Two Candles

After Elena died –

Sigh.

How many sentences and stories have I started with that phrase over the past nearly twelve years?

Any way.

After Elena died, whenever Kim and I would visit a church on our travels, she would light a candle for Elena.

We’d be walking around the interior of the church and come to the shrine for the Virgin Mary. Kim would look at it and lean over an whisper, “do you have a Euro?” or whatever it was. It got to be that I would already have the coins in my hand and put it into her palm before she even asked.

I’d stand and watch as Kim put the coins in the box and lit a candle for Elena.

And then Kim died.

Last year, before we visited Paris, I asked Maggie if she would mind lighting candles for Elena and her mother.

I know that’s a lot to ask.

It seemed that a Catholic should light the candles. Kim always said a prayer when she did it. It may be a stretch to call Maggie a Catholic – but she was raised to know the religion and, whether she believes or not, I think they count her as one since she was baptized and confirmed.

Maggie agreed and when we got to Sacre Coeur I went off to get change for the candles and returned and put the money in the box.

I watched as Maggie lit the candles for her mother and her sister.

It meant so much to me to see her light the candles with so much respect and love.

This year Maggie is back in college.

I was in Italy during her fall break so she joined me.

In Venice as we entered a church she asked me if we would light candles for Kim and Elena.

I nodded.

It meant so much to me that she asked.

Over winter break I was preparing for my upcoming trip to Paris. Kim always lit candles in Sacre Coeur and Maggie had lit them the year before. I asked Maggie if it would be disrespectful if a non-Catholic lit the candles.

She said, no, she didn’t think so.

I told her I wouldn’t be saying any prayers.

She thought it was enough if I thought of Kim and Elena as I lit the candles.

So I did.

After nearly twelve years I lit a candle myself for my dead daughter.

It felt completely different. It was a combination of honoring Elena and of not having Kim there to light it.

I cried as I’d cried as I watched Kim light the candle for her daughter.

I cried as I’d cried as I watched Maggie light the candle for her sister.

It was different.

If I had to explain it, I think this time I was crying for my loss whereas before I was crying for theirs.

Then I lit a candle for Kim.

It was as intimate a gesture as the first time I reached out and held her hand.

I felt her there for a moment.

I don’t mean in a creepy way that she was really there. But I felt the way I felt when she stood next to me.

I stood and watched the candles flicker for a while.

And then I felt her gone.

I stood a moment longer. And then I moved on.

 

Published in: on January 28, 2018 at 4:38 am  Comments (2)  

Special

I’ve told you that when Kim and I were getting ready to get married we met with a priest and a rabbi. The rabbi asked us each what happens when we die.

I bring that up again because at the funeral service for Kim’s aunt, the priest finished by making some very directed statements.

He mentioned that she had been a good Catholic and now that she was dead she would meet again with people who had gone before her. The priest then read a list of some of the family members had pre-deceased her.

This is not uncommon.

It is comforting to sit at a funeral and think that you will someday see that person again.

But then the priest clarified.

She would see those people if they had been good Catholics.

He then invited people who had come to the funeral to reconnect to the church if they hadn’t stayed active.

He repeated the bit about reuniting once you die if you’d been a good Catholic and re-uniting with others who had been good Catholics.

He then repeated the part about the pamphlets the church had to help you return to the church if you needed to.

This isn’t uncommon either.

It’s good to reach out to people who haven’t been in church for a while and who have returned for a funeral and remind them of the comfort and advantages that the church provides.

I’ve asked some members of Kim’s family about that part of the service and none remember it. They are all church going Catholics. It didn’t apply to them.

As an outsider, I heard it clearly and I heard it differently than most.

It took me back to the meeting Kim and I had with the rabbi.

“What happens when you die?” he asked.

Kim said she hoped, if she’d been good, that she’d go to heaven.

The rabbi gestured at me and asked her, “and what happens when he dies?”

Kim said, the same.

But, the rabbi objected, Catholics believe that you only go to heaven if you accept Christ.

Kim waved him away, “I don’t believe that. I think you just need to be a good person.”

