I have to begin this essay with a confession.
In recent years I have been to far too many funerals. I suppose it is one of the natural parts of a life that stretches out towards old age. But when I go, I would often have a thought that recurs to me, unbidden though it is. And this thought is born of pure vanity, I know. When I should be thinking only of the one who has passed and I look around at all those who bring their condolences, part of me wonders:
How many people will come to my funeral?
Is this a morbid, maudlin musing? Yes. Am I the only one who wonders this? I do not know. It is such a stupid, self-centered thought that it fills me with embarrassment.
But might I dare to suggest that most of us would want our funeral mass to be packed, wall-to-wall with all of the people we've encountered over the years. The sheer number of those attending would reinforce the impact we have had on this world. I was recently at a wake of an elderly woman. And one of her friends from kindergarten came to pay her respects. I remember being moved that the dearly departed had made such an impact on this persons life that decades later it was important to make a final goodbye.
Do we matter? Do we matter so much that people would see us off to the undiscovered country? That's what it comes down to, I think. And when it comes to funerals, we measure that matter by the loss we feel in our heart.
When I was born, my grandfather came to live with us. I was with him in my first moments of life. I spent most of my childhood with him. He and my grandmother lived with us and they were important part of raising me, particularly my grandfather. He was the embodiment of love and kindness. He had the gentlest eyes and the softest smile. I was spoiled, to be sure. But my grandfather only did so out of a generous devotion.
My grandmother spent the last few years in her life in a nursing home. She had brain damage and was unable to recognize those around her. But my grandfather, who lived with us, would get dressed up in his best suit and visit her every chance he had. I would often accompany him. But being the stupid teenager that I was, I was often filled with sulking boredom.
And then one night my family gathered around him and told him that my grandmother had died. I have never heard before or since the sound he made. It was cry of sudden, acute agony. It was the sound of someone pierced in the heart. A hole had been ripped in his heart and the pain of it was audible. And it was at that moment that I finally realized the true depths of his love.
The pain was proportional to the love. The more we love someone, the more space they take in our hearts. And when they are taken from us, they leave a gaping emptiness.
I learned this a year later. My grandfather developed pancreatic cancer. He went into the hospital and we knew he would not be coming home. We had relatives come in to visit from out of town. They stayed with us and went to visit him at the hospital. Rather than tag along to a crowded hospital room, I decided to go the next morning to see him.
He died that night.
And I felt for the first time that large part of my heart, a part that I thought would always be there, ripped from me. And it is a hole that can never be filled.
I know how important he was to me because of how much of my heart I have lost.
I have felt similar tears in my heart over the years as I have paid my last respects. But not a day goes by that I don't think of my grandfather. Time has numbed much of the sting, but there is an emptiness there that has never been refilled.
But it just occurred to me that what is left behind in my heart is not a hole.
It is an anchor.
The reason why that hole is not filled is because that piece of my heart is not gone. It is with he one love. When they leave, they take that piece of my heart with them. They hold onto it for safe keeping. And while they hold it, my heart is incomplete. It will always have those empty spaces in this world.
That is why they take pieces of my heart and leave those holes behind. They are reminding me that this world is not my home. I will never be truly whole until those holes have been refilled in Heaven. And as the years go on and more and more holes are made, it only makes me yearn to be reunited with those who hold my heart.
When I die, I know that I don't need a large funeral to know that I matter. And if God is merciful to this sinner, I hope that I can bring with me as many heart pieces as possible, so that I that I can tether those I leave behind to their true home.