There’s a lot of construction going on downtown and apparently somebody made a boo-boo by cutting through a power line. Our entire office building went dark (as did a large portion of downtown Lincoln) and while the power was off for only ten minutes we’re still waiting for our networks to get back online. So while I wait I’m going to try to get this stuff that’s been collecting in my head and on scraps of paper into some sort of coherent form. Forgive me my bullet points.
- It seems I’ve become aware of a lot of death lately. People I know, people I don’t know, people who I don’t know but are known by people I know. From infants to teenagers to adults. Every one of them someone’s child. Every one of them leaving behind a grieving parent or parents. Death is a part of life…the great “circle of life” and all that. I get it, believe me. As a Catholic I believe I’m more acutely aware of it than I ever was pre-Catholicism and I’m glad my children don’t think of death as some foreign icky thing to be avoided at all cost. I wish I had more time to explain this now but unfortunately I don’t.
- Back to the recent awareness with death. A good friend of mine lost a son recently. He was in his twenties. Stacye is a writer and once some time passed she did as I knew she’d do: she wrote about it. And then did so again. And again. Beautifully in fact, and with the grace I knew she possessed. Naturally she has cut way back on posting things on Facebook and writing in general, at least publically. She may be keeping a private journal of her own thoughts. I hope she is. Because if I’m right she needs to write…needs to bring order to her thoughts and the swirling whirling emotions that have surrounded her in this time.
- Confession: I really hate writing. I hate it for the very reason stated above. Because I find myself almost hourly finding a subject to write about, some of them even interesting, that I want to share with others. But also that I want to share with myself and in some small way bring an order to the massive globstopper in my brain that seems to clutter up the place. I have to write it down as a means of eliminating clutter, and if I can help someone along the way by means of an understanding than it’s a bonus, baby. By placing it in the trash, or at times the recycling bin, I am able to keep it from growing out of control and stinking up the place. But damn it I wish it wasn’t that way sometimes. I wish I could just take something in by means of one of the senses and immediately let it go. But instead it ferments too long and then I don’t get wine. I get grape juice. And really crappy grape juice at that that leaves nothing but a headache behind. So I hate writing.
- And that is precisely why I love to write.
- About the same time as my friend’s loss the dad I know across the street from our house also lost a child, his 16-year old son. I’ve written a little about it here. A few weeks later he and I were standing on his curb talking. While we spoke he kept glancing into my front yard where my two youngest were running and screaming and playing. “They grow up so fast, Jeff,” he said. And then he told me three things: “Play with your kids. Take them out for ice cream. Remember all of it.” And then he hugged me and went inside his house.
- Here’s what’s been marinating since he told me these three things. I am a steward of my children. I think all parents know this on some level. My oldest is 16, but I’m making a note to ask my friend Stacye sometime how she feels about it. My guess is that it never stops. As a Christian when talk turns to the principles of stewardship we mention three: time, talent and treasure. Time is another word for prayer; Talent is our service towards the Church and our fellow man; and Treasure is our tithing or monetary contributions towards worthy causes. So for weeks now I’ve been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and write a clever blogpost about what this father said to me, kids, parenting and stewardship. The closest I came was
- Time = Remember all of it.
- Talent = Play with your kids.
- Treasure = Take them out for ice cream.
- Or something like that. Either way, I thought his advice was pitch-perfect. But I couldn’t seem to unclog the drain and write it down.
- In both instances, Stacye and the dad across the street, I failed to reach out to them. I don’t know why I froze up when it counted, but I did. I told myself that I’d give them time to get through the first few days and week or so of numbness and being overwhelmed by it all, including all of the visitors and well-wishers. After that initial rush we are left alone, and that is when we need someone the most. So I waited. And then I began to feel I’d waited too long. Then I felt uncomfortable for having waited too long and I certainly couldn’t call or talk to them then, right? I cannot believe how poorly I did at this. Fail.
- A little over a week ago this email landed in one of my inboxes: “Special prayers are needed for Kirk N. and Family (wife Tania, sons Jordan, Ethan, & Gabriel) as they lost their unborn baby girl Thursday night. May God fill their hearts with strength & courage during this time of extreme sorrow.” Almost to the second I got a text from my wife to call her. She’d heard the news too.
- I didn’t meet Kirk until last fall when he initiated a men’s Bible Study/Prayer program at our parish called “That Man Is You”. We met for 13 weeks in the fall, took a break for Christmas/New Year’s, and just finished up the 13 weeks of the spring “semester.” We met every Wednesday morning from 6:30 to 7:30am (“we” being around 50 men) and it has been a real blessing to us men and our marriages, relationships, etc. Kirk is a quiet, unassuming man who once you get to know him…well, let’s just say the well runs deep within him. He’s one of those guys who doesn’t say much, but when he does you want to listen.
- Kirk’s wife Tania had just entered into the Catholic faith at the Easter Vigil under two weeks ago. A week ago on Wednesday morning as our prayer group was finishing up I asked Kirk how the Vigil had gone. He smiled broadly and said it was fantastic and that the boys (in grades 7, 4 and 1) were all so happy for their mom. And in just a few weeks they would be welcoming their new daughter. Life was wonderful.
