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Tuesday, October 05 2004 19:00
“Shed tears, weep,” we were advised by the preacher of the homily at our friend Daria’s funeral. But the homilist added: “Move to the realities that made her laugh.”

Daria’s death was, in fact, reason for both tears and appreciation of a person whose short life had been full of joy and laughter. Dying at age 45, she left behind family members and friends who loved her for qualities of heart and soul that will continue to enrich our lives.

The preacher also urged us to cling to Daria’s faith. She was a woman of symbol, of sacrament, he reminded us, for whom God could be reached through the ordinary things of the world. She also felt a “hunger for the Eucharist,” and regarded it as a signpost on the path to everlasting life.

For the theme of her funeral, Daria had chosen words from the 13th century mystic Julian of Norwich. Printed on the front of the program was the statement “You will not be overcome .  .  .  He did not say: You will not be troubled, you will not be belaboured, you will not be disquieted; but he said, You will not be overcome.”

Certainly, Daria had ample reason to doubt this message. Her three-year struggle against multiple myeloma was enough to make anyone tempted to lose heart. And the prospect of leaving behind a son, aged ten, and a daughter aged three, would have deeply troubled any woman.

She also knew that death would take her away from a husband who had shown his love for her in many ways. During the last two years of her illness, he kept her extended family and her many friends informed by posting detailed information on a web site. He and Daria in their marriage had succeed in bringing together creatively his Jewish tradition and her Catholic one. They were able to draw on the two spiritualities for the benefit of their family.

When, at the funeral, a close friend named Mary recalled Daria’s multi-faceted personal gifts, she mentioned “her fabulous taste in clothes and her knowledge of the interesting saints.” More important still, Mary said that her friend “saw what was truly loveable in us.” That gift, she added, made Daria’s friends the luckiest people.

As an associate editor of Commonweal, the New York based magazine published by Catholic laypeople, Daria brought a scholar’s appreciation to both poetry and children’s literature. Among her own favorite poets were two famous for spiritual insight, Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

This funeral, as good funerals always do, stirred wonder at the mystery of death and the hope of life thereafter. How can it be that some people die at age 45 and others not until they reach 100? And why do some suffer so much while others go quickly and peacefully?

The writer Thomas Lynch does not have the answer to these questions any more than the average person. However, Tom combines two trades almost uniquely, those of poet and professional undertaker, giving him a perspective of special value.

In an essay entitled “Good Grief” in the just-published “The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004,” Lynch explains his idea of a good funeral: “It is about what we do−to act out our faith, our hopes, our loves and losses.”

He continues: “Our faith is not for getting around grief or past it, but for getting through it. It is not for denying death, but for confronting it. It is not for dodging our dead, but for bearing us up as we bear them to the grave or tomb or fire at the edge of which we give them back to God.”

This what Daria’s funeral was like, full of tears and loss, but also of love and hope. As we commended her to God, we knew ourselves to be taking leave of someone unique and irreplaceable but one who had left us an important part of herself.

The final hymn chosen by Daria for her funeral liturgy is one that is often sung at Thanksgiving. One verse thanking God is particularly evocative of someone who had the cherished the habit of both poetry and prayer: “For the joy of ear and eye/For the heart and mind’s delight/ For the mystic harmony/Linking sense to sound and sight.”


Richard Griffin