I’d met Fr. Belczak 15 years before. He managed to make Anne and me feel included at Dad’s wedding to Margaret (at Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak). Now, at Dad’s funeral, Fr. Belczak sensed that Al’s daughters (read: me) were ill at ease. He did his best to explain traditions and render mourners comfortable. Still, I sobbed through the service.
“Al remained proud of his Jewish roots,” Fr. Belczak said. “He liked to say, ‘Jesus was Jewish, too.’ Al called himself ‘a completed Jew.'” This interpretation was news to me. I thought Dad had rejected our faith.
Friends and family filled the sanctuary of St. Owens Church in Franklin, MI. Fr. Belczak read from a letter Anne wrote to Dad during his illness. She rhapsodized about ping pong games in our basement and summer trips to Boblo Island. She recalled the story of her attempt to run away. Dad deterred her, asking, “Don’t you want dinner first?”
Anne suggested I write a similar glowing letter.
I could have written about Dad’s efforts to teach me golf. Or about how when I was a young teen Dad drove me to the offices of Multi Color on Delaware in Detroit, where I worked some days filing invoices. And how, on those drives, he talked to me about business as though I were grown up. Or about our visits to the shiny marble and brass office of Detroit Bank & Trust in the Fisher Building where I’d deposit my earnings in a savings account.
But I didn’t. I was too resentful over what I saw as Dad’s defection. At his funeral, the absence of my letter seemed glaring.
Fr. Belczak spoke about the putter Dad had given him, and how ever after Dad wanted to hear how it was working. He explained the white cloth draped over Dad’s coffin. “Al is wrapped in God’s love,” he said and wrapped his arms around Anne’s young son Michael to demonstrate.
After, Dad was buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield. The mausoleum was a long white building overlooking a snow covered lawn. Fr. Belczak greeted us in a round lobby on the main floor. High stained glass windows depicted a haloed Mary standing tall, surrounded by saints. Stars dotted a blue domed ceiling with an oculus in the center. My father’s casket rested on a gurney below.
Fr. Belczak said, “I believe in signs. When we got here, we were directed to another entrance. The door was locked. We tried a different door. Inside, a service was already taking place. So we came to this lobby, the most beautiful space in the building. I asked myself, ‘Why does Albert want us to be here?’ And then I saw the reason. I’ve been in this space many times before. Today I noticed something I’ve never noticed before.”
He asked the pallbearers to move the casket aside, then gestured toward the travertine marble floor. There was an emblem in the place which had been covered by the casket. I gazed at it and caught my breath. Through tears I spotted the sign my father wanted us to see. This was 15 years before I suffered health challenges of my own and began to find comfort in Godsigns. But this was one of the most dramatic Godsigns I’d ever receive.
Funerals not only praise the dead; they help heal the living. In the center of the floor was an inlaid black marble circle, about 8′ across. It was punctuated by one dark and one light interlocking brown marble triangle. The triangles formed a six-pointed star.
A Star of David. A Jewish star.