Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The distance from one heart to another

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published May 7, 2024

It’s just a short walk to my neighbor’s house. Her husband died three days ago of cancer, and he was only 55. He suffered for months and died at home, as he wanted to. Now like all new widows, my neighbor is faced with an overwhelming list of things to do. She’s already been to the funeral home, but now she must select a date for the Mass, let relatives know and arrange for music and Scripture readings.  

She sent me a desperate text, asking where to start. Before my husband died eight years ago, I didn’t have a clue. Whom to call, what to do, where to go—it was all a mystery. He died on a Monday and somehow by Friday, I had chosen the casket, alerted relatives, decided on Mass readings and hymns, and met with the priest. I’d also done the saddest thing of all, which was selecting his clothing for the very last time.  

Never in a million years did I think that one day I’d be able to help other women get through the maze of funeral preparations. Nor did I foresee that I could bring some degree of comfort to these women.   

My neighbor met me at the door and cried as we hugged. “My sweetheart, my dear husband is gone!” There on the wall was a photo of them at their wedding, young and happy and filled with hope. We sat down and we talked. She wanted to know about arranging a funeral, what it was like for me, what things she would have to do.  

In “From Grief to Grace,” Jeannie Ewing writes, “We cannot possibly know…what our purpose on this earth is while we remain complacent and comfortable.” She recommends prayer and discernment to discover our mission, and warns that it probably won’t be success and fame. “It most likely will mimic the pattern of saints throughout the ages: a tragedy followed by an awakening and, finally, conversion.” 

It’s hard to believe that two people united by God in a loving marriage will one day be torn apart. But this is the way of the world, which we often try to escape. One spouse will go ahead of the other. The one left behind will have to lean on their faith, because now is the time to truly understand the words we’ve heard since childhood, that death is not the end. That Christ came to save us from the darkness of the grave.  

As a hymn sung in the Eastern Catholic church puts it: “Christ is risen from the dead and by His death, He has trampled upon death and has given life to those who are in the tombs.” 

We can recite the Nicene Creed a thousand times by heart, but the truth of the words, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” stirs the heart after someone dies. It’s only now that one can look closely at the words and ask, “Do I truly believe this?” Because when death is far away, and life is bright and birds are singing in the trees, life everlasting seems like a distant dream. 

When the door to death opens and someone we love walks through,  

a certain darkness falls for a while, until we start seeing life through a different lens. The lens shows us what we thought was important really isn’t, and what we didn’t pay much attention to is actually the whole world.  

After becoming a widow, I ran into many other women in the same circumstances. They yearned for compassionate listening, prayers, advice and a sense that they weren’t alone. Little by little, I realized this was the ministry given to me by God through circumstances I’d never have chosen in a million years. I also discovered it is a short walk from one heart to another.  

Sketch is by Lorraine’s late husband, Jef ( Lorraine has written a spiritual biography of Flannery O’Connor, “The Abbess of Andalusia,” plus three mysteries and other books. Her email address is