Because my husband is Grand Knight of the local Knights of Columbus council, our family has gotten to know most of the active Knights. One gentleman who was responsible for getting dh's particular council to stay afloat, and who was himself Grand Knight for quite awhile, recently passed away, and today was his funeral.
So, I've been contemplating a bit this whole reality of death and grief.
When I first learned that John had died, my thoughts went toward heaven, and the joy of going beyond the veil of this life to discover the next. I prayed for the happy repose of his soul...
One memory of John that sticks in my mind was that he happened to call the morning after I learned my father had passed away. I answered the phone all groggy and miserable sounding, I think, and he quickly and happily asked me if I was expecting. The question didn't really sink in, but I said "no, my father just died." I think he was so struck by how inappropriate his question sounded (really, it went right over my head) that he apologized profusely, had a Mass said for my father, had his wife bring me over brownies and invited me to visit on my own to return the pan. When we did eventually have children, John and his wife took a real liking to them and always brought little presents for them for the joy of it. Their home was the first place we took our son to visit after he moved to our house at age 8 months. We spent many a Sunday having a little visit at their house...
As I prayed for John, I also asked John to pray for us, and for my children who he seemed so fond of.
There is this whole other reality, though, in attending a funeral. John had been a sick man for quite a while, and had spent much of this year in and out of the hospital. Even so, the timing of his death came as a shock for his wife and family. Grief was palpable in the church, and I wept at the sight of others' weeping. Even the solemn act of driving in a caravan to the cemetery was a mysteriously moving experience, this moment of all present on the roads stopping for the proverbial hat tip of respect. He had been in the Army, so the honor guard played Taps at the cemetery, which in my estimation is just the most emotionally provocative series of little notes there is. I don't know how anyone who has absorbed American culture can hear those notes, especially when played in reference of a loved one, and not be overcome with grief.
Is it not a profoundly sacred thing, an experience that speaks of faith in the sacred dignity of the human, precisely rooted in the fact that we are more than a lump of biological matter -- this whole practice of honoring the dead? I realize that, despite the joy to contemplate of going to be with the Lord, a significant part of honoring the dead is sharing the sorrow of those who mourn. Perhaps this is not rocket science. But I am, I believe, in the process of reconstruction when it comes to considering these factors of human relationship: the dynamism of human interactions. The very real stuff you never know until you live it; the stuff books can't give you.