This week I have had the privilege, and the pain, of sitting with a number of families who have lost loved ones. There is nothing more heart breaking than sitting with parents who have lost a new born baby. The physical and mental anguish is palpable. Words of consolation vanish. There are no words that can meet that moment. Tears, silence, and presence accompany the grief. All the hopes and dreams that come with welcoming a new life into the world are thwarted and everyone is left feeling empty. Parents are meant to love and nurture their children, not to farewell them on the cusp of life.
I also gathered with a family around the bed of their dear dying father as we let him go and handed him over to the God of life and love. On that day, tears of farewell were accompanied by words of gratitude, love, appreciation and a sense of fulfilment. As one grandson reflected, “Our job now is to make him proud, and live out the good example he gave us.”
The experience of death always bring home to me the precious nature of every human person, no matter how old or how young. Each of us is a fragile, vulnerable being and the experience of death confronts us with our mortality in a stark way.
The experience of losing someone we love always causes us to stop and think about our own life. When someone we love dies we can lose track of time and place. “What day is it?” we can find ourselves asking. “What times is it?” The death of a loved one relativises our own lives and we start to ask questions about what really matters in life. What is important to me? How do I want to live now? What am I going to do to make the most the time that I have before me?
Christianity makes great claims about life and about death. Christians claim that the God of love and life accompanies us from our first breath to our last. Christians claim that the love of God breaks through the barriers of darkness and death and continues to hold us in love no matter how small, how young or how old we might be. That is why the paschal candle, the candle of life, burns at each Christian burial.
This week’s gospel is also a stark reminder of our mortality. Luke’s gospel (Luke 12:13-21) warns us about ‘hording a harvest’ instead of making ourselves rich in the sight of God. God instead is rich in mercy and compassion, full of gentleness and kindness. God raises up all that is broken, dead and lifeless.
Sitting with those who are deeply in grief is a privilege when you can also hold before them the promise of the light of the resurrection.
By Fr Brendan Reed