November is a natural time to reflect on our mortality, when the religious, the secular, and the natural all join to remind us that fleshly existence has an end. The Catholic Church remembers the dead on the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, and many parishes encourage members to inscribe the names of their loved ones in the Book of the Dead to be prayed for throughout the year. Veterans Day often includes commemorations at National Cemeteries. And as the leaves fall and the days shorten, it is impossible not to notice that the year is dying too.
The year that William was born, I attended five funerals, and there were two more out-of-state relatives whose funerals I could not attend. We used to refer to that year as “The Year of Death.” In 2008, there were again seven–or was it eight?–deaths of people whom I mourned. I’m not going to keep count any longer because I have a feeling it isn’t going to slow down from now on. John and I were married young, and for years we attended weddings constantly. Then it was baby showers. These funerals are just celebrations of another sort, for another stage.
This blog flowed originally from my column on life issues. Death, and how we respond to it, is on that continuum. I have done a lot of writing on death this year. My very first post was a short tribute to my Uncle Charlie, who died of lung cancer in March. I went on to mention the Easter morning passing of Bob Dewine, a fixture at my church for nearly a century. I devoted many posts to the beating, drug overdose, and tragic early death of Henry Granju. Not long after, I wrote about my distress at the suicide of Darrin Owenby, who was only a few years behind me all through school. More recently, I remembered my grandmother on her birthday–her loss seems very fresh, although it has been nearly three years.
There have been at least two deaths this year that I have not blogged about. Birt Waite died just last week, unexpectedly from heart trouble at the age of 71. Birt was the husband of my mother’s very best friend since high school, Ann Kirkland Waite, who has always been like an extra aunt to us and now to our kids. I did not know until Birt’s funeral about all the charitable activities he was involved in.
The other death happened, I believe, back in March. My high school class was a small one–only 57 kids–and we have now lost four of them. Jose Zulueta was the most recent one. Born in the Phillippines, Jose joined our class at St. Joseph in 6th grade. Everyone loved Jose, who was always upbeat and kind, and judging by the testimonials at his memorial service–many from fellow ice skaters, as he realized his dream of traveling as a performer in Disney on Ice–he never lost those qualities. I wanted to devote a whole post to Jose but never did write it, so I will share some pictures of him below.
Whenever I attend a Catholic funeral–and I really do believe that we do funerals well–I always wonder how people who don’t believe in an afterlife can go on after a loved one dies. How can they really go on without the hope of being together again in the future?
“For just as God gives us loved ones and does not lose them in giving, so we do not lose them in returning them to Him. For Life is Eternal, Love is Immortal, and death is just a horizon beyond which we cannot see with narrow, earthly vision.”
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls, and all the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.