I’ve given the homily at remembrance Masses like this all through my priesthood, even when I was a newly-ordained priest. The pastor I worked with them was terrible about grieving and he really didn’t like to talk about it. During my time there, my father died, and he was pretty awful to me during that time. I knew it was because he didn’t have the skills to enter into that with me, but it still hurt. But I don’t think his issue was uncommon. Grief is hard for all of us, some more so than others.
Many of you know that this past year, back in January, my mother died. We had been giving her pretty much 24/7 care for several months. During that time, we did everything we could for her, because she always did everything she could for us. It was a privilege for us to accompany her during that time; my sisters and I were, and always will be, grateful that we were able to be so close to her in her last days.
But we miss her all the time. My sister Sharon said that one day recently she woke up with a start from a dream where she heard Mom calling her name. We were used to getting up in the night and caring for her, so she started to get up, only to remember that Mom was gone. Peggy has told me a few times that there was something she had going on, and she wanted to tell Mom about it. I can resonate with that, because I’ve had that experience too. We would always call her and tell her good things and bad things. I’d often ask her to pray for one of my parishioners who was sick or going through something hard, and prayer warrior that she was, she was on it. We miss her sitting at her place on the couch and just hanging out with her. I’m sure you know how that is.
In the days and weeks and months since January, our family has gathered for dinners and other things as we often would. It might be a birthday party where Mom would be smiling and enjoying the gathering. But sometimes it was a simpler gathering. One Sunday a while ago, we had our aunts and uncles over for Sunday dinner, and I cooked the Sunday gravy and pasta. We had the best time just sitting and talking, and I couldn’t help but miss Mom who would have loved being part of that.
These days, remembering is hard for all of us I think. As we come close to the first holidays without our loved ones, we will miss celebrating with them. There will be an empty place at the table, an extra Christmas stocking, nobody to help find the burnt out light bulb on the Christmas lights that keeps the whole string from working. We feel grief more intensely at the holidays, because the world is rejoicing, but we are hurting. I remember a time visiting a gift store in Glen Ellyn many years ago, just after one of my grandmothers died. It was all decked out for Christmas and looked so very homey. I was overcome with a wave of depression that socked me from out of nowhere. I had no idea what that was about, and I had to leave in a hurry. Later, I realized that it was about grieving my grandmother.
And so I think it is the Church’s great wisdom that has us stop and celebrate All Souls Day before the holidays are upon us. Because we are a people who believe that there is hope in the midst of sorrow, joy in the midst of pain, resurrection that follows death, and love that survives the grave and leads us to the one who made us for himself. But there has to be something that gets us through all these hard times, and I think the Church gives us that something today.
In the Liturgy, the words of hope that we find lead us back to the Cross and Resurrection. Death is not the end. Love does not come to an end at the grave. As the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer will tell us today: “Indeed, for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended, and when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.” Our loved ones who have been people of faith have been made new by passing through the gates of death. Their happiness is our hope; the grace and blessing that they now share will one day be ours.
But I will acknowledge that even that glimmer of hope doesn’t erase all the pain. We are left with tears and loneliness, and that empty place at the table. But sadness and pain absolutely do not last forever, because death and sin have been ultimately defeated by the blood of Christ. We can hope in the day that our hearts will be healed, and we will be reunited with our loved ones forever, in the kingdom that knows no end. The Eucharistic Prayer itself will tell us today that there will come a day when God “will wipe away every tear from our eyes. For seeing you, our God, as you are, we shall be like you for all the ages and praise you without end…”
Perhaps sometimes it feels like it would have been better not to have loved at all, because then maybe the pain wouldn’t be so great. We know that’s not true. Sadness and pain are temporary. Love is eternal. As the Church’s Vigil for the Deceased tells us, “all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death.” We know that death only separates us for a short time, and even though there is a hole in our heart, the sadness that we feel is way better than never having loved at all, never having had our loved ones in our lives at all.
The pain doesn’t just go away. There is no time when grief is “over.” I miss Mom and Dad in many ways, all the time. You miss your loved ones in exactly the same way. There are times when our grief overwhelms us, comes at us out of nowhere. But many are the times when our memories provide us healing and joy. Dad died when my nephew was very little. He had a very close relationship with Dad, who he called “Boppy.” He often dreamed of Dad in those days, but after a few months, he said to his mom, my sister Peggy, “I’m sad because I didn’t dream of Boppy last night. I like to dream about Boppy.” Our dreams, our memories are gifts from our God who insists that we always know that we are loved. Sometimes it hurts, but ultimately it heals. Sadness is temporary. Love is eternal.
And so we pray, Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.