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The Missed Funeral
By Joseph G Langen
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Rated "PG" by the Author.
This is a true story about the author missing his grandmother's funeral when he was a monastic student. It is included in Young Man of the Cloth.
It was 1963. Richard had been in West Springfield for three months. Seven years ago, at age thirteen, he had left home and begun his studies at the seminary. After six years, he finally moved to a monastery, having spent the past year as a novice. At the end of last year, he took temporary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, which he had been looking forward to for the past several years.
He was now a full fledged member of the religious order and, in one sense, was on the same level as the priests and brothers who lived in the monastery. However, he was still a student. He and the other students lived on a separate floor from the rest of the monks. They had no input on how the monastery was run and were still considered to be in training.
The routine was different from what it had been in the novitiate. The wooden clapper did not pierce the 2:00 A.M. silence nightly to wake everyone for Matins. They were no longer locked in on their floor at night. The last year had focused on learning to pray and to live the monastic life. These lessons learned, they were back to the classroom and would now begin the formal study of philosophy.
The first few weeks were a time of adjustment. The rigid daily structure of the past year was relaxed somewhat, assuming the monastic routine was now internalized. The new routine was underway. Prayer and Mass began the day at six-thirty. Breakfast and a solitary walk preceded a morning of classes. A brief recreation period followed lunch. A study period and more prayer rounded out the afternoon. After dinner, another recreation period and another study period ensued.
Richard gradually adapted to the new routine over the first several months. The isolation of West Springfield and the self-contained life of the monastery kept him from having to face any serious thinking about the direction his life was taking, or from having to face the implications of his vows and chosen life.
One evening after dinner, he was called to the office of the director of students. This did not seem unusual since he and the director had often discussed philosophy and history. The director seemed in a more serious mood than usual. After very brief small talk, the director said he had some bad news. Richard's grandmother had died earlier that day and would be buried later that week.
The news was not particularly surprising. She had been ill for years and had been taking medication for a heart condition, although she had never been hospitalized. Richard remembered his grandmother's house as the first place he had lived. His father was in the navy during World War II when he was born. He and his mother lived with his grandmother while his father was overseas. When his father came home, his mother tried to introduce them. Instead of going to his father, Richard ran to the picture of his father, insisting that this was his father rather than the live man before him.
He thought for a long time that he had two mothers. He did not understand when his father returned from the war and his family moved to their own house. His mother loved him, but also set limits. His grandmother just loved him. After they moved, he frequently visited his grandmother, often staying with her for part of the summer.
His grandmother was a serene person. She always spoke quietly and had a kind word for everyone. Even though Richard was the third grandchild, he was special to her. He was the only one who lived with her. She often called him a "minx." He was particularly fond of hiding the agitator cap from her washing machine. Although she would try to scold him, she could not hold back her laugh very long and would soon be well into stories about his uncles' antics. They would then be off to the cellar to see where the cap may have been "lost."
They also had a secret. On family occasions, groups gathered in the dining room, parlor and living room. Liquor flowed freely and each guest was greeted with their favorite drink. His grandmother, for some reason, was embarrassed about drinking in public. Richard knew somehow when it was time to meet her in the kitchen. They would then split a glass of beer, unknown to any of the relatives.
His grandmother was present at all the major events of his life. He remembered pictures of her at his baptism, first communion, and confirmation. Her presence was not prominent but quietly reassuring.
One of his last memories of her was at his grandfather's funeral. He had been suffering from a heart condition, but insisted on shoveling snow and had died suddenly in the process. Although sad on this occasion, his grandmother was filled with the good memories of her years with him. She could only remember once when he became upset. He got up out of his chair and chased one of his sons through the room before he stopped to laugh. She let him go quietly as she had lived with him in peace.
Although Richard had not seen his grandmother for over a year since entering the novitiate, he always thought of her as being there for him. It was hard to imagine her as gone. His ultimate refuge was no more.
Funerals in his family had always been a time of family gathering. Everyone dropped work, school or other commitments to come together to comfort each other. There were family stories about rooms full of sleeping children, patrolled by an aunt/nun, while the family gathering continued into the night.
Richard's first thought at hearing about his grandmother's death was of being together with his family in grief and comfort. They would all share their memories of his grandmother. Others would hear of his shared beer in the kitchen and he would hear of their experiences of closeness with her.
He told the director that he would like to go to her funeral. The director told him the policy was that students were only allowed to attend funerals of immediate family members. He told the director his grandmother was like his mother and he had lived with her until he was three. The director said finances of the Order did not allow for such travel. Richard said he was sure his family would be willing to pay his travel expenses. The director reminded him, since his vows, the Order was now his family and he could not go to the funeral.
Richard left the office in shock. He had not expected this turn of events. He went to his room and wept in desolation. He was convinced he should be at the funeral. He had no money, even to call his family. He considered hitchhiking the several hundred miles from West Springfield to Dunkirk and thought he could get to the funeral on time.
He was angry at the director and thought he lacked understanding. Life suddenly seemed unfair. How could anyone keep him from being with his family to share in saying good-bye to his grandmother? As his anger subsided, he realized he had reached a major crisis point. He knew he needed to make a choice between his family and the monastic life he had worked so long to reach. He also knew if he went to the funeral he would not come back to the monastery.
He walked for hours in the monastery garden, weighing the possibilities. He did not feel he could turn to anyone to help him with the decision. The choices were clear. The implications were not. The romance of the monastic life weighed against his love for his grandmother. No matter what he decided, part of him would die.
His first adult decision was to accept the director's authority and to stay at the monastery, rather than attending the funeral. But he felt he was betraying his grandmother and she was being ripped from him rather than going quietly, as was the custom in his family.
At Mass on the morning of the funeral, all of the monks were asked to pray for Richard, his grandmother and their family. Although this was some comfort, the loneliness was not lessened much. The bonds of the religious community were too new to reassure him. He remained confused and uncertain of his decision. It was now too late to attend the funeral.
He had reached his first crisis of faith. Was his faith strong enough to sustain him? He spent hours in prayer seeking reassurance. He finally remembered a conversation with his novice master. Talk had turned to how people knew they were doing the right thing in life. The novice master explained that often there was no way to know for sure, and it was not possible to know how a life devoted to God would turn out. He referred to such a crisis time as a "leap of faith" in which a person jumps from a cliff, not knowing where he would land, trusting that God would find him a firm footing. Richard realized he had just taken his first leap of faith. Where would he land?
Site: Commonsense Wisdom
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|Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner
|*tears* Your retelling put a lump in the throat and tears in the eyes: I felt your pain, your loss. I'm sorry. I missed my Gramma's funeral, too.
(((HUGS))) and love, Karla.
|Reviewed by Ann Scarborough
|I missed my great grandmother's funeral because I was pregnant with my son. Superstition on the part of my mother's family kept me from saying my Maw Maw. I relate with tis piece. I cried for you Joseph. I know your grandmother understood and is waiting in heaven for you.
Heartwrenching write but a great pen.