papa died.
We were sitting in the fourth pew on the right at Mass celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, all of us reeling from the news of Papa's death, minds swirling with To Do Lists and travel plans, hearts grieving, John crying.
Father Jacek began his homily and shared that Pope Francis had initiated the Year of Mercy that very morning by symbolically opening a door -- a door of grace, of healing, of forgiveness, of love, of mercy. And I suddenly became aware that Papa had died around 4:15 a.m. Eastern Standard Time at possibly the same time and certainly the same day that Ainsley had finished her first Novena, the same day that the Pope had ushered in a Year of Mercy.
Nothing is lost.
There are no coincidences.
There are no accidents.
From the archives, here's a piece a wrote about the kind, funny, giving man who was Dad to my husband and Papa to my children:
Papa turned seventy-something this week. From the Deep South, we send a heartfelt Happy Birthday!
Papa is a beloved father, father-in-law, and grandfather to the mass of Dolin males and to the tiny female exclamation point at the end of the line. Ainsley fell in love with Papa on this latest trip and enjoyed nothing more than sitting on his lap playing with a stuffed Charlie Brown. She would alternate between feeding a baby bottle to Charlie Brown and pretending to squeeze hand soap into his mouth. (Note: She did not learn this from me!) Ainsey would erupt in laughter and never tired of it. If Papa tired of it, he kept his game face on. He's nothing if not a good sport.
Papa spent hours watching Ainsley and John jump between the sandbox and the wading pool. He delighted John by catching fireflies with him.
No one gardens like Papa gardens. His tomatoes prompted a friend of mine to comment, "He makes me proud to call myself a Midwesterner!" We brought home a coolerful, and they are absolutely to die for. Papa calls all the grandchildren Punkin. When Tim and Kolbe were small, Papa added pumpkins to his garden and carved the boys' names in them. The names grew as the punkins did.
Papa has a dry wit that keeps me laughing. He has a host of quips. If Dave fails to use a turn signal, I invariably quote Papa: Keep 'em guessing. Keep 'em guessing.
Both of my in-laws have a remarkable grace to absorb our four children, an astonishing amount of noise, and the seventy-two or so bags we inevitably bring along with us. They are, without fail, patient and generous.
I remember a family trip to northern Michigan. Then seven months pregnant with Kolbe, I looked forward to a week-long break from the Georgia heat. It was not to be. Hale, Michigan, must have set a record as the mercury hit well above 100 degrees. While we struggled to stay cool, I spotted Papa dashing off with a Tom Clancy novel and a cup of coffee to get a moment's peace behind the garage. He caught my eye and said, "You know, we run the risk of this becoming an annual event."
Papa loves to entertain us with stories of his early years in the hollows of West Virginia. His uncle, the bus driver, would give him a nickel if was so bad at school that his aunt, the teacher, spanked him. Tim and Kolbe find this tale flat out hilarious.
Papa talks about alternating between a two-room school house in a rural area and a big city high school in Charleston. He learned to read the F-U-R-N-I-T-U-R-E box that patched the hole in the roof, and remembers delivering blocks of ice when a refrigerator really was an ice box.
Whether it's reading Harvey's Hideout -- a Dolin family classic -- or rocking the littlest punkin in the Dolin patch, Papa is reliable and kind. I am grateful to call him a second Dad and blessed that my children call him Papa.