By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published September 2, 2010
Some words change your life forever. Three simple ones—“I love you”—top the list. There are also “You’re wonderful,” contrasted with “You’re fired.” But the saddest words of all, the most shocking, the hardest to bear, are “She’s dead.”
For Christians death is a doorway, not a brick wall. We believe that, as poet Dylan Thomas reminds us, “Death shall have no dominion.” True, death means we never celebrate another birthday, see another sunrise, or behold another bird. Still, St. Paul assures us that on earth we see through a glass darkly. This means there’s another realm where we shall awaken from this valley of tears to behold more wondrous birds and sunrises, and perhaps enjoy a heavenly equivalent of birthday parties.
My thoughts run to death today because just yesterday we received a shocking phone call from my husband’s mother. I could tell something was seriously wrong by Jef’s expression as he listened. I couldn’t stand the suspense, so I waved my arms to get his attention. “What’s wrong?” I whispered, sure that someone was in the hospital, gravely ill.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I learned: His sister was dead. Lisa had walked down the stairs in the home she shared with her mother, sat down on the couch, had a convulsion and died. Just like that, a life was over.
As Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton so eloquently put it, “The center of every man’s existence is a dream. Death, disease, insanity are merely material accidents, like a toothache or a twisted ankle.” He went on to add “That these brutal forces always besiege and often capture the citadel does not prove that they are the citadel.”
When someone is gone, you immediately start to search your heart for the things you neglected to say and do. This is human nature, because, after all, if every time we gathered with people, we were to think, “I may never see this person again,” how much more careful we would be with our parting words.
And so I remember the last time I spoke with Lisa on the phone. She seemed happy, having just quit a job that had become horribly stressful. She was looking toward the future with hope. She was trying to figure out what the next phase of her life would be.
Her life was sad on the surface. She never married nor had children. She suffered through a series of painful relationships. She struggled with her weight. And yet, throughout it all, she was cheery and optimistic. She put on a brave face.
A few months ago, I wrote her a letter telling her about my belief in Jesus. A crisis in her life motivated me to take the risk. The risk, of course, is that the recipient of such a letter might angrily ask, “How dare she presume to preach to me?” I took a risk with her, but I don’t know where it led. I do know that we remained friends—sisters, really. And although we never discussed the letter, I hope it made some difference in her life.
Now that she is gone, it would be tempting to conclude there will be no more interactions, no more chances of conversation. But as a Catholic who believes in the communion of saints, I know that we don’t stop praying and we don’t turn our backs on people just because they have moved their status from “living” to “dead.”
After all, as Chesterton reminded us, the citadel is the soul, and the center of existence really is something death can’t take from us. It is a dream of immortality, a dream of love, a dream of Jesus Christ.
Requiescat in pace, my dear sister!
Artwork by Jef Murray. The Murrays are parishioners at St. Thomas More Church in Decatur. Readers may e-mail them at email@example.com.