Today I played my friend’s grandson’s funeral. He was thirty years old, good looking, quick to entertain his friends with a joke or story and much loved by his friends and coworkers. He prayed the rosary daily since taking a trip to Medjugorje with his brother, helped with the parish youth group, was a good son to his parents, and volunteered at the drug rehab center. Yet one morning last week he got up and dressed for work as usual. He stopped and kissed his mother goodbye as always. Then he purchased a gun at a local retail store, drove to a beautiful spot in the mountains and made the pain go away.
It was so terribly heart wrenching to see his mother and father follow the casket of their firstborn into the church, one holding on to the other to keep themselves from falling onto the floor and pounding the ground in anger and grief. It was painful to see my friend, his grandfather walk slowly but steadily up the steps to the ambo to read the first reading from Wisdom: “The souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them.” Somehow he got through the reading and managed to return to the pew next to his wife of 45 years, the grandmother who once held a tiny baby, her first grandchild with such joy. Like all grandmothers, she cuddled and fondled him, kissing his little fingers and biting his little belly to make him chortle. She adored him from the moment she laid eyes on him. Now she was loving him back to his creator. She knew that her job now was to be strong, and so she was. She held her daughter tightly during the sign of peace, whispering comfort into her ear. She sang “Eagles Wings” as if it were any Sunday when she would be going home after Mass to prepare the spaghetti for the family.
Father’s homily was predictable. What can you say, really? How much comfort can you bring to people who have just lost so much for such a terrible reason? He knew that there wasn’t anything he could preach about that would make a difference. The young man was gone. God didn’t do it, he did it himself because he had been given free will. God was with him in those final moments, and God did truly take him home. We understand that this is true, but still it’s so hard to understand, especially for us who grew up during a time when deaths such as this were called a mortal sin, a time when people had little hope of seeing their loved ones again in heaven unless they begged God for mercy and clemency.
I sat at the organ bench watching my friends endure this liturgy and wondering how they could stand there so calmly and sing, “For to his angels he’s given a command to guard you in all of your ways, upon their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Really? Where were the angels when he made the last decision of his life to squeeze the trigger? Why didn’t they do something …anything? How could any parent or grandparent be expected to go on after this?
I know the answer… it’s faith, pure and simple. This family has such a great faith that they will endure it. They will not give in the the temptation of despair. And I wonder, would my faith be strong enough to survive this and not hate God? But at the same time I pray, “please, dear God, please don’t let me find out, because I’m so afraid of that kind of pain. I don’t want to know if I have the faith to get through something this awful”
Faith done right is very, very hard.
Postscript: I found out tonight that while the family was at the funeral, their home was broken into and robbed. Sometimes it’s easy to love God, but not always easy to love his creatures – especially the ones with no hearts. I guess God’s going to have to explain this one to me someday, because right now I can’t wrap my brain around it.