Eulogy for his brother, Daniel E. Verbest
[Scripture Readings: Is 43:1-5; Rom 8:31b-35, 37-39; Jn 6:37-40]
Of all the comforting words God has spoken to us, my favorite is in the prophet Isaiah where God says: “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.” The people of Israel were in exile, in Babylon, modern day Iraq. They lost everything: homes, country, freedom, many loved ones, and their hope for the future. They were devastated. At this lowest point in their lives when they were most miserable, God tells them, “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.” When they felt totally abandoned, God made love to them and said, “I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope. When you call upon me I will hear you, when you search for me, you will find me”. Today we are grieving over our loss of Dan, but we have hope for a future when our present suffering will be over and gone, when we will be reunited with all those we love so much. Dan has made it to the other side. Unimaginable happiness is his. One by one we, too, will launch out for the other side.
When Dan and I were very young, we were sent to Camp Tivoli every summer. I used to think Mom and Dad did it just for our enjoyment, but now that I’m older and wiser I realize it was also to give them a break and keep us out of mischief. After all, Dan couldn’t chase his sisters around the family table with a butcher knife if he was away at camp. We would have lots of things to keep us occupied. We swam, went horseback riding, shot bows and arrows and rifles, we played baseball and tennis. It was wonderful. On Shawano Lake, rather far out, there was a raft with a high and a low diving board. But the only way to get there was by swimming to it. When a beginner learned how to swim in the shallow waters and felt ready, he could launch out by himself and swim to the distant raft. The rest of us would watch, cheering him on, until he reached the place we all wanted to be. Finally by summer’s end, we were all on the raft, playing and diving and swimming with the happy abandon of children. Now Dan has launched out again, and made it to the other shore. We watched him go. He went with the athletic ease of someone fully prepared, without resistance or struggle. He no longer has to hope for future blessings, he’s there, being embraced by God who is saying to him, “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.”
The kids at Camp Tivoli thought it was really cool that our Dad was president of Blatz brewery. Since Dad’s parents were from Belgium the Norbertine Fathers who ran Camp Tivoli nicknamed Dan “Belge”, short for the Belgian. But the kids at camp misunderstood and thought they were calling Dan, “Belch,” because we drank Blatz beer. And the name stuck. When I came along, they called me “Burp,” a little belch! Dan and I developed a taste for beer and enjoyed it even in grade school and all through life. When Pope John Paul II was in Denver, Dan’s friend, Pete Rohan, heard that the Pope was going to bless whatever people held up in the air. So, he held up some cans of beer and later gave one to Dan with the inscription blessed by the Pope. We have it here today, and it will be buried with Dan as a happy memento. He would really like that. Maybe Dan will sit down with St. Peter and have a can of heaven’s best with him.
From his youth Dan enjoyed golf, football and vacations. I remember how delighted he was to find a photo of his football team in the Alumni Directory of St. Roberts Grade School. He said to me, “Look at the row of white football helmets on the ground. Mine is the only black one. I always had a hard time conforming!” But Dan never had a hard time forming friendships lasting a lifetime. Like Pete Rohan, Dave Doyle, Jim Reidel and Primo Detoro. Dan had a winning way about him. He was outgoing, athletic, intelligent, fun, reliable, self-possessed, the rock among his group of friends. In high school some of them drove to California for a vacation. Along the way a speeding driver zoomed by on a desert road. Miles later, they came upon a car accident, a total wreck. The speeder had crashed. That impressed Dan and tempered his tendency not to conform to laws and rules. But he went right on loving to travel and go on vacations, whether it was to Disney World in Florida with its golf courses, or to the casinos in Las Vegas having fun with the family, especially Janie’s wonderful parents, Tony and Florence, whom he loved so much.
Dan’s spirit of independence at the age of 15 was left unchecked when our Mom died in 1948. Dad was working too hard to provide the discipline Dan needed at that age. He missed Mom a lot, and it was his tears when speaking about her that showed Janie what a tender heart he had, and how much family meant to him. That’s when she fell in love with him. Dan was not prepare to make a life long commitment in his first marriage. For seven years he and Gloria tried to make it work. One day Gloria was taken to a hospital, suffering the miscarriage of a perfectly formed little girl. She called me to share her sorrow, and then told me that their marriage had not been working out from the beginning. Their differences and unhappiness eventually led to divorce. Dan suffered a great sense of shame. At that time he wrote to me, saying, “I’ve messed up my life. I don’t feel part of the family any more. If you don’t ever forget me in your prayers maybe I can hold up my head again. I can’t tell you how much you boost my spirits every time I hear from you. Your prayers are finding their mark.” My heart went out to him in his sadness, but I also felt admiration that he could accept responsibility for it.
Divorce was a low point in Dan’s life. But he learned from it and grew in maturity. He also made rapid progress in his employment at Junior Achievement. His ability as a public speaker and a teacher and his gift for raising funds earned him recognition and esteem. But there was an ache in his heart, an emptiness that continued for a few more years until he met Janie. That’s when he really came to life and began to radiate a happiness and fulfillment that never diminished, and in fact increased. It was a perfect match. They married on Dec. 27, 1969. Together they have enjoyed the love of their lives. From then on all he wanted was to be with her and she with him. This was a marriage made in heaven. They could say to each other: “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.”
