By CHRIS HARVEY, Commentary | Published October 28, 2010
My mother, a quiet pillar of long-suffering and determination and grandmother to our four children, died recently. She lived a good and valiant, but difficult, life due to the relentless march of multiple sclerosis. Our children visited her often, and on Sundays, we would bring Communion to my parents as my mom was bedridden for the last several months of her life.
I believe my mother and father cherished those visits, and I knew that as my mom’s life drew to a close, our kids would need to look at death from close range and find some answers.
We told our children that the end of this life was near for their grandmother, and although our older two could process the concept fairly well, our two younger children (ages 4 and 7) could not really comprehend what was happening.
During the last few days, we spent most of our time at my parents’ house where, between marathon sessions of watching “SpongeBob,” they would wander back to the bedroom and check on their grandmother and us, and just maybe ask if they could have a cookie or a drink. When the time drew near, we brought back each child to tell their grandmother that they loved her, would pray for her, and would never forget her.
Will, our 7-year-old, would wander back to the bedroom from time to time and ask if his grandma had died yet.
After a few trips with no bad news, he said to me, “I hope she lives.” I told him I did too, but that it was not very likely.
Will is a sensitive and perceptive boy who is always quick to hand you a handwritten note letting you know that he will love you “alwase.” When she died the next morning, he saw her body in her bed and gently touched her face, just to be sure. He then found a piece of plain white paper and drew a stick figure standing (he had never seen her standing) with a Cheech and Chong–type smile and labeled it “Grandma in Hevin.” He placed the paper in her still, quiet lap and dashed back to the endless TV loop in the den.
At Mass the following morning, I was saying my post-Communion prayers when Will eagerly climbed practically onto my shoulder. We had told the kids about how, in the communion of the saints, we would be united with their grandma every time we received Communion, and that we would be especially present to her in those times, even though we could talk to her, in prayer, whenever we wanted.
Will wasn’t about to let the moment pass, and as he perched on my shoulder he whispered, “Daddy, now you can talk to your Momma in your brain.” Of course I could do no such thing because I was trying, and failing, to suppress the sobs of grief from pouring out of me.
Gathering everyone for the wake and rosary several nights later, I told Will to find a rosary to bring so he could join in the prayers. When we got to the funeral home, he showed me the glow-in-the-dark rosary that he brought. He explained that Grandma would want “some light under all that dirt.” During the wake and visitation, Will spent most of the time gathering assorted prayer cards and placing them in his grandma’s casket. He finally took his rosary and laid it on her hands. I don’t think the glow has gone out of that rosary yet.
Will helped lead me through the early grief of losing my mother with his innocent faith that all that we read aloud from in the Bible that week was true. Will doesn’t believe that death is the end. He knows that God is watching over us, “alwase.”
Chris Harvey is a husband and father of four who is a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Decatur. He works in law enforcement and plays the blues harmonica.