I remember the crushing absence felt by myself and my family the days, months, and years that followed my father’s death. I remember the nonsensical loss of students that I taught. I remember step by step as we prepared the ground and our hearts for the grief that followed. I remember assisting in the burial of a mother of a young woman that I share in ministry with who had just given birth to a beautiful child, her eighth. I remember the crushing grief of children for their mother. Burying the dead is an act of mercy, a very messy, difficult, courageous act of mercy.
One Grain at a Time:
We bury the dead one grain at a time. This act of mercy, because it is enveloped in grief, almost always lands on us “all at once”. This is true in a ground burial, cremation, for those buried in the earth and those encased in other forms. This is true when the death is slow or sudden. This is true when we bury our own anxiety, disbelief, and unworthiness daily as well as when we journey with those around us as they claim what does not belong to them and lovingly bury it so that they may resurrect to new life.
A couple years ago I was diagnosed with RA, an autoimmune disease. This diagnosis required me to lie down some of my favorite ministries. It forced me to make choices that simplified my life. This too felt like a death. This grief, too, happens every day one moment at a time. It is also certainly true, too, when we physically bury those that we love dearly. It becomes an even more intentional manifestation of the truth of the Gospel when we choose to join in the burying of those that we do not know.
The crushing feeling of “all at once” is what most feel in times of grief as they bury the dead. This crushing feeling often makes us run from this work of mercy. It gives us a sense of heaviness because we feel personally buried in the grief or the grief of others. It is a messy and deeply personal act of mercy.
In my experience of burying those I love and even those I do not know, I have learned that the burial that is often encased in the liturgical movement can free us from the burden of sadness and transform into a re-membering, but it must occur one grain at a time. Too, and I think this is very important, this liturgical movement must not be contained to the actual burial ceremony but must organically grow out into the healing of our every day lives. We bury the dead for the rest of our lives because we re-member for the rest of our lives in every moment that we think of, pray for, an act in the name of that person, we re-member. That memory begins the promises of resurrection, the conclusion of our paschal journey.
When my father died, more than a decade ago now, my mom and brothers and I gave a picture of my Dad to all nine of his brothers and on the back of that picture we wrote the words:
“Re-member: to bring together again, to make whole.
Know that in our words, stories, actions, and love we
Remember not only a man we love, but our family itself.
May we always re-member.”
Living the Paschal Mystery:
In our practice of bringing people together and families together we become a better church. We become better catholics; we become more universal. In learning how to mourn together, to bury not only those that have died before us but the parts of ourselves that do not make us better, we live the paschal mystery more fully. This act of mercy, though an add on from the Book of Tobit, is the actual movement of our lives. Daily we are dying, burying and rising. Chose to journey with dead so that you may live.
Putting Mercy Into Action:
- Celebrate those that have died by remembering their lives and stories.
- Tell stories to pass on the wisdom and legacy of those that have died.
- Provide companionship and compassion daily by listening and being present to those grieving.
- Support and encourage those in grief by encouraging counseling, space and time for the grief process.
- Allow those that are grieving their own space and time to grieve.
- Journey with those that have lost someone by attending funerals and wake services.
- Be a bearer of joy and the resurrection story.