This isn’t just a Catholics and Jews thing. I knew an orthodox Jewish woman who told me that she loved my relationship with other people but couldn’t accept my lack of a relationship with God.

There are so many beautiful and rich teachings in religion.

And then it is used to divide us.

Kim may not have noticed when the priest said you had to be a good Catholic because in her head she may have just substituted “a good person”.

To her that was enough.

She tried to be a good Catholic too – but that was her choice. She respected those who chose to be something else or nothing at all.

She thought we could all be special.

Published in: on January 7, 2018 at 5:19 pm  Comments (1)  

The Gospel

The reading at the funeral service for Kim’s aunt was one that I’d heard before.

It was one that everyone had heard before.

But for some reason – perhaps it was this political climate – I listened differently. I don’t think I remembered that there were two parts to it.

In the first part, Jesus turns to some of the people around him and thanks them for helping him when he was in need and for caring for him when he was sick.

They are confused. They know they didn’t help Jesus. They didn’t even know he was sick or in need.

“I wasn’t,” said Jesus (well he didn’t say it in English, but you get the idea).

Jesus tells them you helped people who were poor and needed your help. You provided clothes for people who needed clothes. You provided medical attention to those that needed it.

“When you help people like that, people who have no other way of getting by, you are helping me.”

Now I’m not a Christian, but I was married to one for more than twenty years and she loved the religion but had issues with the church. One of the things she loved about the religion was this notion that your faith is measured in how you treat the people who need your help.

In this passage Jesus says that how you treat them is how you would treat me.

Kim and I had talked about this passage in the context of her sister.

By this measure, few live their faith more than Carolyn. She would do anything for you if you need. She would do anything for you if she just thinks you want something.

You can’t tell Carolyn, “I like that scarf.”

If you do, she’ll say, “do you want it?”

And she means it.

You need to say, “I like that scarf on you.”

But back to the reading. There is a second part.

There is a part where Jesus turns to some of the other people there and says, “where were you when I was in need? Where were you when I was sick?”

The people are horrified. If they’d known that Jesus needed something or was sick, of course they would have helped him.

“No,” said Jesus, “you’re missing the point.”

“There were people all around you who needed help, people who were hungry, and people who were sick. You didn’t help them. That is equivalent to not being there for me.”

This is what made Kim so sad about some of her fellow church goers.

“How,” she would ask, “how, can they sit there and hear this message and radiate with goodness for an hour and then support plans that take money and resources away from those that need it the most to give it to people who can never spend it in three lifetimes.”

I heard the priest retelling this story and thought of Kim.

I hoped that there does not endeth the lesson.

That people would carry it out of the church and into their lives.

Published in: on January 5, 2018 at 1:52 pm  Comments (2)  

Uncle Bill

A couple of months ago I went to a funeral for one of Kim’s aunts.

During the service I sat with Kim’s parents and my brother-in-law Tommy.

After the service I followed Tommy to the reception. My mother-in-law had told me it was close – it’s just the first right turn.

It was the first right turn and then another twenty minutes or so down that road.

Tommy and I sat with his parents and some of his cousins to eat lunch and exchange stories.

We stood up to get some cookies and coffee in the other room.

Three of Kim’s cousins – sisters – called us over. We stood and talked to them for a while. Kim’s uncle Bill looked at me and asked, “weren’t you guys headed somewhere.”

I smiled and told him we were headed to get some cookies but that there were a lot of Diemerts between us and the cookies so it might take a while.

The three sisters told us which cookies we should make sure we got and Tommy and I turned to head out after asking if anyone at the table wanted anything.

Sure enough, we turned away from the table and were stopped by another cousin.

I’d talked to his wife outside the church and he’d stopped to shake my hand as he went up for communion. Tommy and I stood and caught up with him.

You don’t have brief conversations with Diemert. They are a large and warm family with lots of memories and great stories.

After about twenty minutes there was a hand on my shoulder.

I turned.

It was uncle Bill. He smiled and said, “I didn’t think you were going to make it up there.”

He handed me a plate of cookies for me and Tommy.

Published in: on January 2, 2018 at 8:38 am  Comments (1)