But there was one problem. Dan’s divorce prevented him from being married again in the Church. I prayed for Dan, we all did. I believe Mom and Dad prayed for him. By 1970 Dan was in charge of Junior Achievement in New Orleans, and by 1987 he was vice-president of development at Junior Achievement’s national headquarters in Colorado Springs. During all this time Dan was not attending Church. At a younger age he had a hard time conforming, but now he kept the rules. Without an annulment he knew that he couldn’t receive the Sacraments. He obeyed. But I didn’t know how painful that was for him. One day I complained to God that after praying for Dan for twenty-five years nothing had happened to bring him back to Church. In my heart I heard God say to me, “What are you doing about it?” I thought, “Me!, What am I supposed to do? I’ve been praying longer than Monica prayed for her son, St. Augustine!” (She prayed for twenty years before her son entered the Church.) God didn’t tell me what to do. So, one day when talking with Dan on the phone I suggested he look into the possibility of an annulment. Nothing happened, and I didn’t know what else to do.
Then, in 1995, I was invited to go to a Marian shrine in Bosnia, where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to six children. The abbot gave me permission. Many miracles have happened there. For me, it was enough to see the faith of thousands of people from all over the world coming to pray in that holy place. One day, our group traveled to a neighboring village. While I was kneeling in silent prayer in one of the churches a total stranger came up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I have a message for you. Our Lady says your brother is going to be alright.” I was overwhelmed, this person had never seen me before, and she had no idea who I was or how much that message meant to me. I wept with joy and amazement.
When I got back to New Melleray Dan called and asked if an annulment might be possible. I suggested we find out, and he did. Over a year later, on Aug. 11, 1997 the annulment came. In deep gratitude Dan wrote to me saying, “The biggest void in my life since the divorce has been denial of the sacraments and not waking up every day in God’s grace. There is nothing in this world that I desired more than to have our marriage blessed by the Church and once again be accepted as a member with all the privileges of receiving the sacraments. Nothing could make me happier than to have Janie and I share the same religious beliefs and be able to celebrate the joys of the sacraments together. I made stupid mistakes in my young life, but none more than to marry for the wrong reasons without committing to a life long marriage.” “I thank God for allowing me to live long enough to see this dream come true. I will be grateful for the rest of my life.” And, Janie, I’ll always treasure the letter you sent to me. Here’s what you said: “The Mass celebrated by the bishop was very touching and uplifting. I felt so close to God and extremely grateful that he called me in this way. I want to sing and dance. It’s wonderful to be back in church and I love celebrating my faith with Dan. I just want to sincerely thank everyone for all the thousands of prayers on our behalf.” Their love intermingled with God’s love. They could say to one another and to God, “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.”
Eventually, after retirement, when Dan and Janie decided to move to California they had a lot of difficulty selling their house in Colorado Springs. Dan said, “I always thought retirement was going to be stress free. Little did I know!” But once the move was complete life was sheer joy in their new home, flanked by relatives on both sides, Mary Frances and Howard on one side, Kay and Walt on the other. Janie and Dan sent donations to New Melleray saying, “God has been good to us, and we want to share his blessings with the Abbey.” I wish that Dan’s health could have continued for many more years. But sooner or later God calls all of us to give up present blessings for even greater ones. We need to launch out and swim to the raft that is on the other side. That call came to Dan when cancer was discovered last May.
And now his rock solid faith, and clear mind began preparing. He wanted to be completely ready to launch out. I have seen many people, many monks, prepare for death. Dan was right there at the top. He frequently asked me, “Have I done everything I can to prepare?” I saw only one more thing he could do, that is to receive communion daily at home. A week later one of the Eucharistic ministers from the local parish began bringing Dan holy communion every day. When I witnessed how fervently and frequently Janie and Dan prayed together, and the prayer meeting held in their home when I was visiting them, it brought tears of joy to my eyes. So many blessings! As God has blessed us in the past, he will bless us even more in the future when we have launched out and made our crossing to the other side where we will be united and play with the all the abandon of God’s children.
Dan’s preparation gave all of us time to prepare, as well. The gift of being able to visit with him, minister to him, and pray with him helped all of us. It was both difficult and humorous when he became confused in his final weeks. Like the time Janie was nursing him and he told her she was a real good worker and he’d hate to lose her. On, another time when she insisted that she was Janie, his wife, and he responded by saying that he would hire a lawyer and get to the bottom of this, and that they might have to do a DNA test.
For Dan, family is everything. He had such a soft, loving heart. When his pet dog, Sader, died in 1986 he felt it very deeply. But that’s nothing compared to the love he had for Janie, and his sons, Scott and Guy. And now their families and his grandchildren. Dan wept at the death of Mom in 1948, and of Dad in 1988. His grandson, Alex, gave me a little work of art he did a few years ago that sums up our experience of joy and sorrow. It shows a little hill with a cross on it, surrounded by blue skies and sunshine and topped by a heart. That’s what our lives are like. Suffering with sunshine and love. Yes, we have to shed many tears to let the sadness out. And as his youngest grandson, William, said, “All of San Diego will be under water.” But in our tears our love continues, and we are full of hope because God said: “I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope. When you call upon me I will hear you, when you search for me, you will find me”. “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you” .