The drive on 210 Highway from my residence in Kansas City’s northland to the places of my youth winds along the north side of the Missouri River. Once I pass by Pig’s Landing and Jackass Bend, I know that home is not far away. The pathway invariably conjures nostalgic thoughts in my brain and spirit. When I was growing up, there was a funeral home in town run by Mr. Gowing and Mr. Hope called “Gowing-Hope,” which we all called the Going Home Funeral Home. Pigg’s Landing, by the way, was named for William Jefferson Pigg, a 19th Century homesteader in the area. I don’t know who Jackass Bend was named for but there are lots of suspects.
As I navigate, childhood recollections swim through my mind, like farm wisdom that proffers horse sense. As with most animals, horses have a sense of the world, what benefits them, and where they want to be; horses maneuver situations to find their way. As kids, it was often tough to catch them for a ride—we’d usually have to lure them with a trick, like rattling corn or pebbles in a bucket. Once caught and bridled, they would reluctantly cooperate and trudge forth on our ventures but they always enthusiastically sped up when heading home, back to comfort and freedom, maybe even a rub down and authentic treat. I think there is a part of each of us that seeks to return home.
Throughout my priesthood, I have witnessed people in their final stages of life in hospitals or nursing homes who plead with caregivers saying, “I just want to go home—let me go home.” There is something very comforting about home and, I surmise, it is a great consolation for many to be able to die in familiar surroundings. Our Catholic belief is that we come from God and that we will return to God. Souls trapped in earthen vessels on death’s door know this and, I believe, feel very close with the Mystery that we call God while touching the world we came from and to which God beckons them. They are ready and eager to go home.
My mom has been ready and eager for many years. She wonders, sometimes, why God keeps her around when others have had their lives taken at much younger ages. Perhaps it is because her family doesn’t want to let go. We still have lessons to learn from her; even in her mostly-helpless state, she teaches us serenity, gratitude, and acceptance. It’s been that way her entire life—she has accepted whatever was thrown at her in every phase of living. Because my sisters are such wonderful, selfless, caretakers, she has the luxury of dying in her little house. But she is still anxious to go home, to be with Our Dear Lord. When the youngest great-grandchildren who can talk crawl up and kiss her in the evening and say, “Goodnight, Grandma. I hope you die tonight,” she looks back with a gaze of love and replies, “Thank you, baby, that’s so sweet. I do, too.”
When I have taken the journey to see her this spring, I see the beauty of God’s magnificent cathedral of creation along the fertile river valley and appreciate the new life that springs eternal. While also recalling memories of years long past, I get oriented not only to where I come from but to where I’m going—where we’re all going. We’re going to hope. We should have enough horse sense to hope, wish, pray, and trust that the promises of heaven—what Saint Paul called “our true home”—await: comfort, freedom, and the abundant banquet of God’s loving grace. I sometimes grasp the enthusiasm that horses sense when gowing-hope or going home.