Friday, March 29, 2013

The Emptiness

I was raised Lutheran, but stopped going to church as a result of some events that took place while I was in high school. Nothing sinister...didn't really involve me, but my parents stopped attending, and so did I. That was one of the unhappier times in my life, as I struggled with relationships all through college, and felt very much alone and confused at times.

When I met my husband one of the things I liked about him was that he attended church regularly. His mother was thrilled that I agreed to be married in the Catholic Church (actually, a pretty little chapel at his college.)

I wasn't ready to convert for a couple of years, but eventually an old Irish priest of the parish won me over. My mother in law was my sponsor. I have picture of myself from that day, standing with her. This was back In The Old Days of film, so when the picture was snapped I had a strange little smile, but we only took the one photo. You know how it is, with pictures of yourself...but I still have it.

I sang at her funeral. There is an arrangement of Hail Mary, Gentle Woman that I have always loved, and it meant quite a lot to me, to sing for her. My nephew joined me, along with a few members of the choir who joined in for the Gentle Woman part of the piece.

Last night I sang with Stanley and the rest of the choir at the Holy Thursday mass. After this mass, we will not sing a Gloria again until the Easter Vigil on Saturday night. I was so proud to see my son lead the altar servers, carrying the heaviest ornate cross that is only used on special occasions.

At the end of mass, the priest carries the Eucharist from the main tabernacle to a side altar of repose; for this occasion the side altar area is decorated with flowers and the tabernacle is covered by a beautiful canopy depicting Jesus risen again.

After mass, the main altar and the other side altar are stripped bare. My husband and my son help with that work. I came down from the choir loft and sat near the right side altar, waiting for them. I knelt in the pew and wished that I had learned from her the specific prayers that she might say if she were beside me. It saddens me that the old traditions are being lost and forgotten. We sing pieces that many Catholic churches don't do anymore. Old chant masses and Latin pieces... The music is sometimes crumbling in my fingers...yet those are my favorite ones to sing.

I looked around the church. It's a beautiful old European style, in the shape of a cross, with gorgeous stained windows and beautiful statues. It was growing silent, as most other parishioners left to go home. It was nearly completely dark. The windows were black in the absence of any daylight. The main altar was empty, and the tabernacle door open.

I was filled with a hollow sadness. I don't cry often when I think of Lucille, because she is now at peace, no longer weak and in pain, and we never had to put her in a nursing home, so I'm grateful for that. But this will be our first Easter without Nana.

My son came to me, and asked if I was going up to the altar. I took that to mean that he wanted me to go with him, so I said yes. There were flower pots holding varieties of spring bulbs that were arranged around the altar. As I knelt there, my tears flowed a bit more, and when I was about to stand, I noticed something.

Right next to me, there was one small pot of miniature daffodils, just like the ones that bloomed on my kitchen counter at the moment my mother in law died. They were in full bloom.

I believe that this is not just coincidence ... And that she is telling me she is alright, just as I had asked her to do shortly before she passed..

We can choose to see signs of hope all around us, or we can let the emptiness take over and weigh us down.

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