Being Able to Celebrate New Life While Grieving Death: the Mass Made It Happen
June 05, 2018 . ‘It was a day to celebrate New Life’
By Larry Peterson, republished from the Catholic Writers’ Guild blog.
In our Catholic world, March 25 is the feast of the Annunciation. Yes, this is the day the Holy Spirit came to an innocent, pure teenager in Nazareth and announced to her that God wanted her to be the Mother of the Messiah. Mary said, “Yes.” It was a day to celebrate a New Beginning. It was a day to celebrate New Life.
On March 25, two millennia later, at 2 a.m., my wife, Marty, in a comatose state, was wheeled into the Hospice Center on a gurney. They placed her unresponsive body on a bed, gently washed her face, brushed her hair, and pulled the blanket up, tucking it under her chin ever so nicely. Her death watch was underway. For me, celebrating New Life was completely evading me.
Marty died at 6 a.m. on March 27. The first anniversary of her passing fell on Tuesday of Holy Week. There was a Mass offered for her that morning. There is a distinct irony to it all. My first wife, Loretta, who had died in 2003, had passed on April 4. There was a Mass offered for her that morning. Smack dab in the middle of these two Masses was Easter Sunday, which fell on April 1 this year. Death — Risen Life — Death.
Well, you know, sometimes messages and signs from above are “in our face,” but our human side blinds us to them. Especially when a person is plugged into the part of themselves that feels grief and sadness and loneliness. When you are in that mode, there does not seem to be much to cheer about. That has been part of my roller-coaster ride for almost a year. Up and down, up and down, up and down.
My mom died many years ago. February 18 was the anniversary of her death, and the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass was being offered for her. I did not expect anyone from my family to be there. I had planned to bring up the gifts with someone from church. I had no idea who that might be. Enter my oldest son, Larry Jr.
Junior was married the day before. His bride was a woman from Kenya, a beautiful person and the most unlikely daughter-in-law I ever expected. Her brother was the Catholic priest who officiated at the Nuptial Mass. It was a magnificent wedding, but it was not until the next morning that I knew how Jesus and Our Lady and all of those people we pray to and lean on were actually there.
That is also when I learned how all that death surrounding me was proof of New Life. It was not a contradiction; it was not a dark joke; it was a validation of the faith I have embraced, and we all share.
My son, who rarely attends Mass at my parish, texted me at 7 a.m. His message was simple, “Will be at Mass this morning. See you there.” They had no idea it was for my mother. Junior had never seen his grandma, as she had died nine years before he was born. Their attendance at that Mass was spontaneous and unplanned.
I stood in the back of the church and watched as they brought up the gifts. I have very little memory of my mother, who had just turned 40 when she died. But at that moment I knew that she was giving me a message. I could feel it. It was real.
She was standing there, next to the priest, as her grandson and his new wife handed the gifts to him. She was smiling, and then, I am pretty sure about this, I think she gave me a little wave. Maybe not — my tear-filled eyes were blurring my vision, but everything was crystal clear behind them. In God’s world, New Life and New Beginnings break the bonds of grief, sadness, and death.
The prayer that an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion says before giving Holy Communion to someone is,
“We come to know and believe that God is Love, and he who abides in Love abides in God and God in them.”
This Easter, Marty, and Loretta, on the anniversary of their deaths, will each be on one side of the Risen Christ. They both had received the last rites of the Catholic Church. The faith we love tells us that they abide in Love, that God is Love and they abide with Him. Their deaths have brought them to New Life. I know it is true. Even my mother told me it is true, and she will be with them.