My father died of cancer Friday week (16th September 2011) and so I have been rather distracted. I celebrated his funeral Mass and have offered Mass each day for him in fulfillment of a promise. I know it comes to us all that we lose the ones we love (at least in this world). This is an undeniable fact. Watching my father's painful decline was not easy. He is pictured above with my niece on the day last August that she started Secondary school. Gone was the physical strength I remember from my youth. He grew more and more helpless. His mischievous sense of humour was more visible for a time but that too was smothered by his medication and his pain. He came alive for the Mass on the Sunday before he died and later again he responded to the evening Angelus but the rest of the time he hung between sleep and quiet suffering. His appetite was negligible.
He was alert on the Tuesday for his sister's visit but after that he declined. The last time I exchanged any words with him was on the Thursday morning - I had spent the night at home - and even then they were few. I looked at his poor emaciated body and thought of Christ on the Cross. I knew I would use that text from the Gospel for his funeral Mass.
My Mother has lost her friend of 66 years and husband of 48. I don't know how to describe how she is. Watching her loneliness and quiet sorrow is another grief for us to carry.
My cousin, who has been a tower of strength and support as well as practical intervention, asked me how I could not doubt there was a God in heaven seeing my Dad suffer. I could only reply that the suffering in the world is the fault of human choices. People suffer because of their own or other people's wrong-doing. The people who died on 9/11 died because of the warped minds of their attackers. The many others from that day who now suffer ill-health do so because those buildings, in their collapse, released so much dangerous dust all because of the attack. Those who mourn the dead suffer as well. The consequences of the attack ripple out and may never be fully mapped. So people suffer. All we can do is unite our suffering with that of our Lord and trust that He will use it in some way to undo the evil that men do.
When our Lord told us to take up our cross and follow Him He meant He would lead us to Calvary. The narrow way leads through the cross but we believe it leads to the Kingdom. That does not mean it is any easier to watch helplessly as someone mounts the cross, as a loved one endures pain and the loss of much that they had come to accept as part and parcel of themselves and eventually embraces death. All any of us can do is walk with them, support them (like Simon of Cyrene) and trust that somehow this fits with God's plan.
I could no more doubt the existence of God than I could that of the Sun. My father was not a wealthy man but he bequeathed this precious gift to me: my faith. Perhaps faith is like the opposite of bereavement. When one loses someone there is an absence and great suffering. The one who was so alive is gone. When one begins to believe there is now a presence where once there had been a presence. The absence of a loved one does not depend on oneself and neither does the presence of God. But God remains invisible to the material eye. He reveals Himself only to the spiritual 'eye' of faith. Once that eye is opened one cannot deny the light.
Still that does not change one's feelings. Bereavement is like having one's heart dipped in acid - it changes everything. I have wept in bursts, sometimes unexpectedly, often as the climax of buildup of sorrow. At times it is a physically tangible pressure, a tightening of the throat, a filling up of the body with weariness. This will not end soon. I will with time grow adjusted to it and to my loss as generations of generations have done. I have become one of the many who grieve today. All I can do is greet each day as it comes, offer this suffering as a prayer of sorts, a sacrifice, embracing this cross for myself and others, especially my Dad and keep going. How must those who have lost a spouse or a child feel? It is incomprehensible.