Remembrance: The healing of grief

How we remember our departed loved ones helps us to face our loss, and Catholic funeral practices play an important part in the grieving process. Michael H. Marchal is a retired teacher who lives in the US and works in his parish’s bereavement ministry.

It was a beautiful morning in May. The ground of the country cemetery was still a little wet from the previous day’s rain, so the other pallbearers and I had to watch our step as we carried my cousin Anne to her grave. Twenty-three years earlier I had been an usher at her wedding; today I felt even more honoured to be able to perform this service for her.

When we safely reached the grave, we positioned the coffin carefully, so that the electric lift would have no trouble lowering her into the waiting ground. After the words of committal we left, so that the undertakers could finish the task.

Yet I knew that, only a generation or two earlier in our family, we pallbearers would have removed our coats, grabbed shovels, and filled in the grave ourselves. And that morning I felt deeply that it somehow seemed wrong for us to walk away from a job unfinished, leaving it for strangers to complete. The sound of a shovel-full of dirt thudding on a coffin as it slowly disappears from view is hard to bear – but it is real. It is the actual sound of parting, and the sound of love that says that we are one with the deceased all the way to their earthly ending.

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