As I pulled letters out of the mailbox, my eyes immediately became transfixed on a large cream-colored envelope, complete with elegant calligraphy. By the weight, number of stamps and shape, I knew that something wonderful was waiting inside.
“Another wedding.” I cried out, excited. “How fun!”
For as far back as I can remember, life celebrations meant a party, and how I love receiving an invitation to any party, whether it be a birthday, baptism, graduation or wedding. But there’s one gathering for which you don’t need an invitation, where all are welcome, but which I’ve found hard to attend: funerals.
My first experience with the end of life was at age 13, when my paternal grandmother passed away. My parents prepared me for what the service would look like: the casket, the hordes of Irish relatives I’d never met before and the wail of tears. But, despite their efforts to make it seem normal, seeing my grandmother looking like a figure from Madame Tussauds wax museum made me want to stay far, far away from any future so-called celebrations.
Over the years, as other family members moved on, Dad would say, “It’s the right thing to do. You must always make a point of going.” But my snarky younger self often found them dull, and so inconvenient.
Let’s face it: Death never comes at a good time, even when we’re prepared for it. It happens on holidays, in the middle of summer when you’re supposed to be on vacation or when another fun event is planned. On top of that, the services are typically held in the middle of a workweek. Later in my life, unless it was someone close to me, struggling to take time off to attend became just that: a struggle.
But in 2012, I learned an invaluable lesson. Oct. 28, my father left this world to be with my mother. Because his eight grandchildren were scattered to the wind, we decided to hold his service at Christmastime, when they would all be home.
Because Dad was the last soldier left standing at the age of 97, I found myself wondering if all the effort was even worth it. After all, it would be just his little family sitting in the front pew at St. Simon Church. But knowing he would want a full Mass with music, I made the arrangements with Suzanne Fitzgerald, liturgy director, and together we picked out the perfect scriptures, songs and timing of the service.
Dec. 20, the church looked especially beautiful, decorated with freshly cut, sweet-smelling pine trees that lined the altar in preparation for Christ’s birth. This was always my father’s favorite time of year, and I smiled over its simple beauty.
But as soon as the Mass began, I became overwhelmed and humbled by an even greater beauty. Looking over my shoulder, a sizable crowd of friends had gathered to support my brothers and me in our time of grief, letting us know that, despite the fact they still had shopping and baking to do or parties to attend, we weren’t alone on this terribly inconvenient day on the calendar. That our father’s life, and the story of his life, mattered.
Today, I still love weddings. I plan for them and set things aside on my calendar so that I can share in the family’s joy, and dance until my feet have blisters. As for funerals, they’re no longer considered an inconvenience to my schedule, but the greatest of all celebrations – for a life that has come full circle, left its indelible mark on the world and is now at peace.