Sunday, 16 August 2009

Making sense of death

A year has now passed since my Dad died. What a year it has been, appearing at times to be just a roller coaster of death.
Three weeks after my Dad died, his sister, my aunt Moyra also passed on. At the same time, news came that a local friend Chris Piper had also died. After spending much of August organising my Dad’s funeral, September brought two more funerals.
After attending Chris’s funeral, I left to go from Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Wanstead to nearby St Bedes in Chadwell Heath to see my aunt’s coffin go into the church. The next day came my aunt’s funeral. Adding to the connectedness of it all, my aunt had known Chris and his wife Kathy when they had all been parishioners at St Bedes 35 years ago.
The parish priest at St Bedes, Martin O’Connor had been at Wanstead thirty years previously. Indeed, he had given one of the few homilies I ever remember at Our Lady of Lourdes over 30 years, about why the death penalty was wrong.
Moving on, six months after my Dad’s death I was at St Anthony’s church for the funeral of 15 year old Steven Lewis who was stabbed to death.
I was back at St Anthony’s again six weeks ago for the funeral of Stephen Corriette, the former director of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice. He died aged just 45. I’d come to know Stephen over recent years due to his work with CARJ and at St Anthonys as master of ceremonies.
At Stephen’s mass I sat next to Maureen Corsi, the secretary at CARJ. She was her usual cheerful self, though obviously upset as she had been very fond of Stephen. A month later came the bad news that Maureen had died due to a thrombosis. Her funeral is on Monday (17/9).
In June, Giovanni Scudiero also died. Giovanni had been director at the Missionary Institute in London for some years. I knew him mainly through his Pax Christi and Justice and Peace work. Another sad loss.
By this time you may be thinking, Paul is obviously not a very safe person to be hanging around with. The year though has provided much time for reflection. It is strange how every time someone dies there are eulogies as to what a good person they were. Whether it be a person in the public eye like the foot legend Sir Bobby Robson or an ordinary person. Death becomes a time to celebrate life.
Secrets and lies told in the past remain hidden, possibly to come out later but certainly not at time of passing.
At the end of the day maybe the lauding of virtue and the banishment of unpleasant memories is all part of the grieving process. Everyone has different ways of getting by. Some rush into work to bypass grieving. Others shut out great junks of the past because it just hurts too much to think back to those times.
In my own case with my Dad I’ve tended to think back to the good times with a joy but also a regret that he is no longer here.
There is also the time of passing. Some of those mentioned who have died in the past year have suffered terribly in their final weeks and days. Others have passed quietely away. My Dad was in the latter group. It has been immensely consoling to have been with him over those last three days and that he passed away peacefully. That said he had suffered five years of mental deterioration with dementia.No doubt all of this is part of the grieving process. I feel at the end of this tumultuous year that I may be a little wiser. If I have gained anything though it must be the realisation of ones own mortality. As human beings we tend to believe ourselves indestructible and super human. It is this supreme arrogance that no doubt contributes to the appalling way that for the most part we treat the environment in which we live. The real lesson of death is to realise that your life is only a short passage of time in terms of the history of the world. We are all only here a little while. Born into life, we die and physically return to the earth. Our souls travel onward but physically we cease to be. It is this feeling of mortality that remains the abiding memory of the past 12 months.

1 comment:

  1. I've heard Fr. Martin O’Connor preach, he was my PP for several years. I agree he preaches 'from the hip', unlike other PPs who seem to get their homilies from a website.
    Unfortunately, in the diocese Fr. O’Connor has the reputation as a 'troublesome priest'.