Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thursdays with My Mom's Side

Today was the funeral of my cousins' grandmother (the mother of my mother's sister's husband). She was also my grade school's librarian all nine years I was there (25 years total) and a simply marvelous woman.

Her prayer card says
O God, the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful, grant the soul of Thy servant departed the remission of all her sins, that, through the devout prayers of Thy Church on earth, she may obtain that remission of pain, which she has ever desired, who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen

I therefore choose the below as the poem of the week:

"Funeral Blues" by W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

I love the first 11 lines (2 ¾ stanzas, to be precise), but not the last 5 (1 ¼ stanzas). The poem’s speaker is clearly desolate, which is understandable considering a loss, but does not reflect hope in any shape or form. Nothing good can come now? Ever? Auden grew up in an Anglo-Catholic family, but apparently lost his faith because he lost interest in religion. O’Connor says that "Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not." She also says, "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."

It reminds me of a section from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, when Stephen Dedalus admits to his family friend Cranly that he has lost the Catholic faith (after saying he quarrelled with his mother over his refusal to do his Easter duty). But not because he doesn’t believe in the Catholic religion, but because he chooses not to:

— Do you believe in the eucharist? — Cranly asked.
— I do not — Stephen said.
— Do you disbelieve then 1
— I neither believe in it nor disbelieve in it — Stephen answered.
— Many persons have doubts, even religious persons, yet they overcome them or put them aside — Cranly said. — Are your doubts on that point too strong? —
— I do not wish to overcome them — Stephen answered.

And a bit later,

— And is that why you will not communicate — Cranly asked — because you are not sure of that too, because you feel that the host, too, may be the body and blood of the son of God and not a wafer of bread? And because you fear that it may be? —
— Yes — Stephen said quietly — I feel that and I also fear it.—
— I see.— Cranly said.
Stephen, struck by his tone of closure, reopened the discussion at once by saying:
— I fear many things: dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, machinery, the country roads at night.—
— But why do you fear a bit of bread ? —
— I imagine — Stephen said — that there is a malevolent reality behind those things I say I fear.—

During the homily, Father O. reflected on how perfectly the readings (Psalms, Revelations, Luke) fit her; how they seemed to have been written for her, only thousands of years earlier. He spoke of her faith, especially towards the end, when she would continue to come to mass despite her weakness and cancer. He spoke of her beautiful and giving soul, and my former grade school offered a large book card in her honor. Her son Scott’s eulogy told of her love of her family, her community and her God. He spoke of his mother saying she and God would beat the cancer together.

That is the type of relationship God seeks with each of us: it is not parasitic, where we take and take while God continually gives; not facultative, because God is not just a good part of life, but a necessity; nor commensalism, because neither God or humanity can remain unaffected by the other; but symbiotic—a beneficial, mutual and long-term partnership.

The Christian funeral mass, despite the sadness of the physical loss of a person, is not a mournful occasion. The joy of knowing one’s loved one is no longer in pain and reunited with our Lord, as promised in Baptism, keeps hope high when the heart is heavy with grief. There is happiness in knowing we will all be reunited one say in Paradise, if we keep the faith, despite the odds of this world. Faith, like love, is not a feeling. It is action. It is hard, it is difficult, it is not always easy to understand, but the path is clear and the directions are provided, if one so chooses to follow.

Today was the first time I have seen my own grandmother upon moving back home. She and my grandfather took a trip out west to visit friends. They are my only alive set of grandparents, as my father’s mother is deceased and my father’s father is extremely ill. I arrived at the Church after my parents and saw them sitting near the front with my grandparents and one cousin's girlfriend. I genuflected into the pew, and as I was kneeling and praying before mass started, I heard her say, “Is that Julie? Julie is home? Julie is home!”

I looked up and over at her and smiled. Yes, yes I am.


  1. This post was simply beautiful, Julie! I absolutely loved reading every word of it. I will admit, sometimes I don't read every poem that you put up on your blog, not because I don't like them, but simply because I find poetry very challenging sometimes and upon reading the first two lines I am too frustrated with my lack of understanding to continue. Today, however I loved the poem by W.H.Auden and agree with you that the lack of hope at the end is a very sad indication of his lack of faith. I am sad to hear of the loss of this special person in your life, but the living memories of this person will bring you joy and the fact that she was such a faithful servant of Christ is always such an encouraging fact as well, particularly when we consider how many people we know who die every day without knowledge of Jesus Christ by both ignorance and choice. I will say however, that the way you ended your post almost made me cry. :) I am so glad that your grandparents responded so positively to you being home. That's one of the greatest feelings that God has given us the privilege of feeling, and I am so glad that you have such a tight knit family where you can experience that upon returning home. What a blessing! I hope your time at home continues to be blessed as I am sure it will be. Miss you!


  2. The point of sharing the poems is exactly that: to make them more accessible to people perhaps not as inclined to find or read them on their own. I almost wish you just skipped them for the heck of it! I'll try to find less challenging ones, although, I admit, I am not sure how you are defining "challenging"... I'll poke around. :)