"That's what would have happened to us," she said, and once again I thought about how me and four of my children almost went to be with Jesus last Easter. God was truly merciful.
But this isn't about my own sense of mortality. It's about how every death is important. It means something to God, every single time.
A church lovie died. She'd been rejected by her family largely because she spent so much of her time around black people. She was her family's black sheep in more ways than one. She used to tell her friends that it didn't matter what happened to her after she died. Nobody would care or come out for her. And in so many ways she was right. Her funeral was sparsely attended and no one in her family came. In fact, when they were informed of her death her brother turned her body over to the county. He didn't want to be bothered with burying her. As for her effects, he said, "Just leave the door open and let the Salvation Army take whatever they want." Unimaginable cruelty.
I used to wonder why burying the dead was a corporal act of mercy. This weekend I saw why. As I sat in my favorite pew on Saturday, a few faithful gathered with me, I heard so many wonderful stories about this woman who's family dismissed her. And here, crying and laughing together, was her real family, praying to God for her soul's rest.
Fr. Gary prayed this lovely prayer, and I was deeply moved:
May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs come to welcome you
and take you to the holy city,
the new and eternal Jerusalem.
May choirs of angels welcome you
and lead you to the bosom of Abraham;
and where Lazarus is poor no longer
may you find eternal rest.
Whoever believes in my, even though that person die, shall live.
I am the resurrection and the life.
Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.
In stark contrast, the other funeral I attended was packed to an overflow. Her many accomplishments were hailed and I was honored to be at her "home going". She was a beloved mother to me as a child. Loved me as if I were one of her own. I felt awful that she was so close once I moved back to Inkster, yet I failed to go see her. I thought we'd have more time.
Don't we always believe that lie?
I sat in the room with her daughters, girls I was inseparable with growing up, and honestly, it was like being a child again. All of us were middle aged women, but in so many ways we were in essence who we'd been at seven! And we needed each other. We needed to be together to say goodbye.
Yes, I see why burying the dead is an act of mercy. Mercy is needed for the departed, and those of us who remain. Death conjures our deepest fears, and moves us to our most profound empathy. It is an honor to weep with those who weep. Christ thinks of everything, and of course, we know Jesus Himself wept at the death of His friend.
So much to think about for me. So much to pray for. And my brain is a little fried after all that this past week.
I'm glad, at least for me, the worst is over. May God have mercy and allow me to continue to be a friend to the grieving, whose pain, many times, is far worse after all the people have gone and they're left with memories and the deep chasm of loss.
"Pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death."