As the plane backs out of the Atlanta airport gate, I’m reminded (thanks facebook On This Day) that I was in this same airport exactly 4 years earlier about to embark on a fabulous pilgrimage (read: vacation) with my “second family” the Metrejeans.
But this story really starts in 2012. I changed jobs, got unengaged, put an offer on a house, and travelled overseas for the first time all within about 30 days. I clearly like all of my major life changes to come at once. I was assigned a random roommate on this trip to Rome (read: pilgrimage) and after two weeks of living together with no AC, I knew I had met a friend for life. Having had my offer on the house accepted, I asked my new Roman Roomie (who happened to be looking for a new place to live) to move in to my new home. From roommates we became fast friends and soon I was adopted into the family as “the sister she never had but always wanted.”
That very next summer something incredible happened in my new second family… our “brother” was ordained to the priesthood! Two days after my “brother” was ordained we left on a “family” trip for Rome. I remember growing up in the high school youth group world of the late 90s dreaming of the day when I would be a youth minister, and marry a youth minister, and we would have six little youth minister babies, and all of my best friends would be priests and nuns. Then I went to college. … That 4 years of alcohol + dysfunction + alcohol or was it alcohol + alcohol + dysfunction… I forget… will have to be a story for another time. Perhaps even more incredible, 18 months following that ordination, my “baby sister” left to join Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity.
It never ceases to amaze me that though our lives take twists and turns we don’t expect, God knows the deepest desires of our hearts.
Today, my “brother” is also on this Atlanta flight but not our dear sister. Claire passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on April 9, 2016. And she and what I think she’d want you to know are the real subject of this rambling.
This brother from another mother, Father Andre, and I are returning from a Fides et Ratio Seminar. These weeklong reading marathons and discussion gauntlets have been a regular part of my summer for three years now. Each year we read hundreds of pages from writings that are part of the exquisite fabric of the Catholic intellectual tradition—challenging, beautiful, and rich beyond description here! Drinking from a fire hose, in the parlance of our time.
One selection this year was Saint Ambrose’s Two Books of St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, on the Decease of His Brother Satyrus. Not one of the 30+ scholars, academics, priests, theologians, or the lowly Ragin’ Cajun Catholics Programming Director had read this particular selection previous to its being assigned this year. After reading the title I knew it would be a difficult read—not just because of the 6 pt reprint font, but because of the deep sorrow I have felt and still feel since burying my baby “sister” 14 months ago.
St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, spiritual father to St. Augustine, had two siblings: his elder sister Marcellina (a nun) and his brother Satyrus (a lay person) who managed Ambrose’s secular affairs. Satyrus died suddenly in 379 A.D. Here are some of St. Ambrose’s words about his deceased brother:
To this must be added that I cannot be ungrateful to God; for I must rather rejoice that I had such a brother than grieve that I had lost a brother, for the former is a gift, the latter a debt to be paid. And so, as long as I might, I enjoyed the loan entrusted to me, now He Who deposited the pledge had taken it back… the larger the amount of the loan, so much the more gratitude is due for the use of the capital.
But in Book Two, he focuses his grief on a study of the Resurrection. Here are some highlights and quotes:
- Death is a remedy: The Lord did not inflect death as a penalty, but as a remedy… because it is the end of evils…. for to me death is a gain, that I may sin no more. To die is gain to me, who, in the very treatise in which I comfort others, am incited as it were by an intense impulse to the longing of my lost brother, since it suffers me not to forget him. Now I love him more, and long for him more intensely. I long for him while I speak; I long for him when I read again what I have written, and I think that I am more impelled to write this, that I may not ever be without the recollection of him.
- Belief in the Resurrection is based in Reason, Analogy, and Evidence: Why doubt that body shall rise again from body? Grain is sown, grain comes up again: fruit is sown, fruit comes up again; but the grain is clothed with blossom and husk… For what is more fruitful than perpetual rest? What supplied with richer store than everlasting security? Here is that abundant fruit, by whose increase man’s nature shoots forth more abundantly than death.
- Jesus Resurrected for US, not for Himself: For if He rose not for us, He certainly rose not at all, for He had no need to rise for Himself. The universe rose again in Him, the heaven rose again in Him, the earth rose again in Him, for there shall be a new heaven and a new earth. But where was the necessity of a resurrection for Him who the claims of death held not? For though He died as man, yet was He free in hell itself.
If I am honest, I was always one to dismiss the Resurrection. No longer.
While I certainly believed in Christ’s Resurrection, it never seemed necessary to me that we should all also be resurrected. What was the point of needing a body? Wasn’t heaven enough? But in the face of the death of my best friend, I felt a longing deep in my soul for the Resurrection. Who wouldn’t want a body?! Afterlife high fives, dancing, maybe a crawfish boil or two, getting to hug Sister Claire again… I had really been missing something that is essential to our faith. Not only essential, but truly the lens I should be viewing not only Christianity—but my whole life through. It brings new meaning to the phrase “What’s your end game here?”
Sharing this weeklong seminar with Father Andre was especially sweet—and for a God-winking bonus, it was held at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, the alma mater of another dear friend who died all too young—Suzanne Bercier. During this past week God allowed for healing, awe, more questions, more awe, but more than anything, HOPE! No matter what suffering we have gone through or will go through, the Resurrection is a reality and with that knowledge in hand we should never despair.
In my own grappling with grief I have found gratitude to be the greatest remedy. I feel so blessed to have had the time that I was gratuitously given with my lost loved ones. So humbled that Claire chose me to adopt into her family. So grateful for this faith and for the certainty that Jesus and Mary are waiting on the other side with high fives, dancing, and big hugs!
If you are grieving there is no quick fix, and truthfully time doesn’t necessarily heal, but here are some things that may make the separation easier.
- Pray. Without ceasing.
- Keep the reality of the Resurrection at the front of your mind. Don’t know much about it or have doubts? Do some research and reading on the subject.
- Don’t be scared to go to counseling.
- In the tradition of the ancient Romans in the catacombs, get a to-go meal and eat lunch at the graveyard! Romans often celebrated feast days and death anniversaries with a big meal among the tombs of their loved ones. I like to grab a cheeseburger from Snubs with Sister Claire when I can.
- The best way we show gratitude in this life for those we have loved is the ultimate meal of thanksgiving: the Eucharist. How better can we stay connected to those we love both living and no longer living on this earth? Communion, the bread of angels, the bread of Life. As Sister Claire always signed her letters, “See you in the Eucharist.”