By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published October 2, 2015
My mom and dad’s last home was in Covington, Louisiana. It is a very pleasant place, about a 45-or-so minute drive from New Orleans.
You have to take the causeway across Lake Pontchartrain to get there, which constitutes most of the drive. The causeway is a long stretch of elevated concrete, a highway of sorts that stretches over 23 miles of water. I do not mind the drive at all. It always brings back memories of the many times I crossed that long expanse. I lived way up north on all those visits, and it was always a joy for me as each mile lessened the distance between me and warm hugs, kisses and the once-over look that only parents can give a son or daughter.
Those memories surfaced not long ago when I was driving the same route, toward Covington. But this time, as on other previous occasions these past years, there would be no greetings, no warm embraces—at least not any kind that I could feel. My parents passed away some years back.
I was on my way to the place where they are buried, in a moderately sized cemetery in Covington. I pulled into the cemetery property and drove to the area where my parents and grandmother are buried. I had trouble finding the exact spots—there are more graves than last time and no trees or any other kind of marker to help me remember. A maintenance man saw me and figured out my plight and helped me locate the exact spots. I thanked him and he headed off, and I said a few prayers and felt so many deep stirrings of love, memories, gratitude and, yes, loss.
But more gratitude than anything else. Their lives were lived for us seven kids. And they were good lives.
Just a day or two before, one of the monks, Augustine, called me and told me that a close friend of his had suffered an aneurism and was not going to make it. I had met his friend several times and knew him to be a good man, husband and father of four young kids. He would die within a few days after suffering the aneurism.
I told Augustine I would remember him and his friend and family in my prayers. They were on my mind as I gazed at the graves of my parents and grandmother.
We do not have each other for very long in this life. But in the brief time we have with each other, we become a part of each other. Call it what you will—the Mystical Body of Christ, familial or filial bonding, communion—we grow and become a loving and living part of each other.
And that remains, alive and aching in our hearts, when death removes those we love from us. I felt that deeply and especially as I stood at where the bodies of my parents and grandmother are interred. I know that they are not “there” beneath a stone and green grass. I do not know where they are, near to me or far from me, but I know they are a part of me and always will be. And Augustine’s friend will always be a part of his life, his heart.
Sacred and beautiful stuff, this mystery that we are, that we take to our very selves loves so deep that they become one with us.
I do not know the name of the man, the maintenance guy, who looked at me and knew I was having trouble finding the graves. It was very kind of him to get me to the right place. He could not take away the ache, but he went out of his way to ease my loss.
And I cannot remove the ache that Augustine carries these days. I would not want to do that. When you love someone, you take that ache to your heart. It is the greatest gift we can give to each other, the capacity to become a friend, to love, to share, to deepen life. And when that bond is severed through death, we learn to help others find their way again, to find what was thought to be lost, and to live and love from it in ever deepening ways. Augustine will be that kind of comfort to a grieving young woman and her children. He will help her find in her heart the love she can no longer take into her arms. It is the gift that remains, and grows, and gives.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at www.abbeystore.com.