All Souls’ Day: Visiting Grandpa Continues Now That He Is ‘Back With Grandma’
Don’t wait to take your child to a cemetery. Run there, play and pray …
The drive was the same, taking a left and following the sod fields toward the highway leading to Narragansett, where St. Thomas More Church sits like a beacon just blocks from the beach where ocean waves crash on an endless sea, a celestial place where God comes to visit those who stand at the shore.
This was nothing new to my daughter, now 4, who has driven this road for days on end with her grandpa going to daily Mass and always on Sunday, too.
But the entrance was different: no helping Grandpa with his cane down the long hallway; no racing him to the pew. Instead, she found some familiar faces as I clutched her to my chest in an effort to hide my face, overwhelmed with emotion, as tears overflowed. I saw the baptismal white draped over the coffin containing my father, a man known to every single person inside this parish, his second home, as Father Marcel Taillon remarked during the homily for the Mass of Christian burial.
Processing in with our family, Annabelle may have thought things were normal again, as we filed into the second row — just this time without Grandpa, who always sat in front. More recently his pew place was because walking was an issue with his cancer-ridden body, but forever, as always, he desired to be close to the tabernacle, where Our Lord is forever present.
Now, he has no more suffering. Now my dad doesn’t kneel as he did, even with a metal rod keeping his femur from not breaking. Through his faithful witness through suffering, my dad embodied the words of St. John Paul II as we used to sit together during Mass:
“For it is above all a call. It is a vocation … as the individual takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the Cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him. He does not discover this meaning at his own human level, but at the level of the suffering of Christ. At the same time, however, from this level of Christ the salvific meaning of suffering descends to man’s level and becomes, in a sense, the individual’s personal response. It is then that man finds in his suffering interior peace and even spiritual joy” (Salvifici Doloris, February 1984).
Music and song filled the sanctuary of the parish church. Next, laughter and tears, as Father Taillon told a story about a man who sounds like he must’ve been his brother. Completely familiar, totally missed, and ever loved by a priest and a parish filled with those who all had stories of a man who loved Jesus so therefore loved everyone else.
We’II triumph through our sorrows
and rise to bless you still:
to marvel at your beauty
and glory in your ways,
and make a joyful duty
our sacrifice of praise.
— O God Beyond All Praising
After the funeral Mass, we watched with tear-stricken eyes as the Sign of the Cross was made with the coffin before we followed it all the way back down the aisle; this time, I noticed some people standing in the congregation, so many people who I have learned to know and love over my time as a transplant to St. Thomas More; there was even a dear colleague and friend who made the trip from Connecticut.
Death may have been in the air on this somber Oct. 6 day, but so much love was present, the true gift of a life well lived.
We walked under the Knights of Columbus honor guards and followed the pallbearers, all of them Knights who volunteered to carry their brother knight, who most definitely would’ve been at any other funeral that Friday, if it had not been his own, or any day of the week.
Sacramental living was a constant for my dad.
We then walked together to the limo we had splurged for; I took the “it fits seven” number to be a sign from the Holy Spirit that my dad wanted us all together that day; Annabelle and me, my husband, sister, brother-in-law, and my two nephews, to drive to our next destination: the cemetery.
For many children, the place of repose is a foreign, scary place full of headstones and cold concrete crosses. But my Annabelle knows this prayerful territory well, often playing in the grass as Grandpa would walk around the entire grounds praying his Rosary and remembering moments with my mother, who has already been at rest for the past six years. Nothing new, nothing foreign for my little one here.
Oh how I didn’t know how much all of this would matter in bridging the darkness of death to emphasize the light of heaven in the mind of my vulnerable child.
We walked all together to the headstone that Annabelle has kissed just like me after visiting Grandma, smelling the flowers that we planted with Grandpa and he watered so dutifully. We listened to the priest pray in a special way for my dad and all the souls who dwell in this place in fervent hope for the redemption of faith.
We clutched flowers and watched as the coffin began to be lowered into the ground; then the family tossed the sweet blooms in one by one, even Annabelle. And when the coffin finally met its final home, with my eyes welling with tears and a tearing in my heart — not only grappling with my own fate as a young woman with no parents to call or care for — my daughter, without skipping a beat, spoke bold truth to the tragic light of my day: “Grandpa’s back with Grandma now.”
How did the Lord know that in that instant I needed my darling 4-year-old best friend to give such solace to my aching heart? How could I have ever doubted that peace would escape the youngest of hearts — the cherished truth of our faith made known in such a simple yet profound way?
Funerals are always sad, and family members dying always distressing, there is no denying that. But as Catholics, when we live out a robust faith in all the ways in which we are called to, embracing life and remaining hopeful in the face of death, we find there is a Christ-centered way forward; Jesus, his Mother and the saints aid our understanding about separation and grief, putting all things this side of the veil in proper perspective.
As we march into November, remembering the souls who have gone before us, I thank the dear Lord for the trodden grass my daughter has already touched upon, while peering closely at memorial angels sitting next to stones with names etched upon them, all bearing a reality that one day we should be so fortunate to know. Now, my dear dad rests next to my sweet mother, forever connected in sacramental marriage and faith. These souls and all the faithful departed await the real party to begin, for God calls the faithful home.
Visiting Grandpa continues now that he is back with Grandma.
And I will walk in the footsteps of my father, praying the Rosary for him and my mother and all the souls awaiting the peace of Christ — and remembering the hope in Pope John Paul II’s words:
“I entrust all of you to the Most Holy Virgin ... may she help every Christian to witness that the only authentic answer to pain, suffering and death is Christ our Lord, who died and rose for us.”