This is the continuation of ‘The Thirteen Days of Arthur,’ a series of writings by Melissa Mouzin-Bennett, mom to Arthur Hancock…
I have talked a lot about Arthur’s lessons helping me to strengthen my body and my emotional state, but I haven’t spoken much about what Arthur taught me spiritually. Probably because that’s the part I’m still working on trying to figure out. I have seen many people who lose someone or have a similar tragedy in their lives blame God or simply lose faith. I’m proud to say I did neither, although am ashamed to say that I really didn’t have much faith to lose before Arthur came along. Never once did I ask “why me?”. I feel like I’ve led a pretty charmed and easy life, so why wouldn’t something like this happen to me? Arthur always had this look on his face like he wanted to say something, I’ve spent the past three years trying to figure out what his message was. During the time before Arthur came along, to be honest, my life wasn’t really going in any direction, I had no path or goals. I think my experience with Arthur was God’s way of smacking me across the back of the head to remind me that He was still there and needed me to pay more attention.
I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic faith. I can remember as a kid sitting in Chatechism class thinking that there were just so many rules and restrictions that I could never be a good Catholic. As soon as I turned sixteen and was responsible for getting myself to church weekly, I just stopped going. It seemed to me like mass was just a repetative waste of time, I also couldn’t stop focusing on the rules, and since one of the rules was to not miss mass, I must not be a person who could practice the Catholic faith. There was a period in my young adulthood where I thought I was invincible, so I didn’t need to worry about my soul, I was pretty sure it wasn’t ever going to leave my body. It’s not that I didn’t believe in an omnipotent creator who watched over us, I never denied that God existed, I just felt like I had better things to do and that I could maintain a relationship with Him on my own terms. As I got older, I felt even more spiritually disconnected. I had done things during my invincible years that I regretted and I was certain that I was going straight to hell for it all. I pretty much gave up on the idea of redemption, so I continued a cycle of doing whatever I wanted, feeling guilty, deciding there’s no way I’d be forgiven, then doing something else that I probably wouldn’t be forgiven for either, repeat. That’s where I was when Arthur came along. I’m ashamed to say that I don’t think I ever prayed for him or prayed for guidance in our situation. Arthur and I did have some deep theological conversations involving what he was to expect once he got to heaven, but I never tried to make any sort of spiritual connection myself. I’m not worried about this in hindsight because we had so many people outside of our nuclear family who were doing some serious praying for us. We did have the foresight to have him baptized in the hospital, I can’t imagine the guilt I would feel today had Roy not insisted on that one act. It wasn’t until we were sitting in the funeral home the day after Arthur passed talking to the funeral director about what kind of burial service we would like for him that I realized that I didn’t have any faith and needed to find myself some soon.
At Arthur’s Right of Christian Burial, I prayed for the first time in over twenty years. I prayed that Arthur’s soul would be saved and taken to heaven. I prayed that our other kids would find peace and healing. I prayed that Roy would look back on the time with his son as one of the best times of his life. I prayed for other families who were going through the same thing. I prayed for everyone but myself. It semed that a lot of people gave us angels as sympathy gifts, and when we got home, we scattered them around the house. I think it’s the first time I ever looked at an angel and saw the true beauty and inspiration that these little works of art emitted. Having these little symbols of faith propped around the house made me start searching for my soul. I knew in my heart that Arthur was here to give me a message and that message was an order straight from God. I entered this soul-searching phase at about the same time I was getting pretty good at walking and hiking. I would wander around looking at everyday things with fresh wonder and started seeing all life and objects as precious gifts from God, but I was still having a hard time embracing the idea of organized religion.
This past summer, Roy decided to take a leap of faith, himself. He signed up to attend the classes required to convert to Catholicism. I chose to attend with him, still not sure if I was willing to follow all of those terrible rules, but I would go to the classes and learn all I could about the faith I grew up with but didn’t understand. Honestly, I was a bit lackluster about the whole idea, but Roy wanted it and I wanted to support his decision, so I thought I would check it out. After the first few weeks, I was learning about the church and becoming more comfortable with discussing faith with other class members. I was really starting to warm up to the idea of rejoining the church when I was presented with an amazing opportunity. I went to San Diego for a work conference. I had one day to pretty much do nothing but sightsee, so while the rest of the midwesterners were off finding out if tequila really tasted better that close to Mexico, I decided to visit the Mission. I have never felt that kind of holy energy in my life. I was moved to take my shoes off and wander the grounds barefoot, I wanted to be as connected with the earth as I could. I walked around, read all of the little markers that told stories about different priests and events that made the Mission such a holy place. I stood in the garden and wept, not because I was sad, just because I needed to be cleansed. I knelt before the alter and prayed, as I sat quietly in the sanctuary, I felt a surge of energy followed by an indescribable peace. That is the moment I knew, beyond a question, that I wanted to rejoin the church. It no longer seemed like too many rules, I started seeing it as a faith with specific guidelines that I could follow. Instead of repetition, I discovered a comfort in long-standing tradition. Instead of letting my soul wander, I saw a path to guide it along. When I came back home, I had a new-found enthusiasm for the faith I grew up in.
I still have a lot to work on. I have only been back from that life-changing trip for about two months and am still actively learning as much about why we do what I had always taken for granted as a child. I haven’t been to confession in over twenty five years. This is something I’m really dreading, not only will I need to fess up to some ugly skeletons I collected during my invincible years, but I will also need to confess some of the decisions I made on Arthur’s behalf because I know that some of the things we did (and didn’t do) for him were against the teachings of the Catholic Church. I’m still putting off confession because I know that this sort of deep-cleaning of the soul will be very taxing, but I’m no longer afraid that God won’t forgive me, I know He will. Just as Arthur felt when Roy held him, I now feel safe and protected in my (Heavenly) Father’s arms.