As we walked out of my mom’s funeral, my brother said, “Let’s talk about how Mom used to cheat at scrabble.” We chuckled. “Really,” he said. There’s a tendency to make people perfect after they die. But if we talk about their faults it keeps them human and real to us.”
“Well,” I said, “She could be kind of slippery with money.”
My brother, as usual, was right.
We told funny stories. We laughed. We cried. Cigarettes were smoked. Silences were comfortable. Truth was welcome. Mom was “a hell of a woman,” as a cousin of hers once said. She deserved to be loved and accepted and celebrated for who she really was by those who loved her. Doing so brought her close to us.
I actually believe there is nothing wrong with thinking about a person, situation or thing the way you need to for a while. I don’t think there is anything wrong even with being in denial. It has its uses. Sometimes it helps us survive or even keep up hope when we need to.
When denial, or even seeing only the good, becomes wrong, is when it stops us from loving, when it keeps us back spiritually, when it stops us from growing, or when it begins to harm others.
This can happen most typically when there is a serious problem in a family like alcoholism, mental illness, abuse, or a sudden tragic death. It can happen when someone we love does something horrible that we cannot square with his personality. It can happen especially when there is a suicide and nobody can accept it or what led to it.
Sometimes we need to re-frame history for a while to get by. But sometimes the intense need to see someone who has died as perfect leads us off the track of love and life.
As St. Edith Stein said, “You cannot have love without truth, or truth without love. One without the other is a destructive lie.”
When the need to think the dead are perfect becomes truly sick and destructive is when we start looking for someone to blame, or we become willing to emotionally harm others who threaten the conception we have of that person or about what happened, or we try to silence others about their own grief or their own memories of the person we lost. This situation is a good sign some truth is being avoided in an unhealthy, unholy, un-useful way, by a significant number of family members and others.
That’s when we know the need to only speak well and think well of our dead has gone too far. We become willing to destroy someone else or to live in a destructive situation or play a soul deadening role that keeps things “looking good,” in order to protect the dead, or, more accurately, our personal illusion and/or that of our family.
It can be an act of love and acceptance of the dead to bring the negative truths about them into our memories of them.
If we never do, then we are only falsely or partially loving them. We are only protecting ourselves, even from God.
We can’t be spiritually alive when we are dishonest with ourselves.
Nothing is worth our relationship with God.
Let nothing steal your treasure. ~ St. Teresa of Avila
Don’t be afraid. When we face the truth, we will always encounter God. Why is that? God is truth.
After a tragic death, everyone suffers terribly. We all have trouble squaring what has happened with the reality we knew before the tragedy.
God wants us to face it all with love and the strength only he can give us.
To fully love (and forgive,) we have to face the truth about our beloved dead, about what happened and why.
A Christian soul is to shine like a star in Kingdom of the Father.
How do we do that when the light hurts our eyes and breaks our hearts?
As my mother used to say, “Sometimes we have to pray to be willing. Sometimes we have to pray to be willing to be willing. Sometimes we have to ask to be willing to be willing to be willing.”
Suicide is an ugly death, and it has repercussions other kinds of deaths do not.
My brother was a wonderful person, the closest person to me all my life. He was wise, intelligent, eloquent, and funny, heroic, self sacrificing, competent, cocky, fun and outrageous, tender, loyal, authentic and devoted. Every one of these of things is true.
Also true: At the end of his life, emotionally and relationally, my brother was a suicide bomber, and he killed us all.
I have to understand what my brother was going through and why he did this, as bravely as I can, or I can never fully love him for who he is, who he was, who he briefly became before he left so many questions unanswered, and ended his life abruptly.
I want to love as God loves: with full knowledge, authentically and completely, as much as I can on earth.
If I don’t do these things, I have come to understand, I will never truly love, never truly heal, never be who God wants me to be: a shining star in the Kingdom of my Father.
In the evening of your life you will be judged on love. So love…. the way God wants…. and leave off your own way of acting. ~ St. John of the Cross
It’s hard to imagine being a shining star. But it’s what Jesus says in today’s Gospel about us who are His. (Mt 13:36-43)
As for my deeply beloved brother, I think if I can accept his truth, I can be close to him in my soul again.
Maybe I can even find his star.
Start being brave about everything now. ~ St. Catherine of Sienna