This coming week will see the 21st anniversary of my mother’s death. She died on the 27th of May 2001. I was rector and parish priest of Mount Argus in Dublin at the time. I had only taken up those roles the previous January, transferring from St. Gabriel’s in Prestonpans, where I had spent the previous five years. So, having been able to see my mother regularly when I was based in Prestonpans, I didn’t see her at all in the five months before her death, and to this day I find that difficult. It was a Sunday, and in Ireland it was the Solemnity of the Ascension, unlike in Scotland, where the Ascension is still celebrated on the Thursday, as it will be this week, more appropriately I think, being 40 days after the Resurrection. I had just finished celebrating the 12 o’clock Mass at which, ironically, there were surprise visitors from Prestonpans. It was while I was chatting with them that I was called to the phone. It was my younger brother, who lived with my mum, telling me he had found mum dead on the floor that morning, having earlier brought her a cup of tea in bed. It was then a case of getting the first possible flight back to Glasgow, being with the family, and preparing for the funeral. It was also just a few weeks before my 50th birthday, and so celebrations planned in Dublin and Glasgow were cancelled. I wasn’t too concerned about that as I wasn’t looking forward to fuss, and to being the centre of attention at big gatherings of family and friends. I much prefer more subdued celebrations. My mother was cremated, and later on I would return to bury her ashes, in alongside my father at St. Kentigern’s, with just my two brothers present.
The grave is very simple, and whenever I have a funeral to St. Kentigern’s, or to the Glasgow Crematorium, or to Lambhill, all part of the same complex, I take the opportunity to visit the grave and say a prayer, even though I know they are not there, except as dust and ashes, and that their souls are in and with God. The fact that she died on the Solemnity of the Ascension brings with it great hope and consolation, trusting in the Risen Lord who has gone to prepare a place for us, so that we may be with Him where he is, and that is what I truly believe.
People treat graves in very different ways. Some are constantly kept festooned with flowers and decorations, others are simply kept tidy, or not tended at all. I read recently of a grave in Dublin that has a juke box installed which constantly plays out music by a well-known Irish balladeer. Children’s graves often, poignantly, have all kinds of toys on display. In good weather I have seen families and friends bringing chairs and sitting around a grave having a picnic. I attended a ceremony in Warsaw where, on All Saints Day, lit lamps were placed on every grave. For some people, it’s important to have that physical point of contact, to have somewhere to go that can make the loved one seem physically close and, even though I don’t particularly feel that need myself, still I am grateful for the opportunities to make those visits.
I sometimes, on those same occasions, pay a visit to our Passionist graves in St. Kentigern’s, in two separate locations, old and new, which are both very near to my parents’ grave.
Father John has returned from India and has resumed his church ministry. Where Father Gareth would have returned with a suitcase full of chocolate, Father John has returned with two suitcases full of Indian pickles – mango, lime, chilli, tamarind-ginger etc, assorted nuts and Indian spices – cardamon; turmeric; coriander; cumin etc., obviously intending to take more seriously the ministry of cooking as a service to the community. To date he hasn’t been very impressed with Indian food we’ve ordered in, or got from the supermarket, and feels he can do much better, even though he says he has never really cooked in his life before. So, it seems we are the guinea pigs. I will keep you posted on how it goes. But still, I’m not giving up on the fish and chips just yet, and I will keep the Rennies and the Gaviscon close to hand.
So, as always, protect yourselves, protect your loved ones, and protect Christ in your lives.