This year, as sometimes happens, since they share a weekend, we celebrate the feasts of All Saints and All Souls together. And since, over the course of the last year, more than 1,119,500 people worldwide have died from COVID-19, with our country alone losing 225,000, the feasts feel even more appropriately intertwined.
Each of these numbers represents someone’s friend or loved one, husband or wife, mother or father, grandmother or grandfather. Almost no one has been spared the loss of a loved one to this pernicious disease. Those left behind have been comforted, held and prayed for by friends and family. We have experienced in a new way what it means to be assured that the souls of those we love rest in “the hand of God and no torment shall touch them.” And our belief that our loved ones are among the multitude that stand “before the throne and before the Lamb” has given us great comfort.
But it was not only friends and family who walked with us. Often the funeral director was the first person we turned to, after our priest or pastor, to help us navigate these new waters. The funeral director spoke gently of our loved one, calling him or her by name, recognizing the beloved individual now gone from us. And when physically separated by social distancing, it was often the genuine concern of the funeral director that held us.
When a loved one dies, we reach out to the funeral director to help us bury our dead with love and dignity. Human beings have always done this. For example, even when we study Egyptian pyramids and the mummies they protect, we find evidence of ancient “funeral directors” who recognized the sacredness of the human body and prepared it for entrance into the afterlife.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “Blessed are they who mourn.” “Blessed are the merciful.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers.” And, I might add, “Blessed are those who assist us in honoring and burying our dead.” Look around. That man or woman who owns your local funeral home just might be a saint traveling incognito.
Van Benthem is a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.