“He is not here” I deeply appreciate the many dozens of beautiful cards, texts, emails, and calls expressing condolences. Thank you for offering so many Masses and so many prayers for her! The Mass was exceptionally beautiful, but I have to say that I had been dreading “the viewing.” The family was allotted a half hour before the public around her open casket to … do what? Stare at my mother’s dead body? As it turned out, however, my brother and I went to the funeral home the day before to pick up a DVD, and my brother wanted to see how they had “arranged her.” The funeral director showed us into a room, and there was Mom’s body. But the body was not Mom. My mother wasn’t in that room. Without a soul, a human body is not a human person, and certainly Mom had gone somewhere else. The body was a holy relic of her life, but not in any sense her. In the end, there wasn’t much to see in the funeral parlor. I am sure that she is alive, but no longer here. She has moved on, either to purgatory to prepare for heaven, or to heaven itself. But as the angels told Mary Magdalene on Easter morning at the tomb, “you seek the Lord. He is not here.”
Seventy years together Dad, at age 95, was able to attend Mom’s Mass, along with all six of us children. He told me the day previously that “I did not think it would be this hard.” I asked him if he wanted to watch a movie classic (which he and Mom have been doing every night for the last six years), and he said “not without her.” He could not imagine life without the woman with whom he shared his life for seventy years. “Mom is gone,” I told him, “but you have her six children with you.” He replied (rather quickly I thought) that “it’s not the same.” Certainly not. All Dad has left now is God, and he prayerfully received Holy Communion from my hand during Mom’s Mass.
Alone at the grave We buried my mother and then returned to the parish to share blessed memories for a few hours over a meal. As folks drifted away, I went into the church to be alone with God and then, as the sun was going down, drove back to the cemetery. The men had filled it in and packed down the dirt, laying a spray of red roses on her grave. My mother was a Third Order Carmelite, and devoted to St. Therese, who promised to send “a shower of roses from heaven” after she died. God had arranged that Mom be buried on October 1st, the Feast of St. Therese, whom it seemed to me had covered Mom’s grave with a dozen red roses. And yet, she was now under six feet of dirt, alone in that cemetery. A temptation to despair struck me like a flash of lightning. Life is meaningless, I thought. Breathing a few quick prayers, I looked up. In fact, Mom is not here. She has moved on to Life itself, and I’ve got to keep moving too. Our greatest temptation is to idolize, to attach to anything on earth. It’s precisely in the face of death that we need resist the temptation to fixate. We are pilgrims and must keep moving towards God. He has built us for movement, and we must not give in to paralysis. We must keep moving towards heaven. I will offer a public requiem Mass for my mother, with reception following, on November 3 at 6pm, at my parish in San Francisco. You are all welcome.