Sunday, January 18, 2009

Unexpected Gifts

The Mass for my sister, Sue, went very well. While I wasn't surprised, I was very pleased. For me, a Catholic Mass can seem very impersonal, disconnected almost. Much has to do with the priest at times, but it also has to do with the rote-ness of the pomp and circumstance. This is not meant to be a bashing. It is just my own personal experience coloring my perception and what I need in/from a worship experience. Anyway, I found myself embracing the tradition of the Mass yesterday. I'm not looking for a steady diet of the traditions, but I did find comfort in it yesterday. I think much of that has to do with the fact that Catholicism is just part of the fabric of this one family's life. I also think I've grown up and matured and I don't need to reject or criticize as I once did. I've accepted the role Catholicism has played in my life and have learned to embrace the fact that it has much to do with the person I grew into. It is part of the good and bad in me. I've come to peace with it.

The service was given a more personal touch because family members were allowed to participate in the service. My sister, Michele, and niece, Amy, read scripture. Michele's daughters, Hannah and Olivia, brought the gifts for Communion. Ronnie, the firstborn of our family, ordained as a deacon in the Catholic church, assisted the priest and gave the homily (message). He did the same for Mom and Dad's memorial services as well. Ronnie is rather quiet and reserved. He's also been the most disconnected from the immediate family due to the demands of a military life and settling eventually in the southwest. Sometimes, I feel that we just don't know him well. While I think it has been an honor for him to be involved in the three services this way, it is also a burden to carry that responsibility. It requires putting aside one's own grief for a time to provide strength for others. Each time I've watched and listened to him in these moments, I am struck with how beautifully he handles them. It is a surprise each time because it seems so outside his comfort zone. But it's not really. I've placed that assumption on it. Even so, I love the surprise of it, because it provides a moment for me to appreciate his skill.

There is much about the memorial services for Mom, Dad and Suzanne that has touched me, but one of the greatest gifts I've received through them all was an opportunity to reconnect with family members that were once such an integral part of my life. Cousins, aunts, uncles, family friends. I'm touched that they've come. Some have come from very long distances to do nothing but honor the lives of these people who meant so much them. I am deeply moved by their presence. I miss the idea of them being a constant presence in my life.

Of all the blessings in the day yesterday, there is something else that touched me deeply to my absolute core. I feel guilt in the pleasure of it because it has everything to do with me and not much to do with Suzanne. It has to do with six people who were there, who came just for me. They came for me. I don't know if I can do justice to the emotion inside me or if I can really explain well what this meant to me. Sandie, my best friend from high school, and her husband, David, were there. They are always there. I know this and it comforts me. Sandie and I can go months without talking, but it doesn't matter. That constant hasn't always been there, but it is something that has grown with the years. Our friendship is like an old sweater I put on that wraps me in warmth.

As I sat in a pew toward the front of the large sanctuary waiting for the service to begin, I spied a woman come in from a side door which I had discovered led to the bathrooms at the base of the stairs. Something familiar about her caught my eye, but I couldn't place it. "Who is that woman?" I wondered aloud to my nephew. Her curly bob, held back by a thin ribbon, framed a freckled face. My eyes followed her as she walked toward the back of the church. As recognition dawned, my head snapped around, seeking the face of her husband. I found him sitting there watching me watch her, a quirky smile on his face as our eyes met. Jim and I had worked together over seventeen years ago in the same school corporation. Lori was an elementary school counselor in a neighboring corporation. We became fast friends until they moved to Portland so Jim could attend law school. He now works in school law. I moved to Indiana. We hadn't seen or spoken to each other for at least ten years. The last time we spoke was when we met for breakfast one summer morning while I was visiting my parents.

After the service, I joined my siblings at the back of the church forming a reception line in the back. I was the last in line, shaking hands, receiving hugs and words of condolences. Twice more, I looked into faces that took me a moment to recognize, mostly because I never expected to see these people here. The first was the face of a man I almost married. I broke Roger's heart to marry my Jim. For years, I prayed I wouldn't run into him when I returned to my hometown. My guilt was great and I didn't want to see it in his eyes. From time to time, I would run into his sister and she would give me updates. When I mentioned that it was good to see him after so many years, he said, "It's been 28 years!" Wow. That did something to me. The second was the face of my old friend, Keith. We were good friends in high school. Once we graduated, we only connected once every five to ten years at our reunions. It was always good to see each other, but the visits were fleeting. We did speak one day last summer. I was driving home to Indiana after a week in Maine for my dad's memorial service. I'd heard that Keith's brother, Paul, had been badly injured in a car accident and was lucky to have survived. Paul and I had dated for two years and I needed to know how he was doing. It was good to talk with him and get the update. I figured that I would see Keith at our next reunion, should we both go.

To put into words the impact their presence meant to me is very difficult. Our little church does much in our community to reach out to the lonely and the hurting. Jim is always reinforcing that we do these things to let people know that they matter. Our actions are intended to say that we see them and they matter to us. In my work and as a pastor's wife, I am the one who is usually reaching out---to students, to parents, to staff, to members of the congregation, to friends. I am the one who needs to be strong so someone else can fall apart. I am the one who says "I see you and you matter to me". It can be a lonely place. Who pastors the pastor? Who helps the helper? Many times the answer can be "no one".

Had Lori, Jim, Roger or Keith not been at the service, I wouldn't have given it any thought. I would have gone on with my day, greeting and hugging friends and family. At any time though, when thinking about my life, I would have told you that these people held a place in my heart, a strong and vital place in my heart. They are part of my fabric and I would have guessed that I was just a fleeting part of theirs. I think what their presence said to me yesterday was that I am a part of their fabric, too. I think that's the part that makes the tears flow as I write this. Somewhere along the line, someone saw me and I mattered to them, too. Gosh, as I write this it sounds so incredibly dorky. And needy. gyuck. I don't mean it as such. It was just an incredibly good and beautiful and heartfelt day and I am grateful for it.



Liz said...

My prayers are with you today. I'm so heart sorry for the loss of your sister.

Jim Morse said...


What a great post. I know all of this stuff, it is great, however, to read it and be able to reflect on it. The deep truth is that you do matter and that you are seen. Know that.

Your Jim