I’ve gone to three different Catholic funerals in my life. I’m not particularly fond of funerals because I find it too heavy for me. Each time I go to pay my respects, it has me thinking about my own life and death.
The first funeral I went to was when I was 16 and attending to pay my respects to another classmate who passed. John died very unexpectedly. He was a star student , an amazing athlete, tall, handsome, kind and loved by everyone in school. Little did we know, he was born with a heart condition that he believed was corrected. One day in October he was jumping rope as a warmup, went into cardiac arrest and died.
I remember everyone in my grade, nearly all 300 of us, went to the wake. I didn’t even know John all that well but thought it was right to support my friends who did. There was a line outside the funeral parlor to enter the viewing. It was so long that people passing by would stop us and ask what we were waiting for, curious about the spectacle. I’ll always remember the look of confusion on their face when we said it was for the passing of a friend.
John looked beautiful like an angel; his hair never looked more red. Somehow, they always look truly at peace when they’re laying in their casket.
At 16, I never faced death before and was not prepared for it. I felt the sadness and grief in the air and I could of cut through it with a knife. I had to leave the wake early because I was sobbing uncontrollably and upsetting everyone around me. I felt the sadness of everyone grieving and it filled me to the point where I was just sobbing for everyone else. His life was cut so short! If only he wasn’t jumping rope, he would have lived!
That day I learned that life isn’t always promised and that it could be taken from you in an instant. It seemed so unfair. In my eyes, John was least deserving of death.
The second funeral I went to was for my neighbor Jim. He suffered with Alzheimer’s. He was in his 80s when he went. I thought it would be easier, his death was very expected and he suffered a long time with his disease. But it wasn’t.
He was an Irishman and as I reflected on his life, I couldn’t help but feel blessed to have known him. He lived a long life and often spoke to us kindly in his beautiful Irish accent. The day of his funeral I longed to hear him speak again, it was so mesmerizing. Even though he and his wife had been in the US for decades, he still carried a heavy accent. I remember playing with his grandson and watching him mow his grass from our front window.
This time I felt a sense of true loss, here was someone I knew and saw every day for years. And now he was gone.
Silent tears rolled down my face at the funeral as the priest gave his homily reflecting on Jim’s life. I knew he was in heaven with God, no one lived a more humble and god-loving life. Yet I still felt sad that he left us.
They held the reception in his family’s backyard. I listened as his family told stories about all the things Jim did in his life, how kind and exceptional he was.
It’s funny, even in death you can be celebrated. It had me thinking a lot about my own death and the future for my parents. They were getting older and even though death is expected at the end of old age, I realized it was never welcomed. There will always be a sense of mourning and loss.
Most recently I went to my Husband’s grandma’s wake. Grandma P’s death was also expected. She was sick and going through a lot physically in the end of her days. It gave me a lot to think and pray about. She was more aware that she was dying.
She was also blessed to have so many children. All five of them came to her side. Aunt B was the one who had cared for her all these years.
Aunt B asked her, “Are you scared?”
“Don’t be, we’ll be with you. We won’t leave your side.”
The thought that you can be aware of your impending death is terrifying. The thought of saying goodbye to everyone you love saddens me. I pray she went in peace.
Her wake was small yet beautiful. My father in law put together a slide about her life. It was amazing to see how many lives she touched and how much she meant to so many people. I realized her 84 years of life was not meaningless but rich with purpose. With five of her grandchildren, including my Husband, she played a huge role in raising them. I left with a sense of peace, knowing that she was truly with God and that she was in good hands.
A Catholic funeral is quite beautiful but also very expensive. In some cases it can be compared to the price of a wedding. The casket, funeral services for the wake, funeral and reception, flowers, burial site and tombstone can reach upwards of $15k-20k for standard services.
But can you really put a price on remembering the life of a loved one?
For Catholics, death is the biggest event of our lives. We believe that our life is a journey, with death being the final destination. That, with God’s Grace, we’ll be reunited with our merciful God. It’s not a live for today ideology but one that hopes for a better future.
Memento Mori in Latin means remember your death. It’s the concept that our death is inevitable and we should prepare now for what comes after. I’ve learned that our lives are truly precious no matter what age we are. And though it makes me sad to think my mother’s, father’s or even my own death, I know there’s a peace on the other side and that life doesn’t end with death.
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