Some weeks ago I watched an old Sally Field movie called “Kiss Me Goodbye.” It was the lightest of material about a young widow returning to her house years after the death of her husband. The character has decided to marry and wants to redecorate the home and prepare for a new chapter. She is overwhelmed with memories of the perfect life she had shared with her husband and is eventually confronted by his ghost played by James Caan. Only she can see the spirit of her deceased husband and their playful interaction causes her conflict about her choice of fiancé. The story has a familiar trajectory with the main character having conversations with the ghost that no one else can see or hear, and just about the time you are reaching for the remote control, there is an interesting conclusion. The husband has come back not to remind her of how splendid their marriage was, rather, although he was wonderful, he could also be tiresome and demanding and that she must finally kiss him goodbye in order to begin her new life free of past illusions. These ideas interest me: that we tend to idealize the dead and they continue to have the power to teach us life lessons.
In a few days I am preparing to speak at a Memorial Mass for my father and find myself considering the aforementioned ideas. My first inclination is to describe him to the assembly in such a way that his humanity is obscured. It can easily be done with a description of his many virtues and authentic acts of charity. However, he was a completely human person with a full range of emotions, conflicts and blessings. The combination of these characteristics made him who he was: not villain or hero but a marvelously complex and layered human being. I can’t help but wonder if that truth causes all of us some consternation. We always want to be the good guy, the one who is always right, celebrated and successful. It appears to be difficult to swallow the possibility that we might be considered foolish, temperamental or flawed.
If the eulogy is a summation of our life, and if we are willing to express the full range of colors in the deceased’s journey, can there be a greater acceptance of our humanity? Isn’t that what makes us such interesting creatures? Our choices, detours and passions are what make us who we are. I have no desire to treasure the memory of who I wanted my father to be, rather I want to honor and remember who he really was and the unique story he lived. In this regard he continues to inspire me and I suspect that inspiration will continue throughout my life even though he is gone.You will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve for a time but your tears will be turned into joy. When a woman is in labor she is sad that her time has come. When she has born her child she no remembers her pain for joy that a human being has been born. In the same way you are sad for a time but I shall see you again and you hearts will rejoice with a joy no one can take from you. John~