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Death of a salesman

Reflections on the passing of my father

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After returning from France and the big war in 1946, my father was a furniture salesman and carpeting installer in the family business all his life. He never thought of being anything else.

Then God gave him another life. He and Mom moved to Pennsylvania in late 2000 after my husband died, and our church offered a 78-year-old out-of-work floor covering mechanic a custodial job, allowing him to continue in it for two decades. I believe that kept him alive, like that leaf the old artist painted on the brick wall outside his bedridden neighbor’s window that produced in her the will to live (“The Last Leaf,” by O. Henry).

My childhood memories of my father are scant because he was always at “the store.” I do recall looking up at him shaving in the bathroom. I must have asked why we go to Mass on Sunday, because he answered, without looking away from the mirror or interrupting his strokes: “The way I figure it, if God is real, then it’s smart to believe in Him; and if He’s not, we haven’t lost anything.” By which I understood that God is a fire insurance policy. In colleges they call it “Pascal’s wager.”

By the time my father died on Dec. 27, his faith had passed into something more substantial, though I don’t know when and where that happened. His theology was still poor, so that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) even say “Amen” to some of his mealtime prayers. (“Oh Jesus, thank You for doing it all for us. I’m gonna pay You back.”)

So it was a little surprising when at breakfast recently my father said to me, matter-of-factly: “I was talking to God in my bed this morning, and then God started talking to me, and He talked for a long time.” This was atypical speech, and I probed as to what God had said. He hemmed and hawed, and finally offered only, “You need to obey,” which I dismissed as an inauthentic part of the story meant to get me off his back.

“Did you hear an actual voice?” I asked.


“What was it like?”

“It was gentle.”

I noted the date. Dec. 16, 2022.

Ten days later my father slumped down on the sofa with a massive stroke, and with his eyes glassy and pulled involuntarily to the left, he gurgled, “I gotta get up, I gotta get up.” But this time he couldn’t get up, and it was the ambulance people who carried him up to his bed, where he died the next day, his 98-year-old albatross of a body finally failing him.

My daughter-in-law, who was in attendance, took me aside afterward and said that at the moment my father died she received a vision of a place flooded with bright light, and large gates opening up, and my father standing there saying, “Wow.” Which is something he would say.

At the church, where I did cleaning with my father until the day before Christmas, my boss Ed once told me that when you want to straighten out the chairs in the sanctuary after the Sunday worship, if you give a nudge to one chair at the end of the row, all the others will straighten out too, since they’re all connected with hooks on the side.

That’s the effect my father’s death had on me. God nudged him, and it instantly straightened out a lot of crooked things in my life. For days afterward I walked around in intense fear of the Lord and spiritual clarity, such as I have experienced only a few times. I liked that, and wanted to keep it, and asked my husband why God doesn’t let us hold on to it. He said that maybe God wants us to choose to trust and obey Him even when the intensity fades.

In retrospect I’m thinking that maybe what my father said at breakfast—that “you have to obey”—was true after all, and directed not to him but to me.

Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her columns have been compiled into three books including Won’t Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides near Philadelphia.


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