This post will appear as a column in the May 30, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin. I am posting it early because somebody, somewhere, needs this today.
It’s been a tough few weeks. First some close friends lost their son—a veteran, husband and father of two—after a long struggle with mental health and the ongoing impact of combat violence. Another friend lost her mother, and yet another friend lost his wife and mother of his three adopted children after a long battle with cancer. Then I woke to the news that my grandma, Rowena Thorp, had passed in her sleep this morning (Tuesday, May 25) at age 90.
We always experience sadness at the death of a loved one, even if their rest is well earned. We miss their faces, voices, laughter and advice. We sometimes regret questions unasked or things unsaid, and we often wish we could see them one last time.
When we lose someone too soon or to circumstances beyond our ability to manage or understand, the loss can be devastating. How, in these cases, do we persevere in hope?
Many years ago, someone I love took his own life. At the time I had no experience with this sort of loss and sorrow and no deep roots to keep me upright. At the memorial service I stood and shared a few tearful memories. I sat and listened while others did the same, then for some reason I rose again. I walked to the microphone, attempted to speak, and broke down, weeping, that I hadn’t been able to do something—anything!—to stop what had happened.
Over the years, my mind has returned often to that moment. I’ve thought that what bothered me most was the pride that made me stand up a second time and the embarrassment of sobbing in front of family and strangers. But now I think something akin to despair was bubbling up—my pride wasn’t in speaking a second time, but in thinking that I should have somehow “fixed” things, and my embarrassment was not in weeping, but in not trusting the God of love and mercy to handle what I could not.
Our friends who lost their son asked me to read a scripture passage at the funeral Mass. Of course I said I would. Then they asked if I would read a eulogy they had written. The eulogy was beautiful—funny, honest, aching, and ultimately hopeful. I cried every time I read it, in practice and at the funeral, but managed to make it through. The walk back to our pew nearly proved too much—once I was next to Jodi, my knees went weak and I wept.
But this time, I cried, not in despair for the young man who died, but out of love for his family who were mourning him so deeply. They have to find a path forward; Danny is in God’s hands.
So when I rose again to read, my knees were steady; my voice was strong:
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. …For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words.1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Hope is not mere positivity or wishful thinking, but a virtue: the active practice of abundant trust that the God of love and mercy wills the good of every person, will go to any length short of forcing Himself upon us to draw us back to Him, and provides the means of salvation to every soul. Jesus loves us to death—and beyond.