By Marissa Farrell
The last few days have been difficult for my family as we celebrated the life of our “Uncle” Steve, who passed away on September 8. The events that immediately precede and follow the end of life are emotionally taxing. Steve experienced intense physical suffering as cancer ravaged his body. Family and friends said their goodbyes and attempted to spiritually smother him with prayer. Our parish priest helped to prepare Steve’s soul through the reception of the sacraments, especially Anointing of the Sick. The grieving process began over a year ago for most of us, when Uncle Steve was given his terminal diagnosis, but having time to prepare does not dull the grief.
My sister and I play the harp and flute and are often asked to play for special occasions at church. Uncle Steve’s near-obsession with all things Three Stooges and Harpo Marx had always been one of his favorite ways of relating to our love for music and unusual instrument choice. It only made sense for us to give his family in their suffering and him in his eternal life the gift of our music. So, we undertook the difficult, but worthwhile, task of playing for his wake and funeral services.
From our seats in the choir section of the church, I could see the hundreds of people who gathered to celebrate Uncle Steve’s life. The church was packed with family and friends – a sea of dark blue and black. In the front row sat his wife, son, mother, father, brothers and sisters. As I looked at that front row I was struck. The entire row was a solid line of black dresses and suits, except for one woman dressed in white linen from head to toe. She looked as if she stood in defiance of the tradition to wear black while mourning the loss of a loved one. It was Uncle Steve’s mother.
This was not the first time I’ve seen people wearing white to funerals. Growing up, my mother emphasized the importance of the corporal work of mercy to bury the dead, and, so we often accompanied her to the funerals of parishioners or loved ones of friends. In all these years, I have never seen my mom attend a funeral without wearing at least an accent of white.
Uncle Steve’s funeral was, however, the first time I’ve seen such a close family member of the deceased wearing white from head-to-toe. It was oddly comforting to witness, especially against the sea of black. She stood there celebrating her son’s birthday into eternal life. She refused to let the dark, despairing night overwhelm her. Instead she turned to the light, the only thing that can extinguish darkness, and took comfort in the grace and hope of life eternal for her son. She stood there, in her white, saying, this is not the end of my son’s life, but merely the beginning.
What an incredible witness and reality check for all the Christians, not just Catholics, who were present. Why do we celebrate birthdays? We celebrate the day that we entered into a fallen nature; a world drenched in sin and spiritual warfare, our temporary home that we were not made to stay in forever. Yet, when someone dies, we are overcome by grief and sadness. But, they are going to their eternal resting place! They are going to stand before the beatific vision and, God-willing, join the Church Triumphant! They are entering the life for which we were made. Why is it so difficult for us to let the light overcome the dark?
In no way do I want to belittle or trivialize the true, deep, and painful grief that comes with losing a loved one. I’ll be the first to call out myself. I did not wear white to Uncle Steve’s wake, funeral, or burial. I wore black. I was consumed with heart-wrenching, stomach-clenching sadness and tears. This is a natural and appropriate reaction to loss. But, why did I not think to wear white? Why was I so struck by seeing someone in all white at a funeral? Why was there only one person in white head-to-toe with only a handful of others donning a splash of white on top of black?
Grief is natural. Grief is appropriate. And as our pastor said during his funeral homily, grief should not be rushed. Note, however, that the vestments for funeral services are white. Oh, the wisdom and joy of the Church! I hope that in the future I can make a conscious decision to find the joy in the end of this world’s suffering, comfort in the knowledge that someone like Uncle Steve died surrounded by the physical presence of his family, the spiritual presence of thousands of prayer warriors, and in a state of sacramental grace. That his suffering is over, that we got to say goodbye, that we know he was close to Our Lord in his life and in his death, and that we now have the distinct privilege of praying for the happy repose of his soul, trusting in the loving mercy of God to bring Steve to His heavenly banquet is cause for joy. In fact, it’s a good reason to wear white.
Marissa Farrell works as a Junior Lobbyist in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has spent the vast majority of her professional life involved in state level politics. This experience includes working as a Legislative Director, Research Analyst and Committee Clerk for State Senators and House Representatives, in addition to serving as the NC Director of Catholics for Romney during the 2012 Presidential race. Marissa graduated from Hillsdale College with a History major and Music minor with a concentration in Harp Performance.
As a native Southerner, Marissa loves everything below the Mason Dixon Line, especially her sweet tea, seersucker, and Goodliest State of North Carolina. Much of her spare time is spent decorating, shopping, practicing, and doting on her two princess nieces.