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by Michael Harold Brown (3/30/15)

Growing up, when things got rough, when there was a challenge or disappointment, my father always said, "Ride the waves" or "Roll with the punches." Rejection. Failure. Injury. He also said this into our adulthood. He and my mother had eight children, and he had seen his share of "ups" and "downs" (and tragedies) as everyone in this place of testing called earth does.

My dad died last week, and he also left us with lessons of faith.

An altar boy, born on the feast day of Lourdes (February 11, 1922), he was married to my mother for sixty-six years and remained loyal to the Church and Mass (a daily communicant) right to the end (watching it, when he couldn't get to church, on TV, as so many elderly do; even at midnight). He was a daily viewer of this website, when he could still see a computer screen.

He had a routine of various devotions, and was buried with Rosary beads, as well as the Pieta Prayer Book. Six priests con-celebrated his funeral Mass.

Each night, he prayed a novena to Saint Joseph. He read the entire Bible, both testaments, three different times. If it wasn't for my father and others in our family, I wouldn't be writing for this website, nor would this website exist. The same can be said about the Marian devotion my wife Lisa's mother left her. (She died, ironically -- my mother-in-law, Mary -- just two months ago, and also at peace in a rarefied atmosphere, as God remains so faithful to those faithful to Him).

Anyway, this thing about riding the waves: My father was born in Binghamton, New York, and his mother died when he was a toddler -- so young that he had no memories of her. Tuberculosis.

Can you imagine -- that last Tuesday, March 24, when he passed, he met his mom for the first time?

My dad was raised by an aunt, and worked for four years for D & H Railroad, often on boxcars, in frigid weather (suffered frostbite), to pay for college, choosing Niagara University (a Vincentian school) over Notre Dame because it had a better accounting program. An Irishman, he loved the Fighting Irish, though, and remained a lifelong fan. But to Niagara he went: hitch-hiking there and eventually becoming a CPA. He augmented his income by operating a tiny custard stand in the tourist area of Falls Street and later teaching at the university.

He never fought in World War Two because as a child he had suffered a serious arm injury, undergoing multiple surgeries. But he kept trying to enlist. He loved his country. More than anything, he loved God and family and Catholicism.

What the Pope said went, no matter what his own (very conservative) views were.

He also left us lessons on materialism. He constantly preached about not focusing on money, but rather on helping others, and society as a whole. Despite his deep connections with business, he stood firmly behind me as I fought against a chemical company during Love Canal. He belonged to a long list of organizations, and at one point was an administrator at Mount Saint Mary's Hospital just outside Niagara Falls, the hospital where he died as we all whispered love and prayers in his ears (and as his lips moved in what certainly seemed like his own silent prayers along with us). I watched as he took his final breaths.

Many of you have gone through the same thing, and many of you -- most of you, no doubt -- have had extraordinary parents. They leave us many lessons when we reflect prayerfully. You know what I mean. We have to be careful not to canonize the deceased while at the same time recognizing what they -- through their lives -- have taught us.



With all the kids, it wasn't easy.

We struggled greatly, much of the time, especially in the early years, financially. He just didn't have the "killer instinct" when it came to making money. If someone owed him and was having trouble, he forgave the fee. He was more a philosopher than a businessman. We ate a lot of mustard sandwiches. There was fried baloney, not steak or ribs.

He saw serious illness in some of his children; he saw the death of a seventeen-year-old grandson who died in a car; he saw another badly injured in a crash; he saw our house all but destroyed in a fire; he saw his beloved city of Niagara Falls descend into near-ruin (though did not give up hope in its future). He never wavered.

He was an adventurer.

He taught me about travel -- to go out and learn and see.

He took eleven people -- my mother, her parents, and seven of us young kids, plus a dog -- in a large station wagon with a travel trailer to Florida one year and California the next.

When the trailer hitch broke, blowing out its tires, and causing us to fishtail from lane to lane, on the Thruway, before coming to a hair-raising stop on a median, he rode that wave and despite desperate pleas to turn back went on and proceeded also despite a car transmission that blew out in Amarillo, Texas (with no money to repair it; he had to wire for a loan).

Days waiting for repair parts.

But then: onward across deserts and into Tijuana, Mexico, and up through L.A. and San Francisco during the hippie days and onward to Yellowstone and Rushmore and Salt Lake back to New York. This was the Sixties, and it was a trip that defined him and taught us all invaluable lessons on various levels.

When it came to "rolling with the punches," and "riding the waves," I think especially of my younger brother, Russell.

You'll note that I started out mentioning eight kids, then later, seven.

That's because Russell died at the age of six weeks. A "crib death." Tough stuff. A high wave.

My father had the presence of mind to baptize Russell while he was still warm, before emergency personnel arrived.

It took a lot to rattle him.

As a matter of fact, I never really saw him rattled.

That's an accomplishment. And what he left -- wisdom and goodness -- is more than a billionaire can leave.

He always went on with life quickly. Quick with humor (an Irishman, was he) and hope. When he contracted pneumonia a couple weeks ago, at age 93, he had no illusions. He knew what the odds were, and was not afraid. He asked for prayers that if it was his time, he go quickly. "Soon," in his words. I think this day of the Mass reading (John 13).

He was ready. It was the last wave to ride. "Soon" came soon. It was a wave to the eternal, a wave to the Light of Jesus.

Harold Charles Brown, was his name. I know I will see him again. I know it was his time. I rejoice for him.

And I will try to hold true to the lessons.

Faith. Charity. Helping others.

Pray and don't worry.

Tough one, that.

Forget worldly prestige.

Stay true to the Church.

Stay true to Jesus.

Life and death and the afterlife are something we focus on in a special way this week.

In life, there are challenges; there are struggles; there are fights.

Sometimes, it seems like we're down for the count.

In life -- in storms -- the water, the ocean -- rise.

Roll with the punches.

Ride the waves.

[resources: Spirit Daily's Bookstore and New: What You Take To Heaven; see also: Michael Brown retreat, Boston area, April 25  and Spirit Daily pilgrimage: Fatima, Avila, Lourdes: October]

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Harold C. Brown


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