Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Death and Ministry

In the past three weeks I have attended three funerals, all of people I did not know. I couldn't help but think that if I was not working in a church, I would not have been at the funerals. The first was a mother of a youth minister from a parish close by, the second was the father of a woman on staff at my parish. I went to give my support and condolences. No matter whose funeral it is, it's always sad. Yes, we're called to rejoice and celebrate their life, but it's difficult when family and friends are grieving that they'll never be able to see their loved one again on earth.

Today's funeral was much different than the other two. Today's funeral was for a 16 year-old boy who's three-year fight with cancer ended last Friday. He attended the parish school and the Catholic high school, so many, many youth were present. The church was packed, as expected, and the torrential afternoon rain probably kept many others at home. Our pastor gave a fantastic homily, making it personal but also explaining the Scriptures chosen. He shared a story about visiting with him, in private, one week before his death. He asked the teen if he had any questions about anything, and he said no, that he was okay. This boy had complete faith in God, that everyone was ok. He was more concerned about his family and friends than his close approach to death. What strength that would take.

The closing song was "How Great Thou Art" and I had to choke back tears as I watched the family leaving, all wiping their own eyes. As I was leaving to head over to the gym for the reception that followed, I saw all these young people with tears in their eyes and I thought "I can't do this." Once I reached the gym I stood against the wall next to a school faculty member. Many people greeted him, for they knew him from when they went to the elementary school. I did not know many of the youth there, maybe 10. I didn't know what to do, I froze. I could have mingled, but even then, what was I to say to people I didn't know? And I thought maybe it was best that they could all be with each other, supporting each other. I didn't even know the boy who died...

I hope that next time (not that I ever want there to be a next time for a teen's death), I'll be better prepared about what to do and say. This is a learning job and we can't be prepared for everything, but we can be better prepared for the future.

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