During this month of November, Catholics are encouraged to remember the faithful departed and to reflect on the mystery of death. Most people are uncomfortable with death, and so many people do not know what to say or what to do when faced with such loss. Once I was at a funeral where the homilist said something like, “We are not here to mourn our loved one. We know that he is in a better place. Jesus died for us so that we might have eternal life, so we shouldn’t be sad!” With all respect to my fellow priest, I couldn’t disagree more! Apart from the dubious and dangerous practice of telling people what they should or should not be feeling, a funeral liturgy is precisely for mourning and being sad, if sad is what you are. Don’t get me wrong! I firmly believe in the resurrection and eternal life and that this is a cause of great joy for us. But I also believe that the resurrection does not deny the cross. The resurrection transforms the cross. And losing a loved one is just that – a cross.
When someone dies, there is a son who will never feel his dad’s hand on his shoulder again. There is someone who will never look into the eyes of her beloved or feel his caress on her cheek. There is someone who will sleep alone for the first time in fifty years. When someone dies, there is a motherless or a fatherless child, even when that child is forty years old. When someone dies, there is someone who never got to take back a harsh word, who didn’t have the opportunity to say “I love you” one more time. When someone dies, even at a ripe old age, after a good and rich life, there is gone out of the world such immeasurable goodness and beauty that will never be again, except in our memories.
In the face of death, mourning is precisely what we should do. But mourning is not saying, “It will be all right” or “God has a plan” or “It’s for the best.” Mourning is just noticing that things are awful. That it hurts. That it’s sad. We don’t need to rush into making things OK, because things aren’t and can’t be OK just now. Mourning takes time, and people need to mourn in many and varied ways. Some cry. Some wail. Some groan. Some drink. Some withdraw. Some seek comfort. Some need to talk. Some need to be held. Some need to be alone. Some need company. Some pray. Most pray. We believers try to pray.
If you are in mourning right now, know that your pain and grief are a normal part of coping. Do not try to rush the process. If you have not experienced death firsthand, know that the time will come. Be prepared. Be prepared to cry and grieve and experience life upside-down for a while. It’s OK.
Once when I was mourning the death of a friend, another friend sent me a card that simply said, “Time helps, but faith heals.” How true that is! As you know, during my first year here at St. Margaret, I lost my brother-in-law Bill, my brother Jeff, and my mom Shirley within a few short months. My world has never been the same, and to be honest, I still have some very sad days. But yes, time helps, and faith heals. These November days, we believers join together and remember that the resurrection transforms the cross. In due time. In the meantime, it is our duty and privilege to watch a while, to abide, to wait, and to pray with and for those who mourn, until Easter comes and transforms the cross.
(This article was adapted from an original version by Paige Byrne Shortal, a local pastoral musician and minister. I appreciate her insights and wisdom! -Fr. JRV)