- Except that twenty-four hours later it wasn’t so wonderful. Having noticed that she hadn’t felt the baby move that day Tania went to her doctor. There she received the worst news any of us could receive. For reasons unknown her little girl had died. Sunday morning at 3am she was induced and delivered little Sophia Gianna Therese. Our pastor was there to baptize Sophia and mourn with the family. Gianna was the confirmation name Tania had chosen when she became Catholic just a week before. St. Gianna Beretta Molla, pray for them.
- I found a short, beautiful poem when I was writing this.
- Yesterday morning I attended the funeral Mass for little Sophia. Her dad and her grandfather carried her tiny white coffin to the front of our church where it rested on the tiniest funeral bier I’ve seen. I went early, so as to sit in the pew alone with my thoughts. I prayed the Office for the Dead from the Liturgy of the Hours. The last lines of the opening hymn are
In him all our sorrow,
in him all our joy.
In him hope of glory,
in him all our love.
In him our redemption,
in him all our grace.
In him our salvation,
in him all our peace.
- I find Catholic funerals much more comforting, and I suppose that comes as no great surprise. I do because like a proper Catholic wedding, the main reason we are there is to honor God. God is the center and the emphasis of the event. Not the bride or the happy couple. And not the honored dead. Of course, they are prominent and we are there to honor them and their memory, but the focus remains on God and our faith, whether within the Sacrament of Marriage and the union of the man and woman, or in the hope of joining Christ in the Resurrection.
- The readings, music, and homily by Fr. Johnson were perfect. I was a mess through the first part of the Mass but I composed myself and focused on the liturgy. That was a tremendous help.
- And then the three brothers processed to the front with the offeratory gifts before the Liturgy of the Eucharist while the pianist sang a moving version of Ten Thousand Angels. Cue water faucets.
- For some reason I thought back to when I was a teenager and my thoughts turned to funerals. I remember thinking that for my own funeral I wanted something angst-ridden like Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” or “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas played at my funeral. Thank God that didn’t happen.
- And not just because of the crappy funeral music. But because I’m still, you know…here.
- If I were to choose now, I’d lean more towards having a slower version of this song played at my funeral Mass. That and a little Mozart for good measure.
- Kirk said a few brief words at the end of his daughter’s funeral about how much the family had appreciated all the prayers to give them strength to get through this time. He mentioned a quote by Saint Faustina that he’d read in her diary (a book I highly recommend as one of the pillars of spiritual reading). I wish I’d captured it correctly, but paraphrasing her she’d said “Sometimes God creates children for his own purposes.” Kirk said it brought him great comfort to think that perhaps that was his daughter’s role.
- While I can’t recall the exact quote above, I did find this one from an early Father of the Church, St. Gregory of Nyssa:
Well, your child may have departed from you, but he has gone to Christ the Lord. For you his eyes have been shut, but they are opened to the eternal light: he is gone from your table, but is now added to the table of angels. The plant was uprooted from here, but planted in paradise. From the earthly kingdom he was transferred to the heavenly kingdom. You see what was exchanged for what. Are you sad because you no longer see the beauty of the face of your child? But this happens, because you do not see the real beauty of the soul with which he rejoices in the heavenly feast. How beautiful indeed is the eye that sees God! How sweet indeed is the mouth that is adorned with divine melodies!
- All of these events remind us that life does go on. It really is a big, and whole, circle. We’re born, we live, we die. We recently spent forty days of preparation for Easter, experiencing the triumph of Palm Sunday, and the agonies of Christ’s Passion. We celebrated the victory of Easter and the Resurrection, and thus began fifty days of celebration. Forty days to prepare for a fifty day party. I’ll take it. But even during the party there will be reminders that the struggle on this earthly plane continue. Since Easter we celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday, children have received their First Holy Communion, prayer groups continue as do weddings and funerals. We have mourned and we have celebrated. We continue to be the best stewards we can be. We are the Church Militant on earth, waiting to ultimately join the Church Triumphant in Heaven.
- Last thoughts: After the funeral I went home to change for work. The house was empty except for our beagle puppy Buster, so I took him out to the backyard to enjoy some sunshine before I had to drive to work. I sat on the park bench in the little garden area (a work in progress) while he frolicked in the warm sunshine, rolling around in the grass and soaking in every ray of the sun possible.
- While I sat there a squirrel perched in one of the tall evergreen trees in our fence line chirked angrily at Buster. And I mean this squirrel went off. I laughed out loud because years ago when we still had our first dog, Fenway, we rented a house that had a large oak tree in the middle of the small back yard where he would trap squirrels. They were climb down to the lowest branch possible and chew him out for treeing them. I love that memory. Looks like I’ll be hearing more of it (the chirking) going forward.
- Sitting on the weatherworn bench I make a note to myself to replace the wood slats. These are getting a little weak having been exposed to the elements for a few years. Twelve small pieces of lumber should do the trick. And then I decide it’s time to build the wooden arbor trellis over the bench, too. And thus a summer project is born.
- Is there anything more wonderful than working with our hands? For my money there is nothing more satisfying than creating or working on something in this manner. It’s almost divine. Maybe it is.
- Before going inside I decide to join Buster for a roll around the grass and soak up some of the sun’s rays. Why should he have all the fun? So I do. Therapy.
- I hate writing. I love it so.
Plunger to the face image source.