by Vera Grant AMMM Ireland 03.08.2022
How many times have we heard or read these words? It is said that they appear 365 times in the bible – one for every day. I don’t know. I haven’t counted.
Our celebrated poet, Seamus Heaney, before he died he sent a text message, written in Latin telling his wife, not to be afraid.
What is it about dying that we fear and want to reassure our loved ones not to be afraid. Is it to mask our own fear?
My sister, Teresa, who was dying from cancer and had difficulty in speaking, struggled with the effort to whisper, ‘I don’t want to die’. She was afraid to go to sleep in case she didn’t wake up and pleaded with us to stay by her side. Her fear was very tangible and I tried to reassure her by quoting from Donagh O’Shea that death was just another journey. A journey into the unknown and like many journeys we make in our lifetime they too bring fear, anxiety and nervousness.
Teresa had given up her life in Belfast to go with her new husband to live in Canada. My mother was heartbroken to see her go so far away and wondered if she would ever see her again. She too was fearful in not knowing what life would be like for her daughter in a foreign country with no family close by.
I talked about how sad a parting it was for all of us, but Teresa, then was a new bride, had a husband who would look after her and he did. She called him her rock. And so too on her final journey I said that she won’t be alone. God will be her rock.
Why am I writing this now when my sister died 4 years ago?
There were two funerals this week in our parish and, whilst both were very different, they reflected the lives of the two men who had died. What connected them was the questioning…a desire for facts and information. In one instance it was the young boy, Rory who interrupted the story his grandmother was reading to him by continually asking, ‘but why, where and when?’ She gave up and gave him the book to read himself.
However, it was the words of the Priest who spoke at John’s funeral that made me think even more about death. John was a dear friend and we both belonged to the same Prayer Group. Frequently he would interrupt the reading of the passage of scripture to express his uncertainty. At times it seemed like one question after another. Often, they were the same questions I was pondering but wasn’t sure how to ask them.
Fr Albert, unlike the grandmother, seemed to welcome the interruptions, he would smile and hesitantly would offer his understanding in an attempt to explain. Often he would ask the group for their views and we would watch John nod in agreement but many times there was a shaking of the head, ‘I still don’t get this.’
At the funeral Mass for John the Parish Priest spoke about him and his life of faith. In his eulogy he shared with us all that in spite of his trust in God and in his beliefs ‘John had been afraid.’
It seemed such a contradiction to all the platitudes of ‘Be Not afraid’. I felt overwhelmed with sadness at the honesty and humility of John. He was still questioning even as he lay dying.
Jesus too had been afraid, “my soul is sorrowful and troubled, even to death,” he said and prayed that God might let the cup pass from him.
John had faith, great faith in God and in the teachings of the Church and yet he allowed himself to feel the fear, express it and accept it in preparing for his last journey home, back to God his Father.
What I was left with was – it’s ok to be afraid.