An All Souls Day Tribute
by Fr. Jason H. Laguerta
My mother, Adelfa Laguerta, died on June 30, 2010. It came all too sudden and unexpected that to this day I still can’t make sense of what happened. She complained of some pain in her tummy late May. We brought her to the hospital right away. The doctor told us about the results of her laboratory tests on June 11, the birthday of our youngest. She was diagnosed with fourth stage gastric cancer. We were advised to do palliative care. Nothing else to do in the hospital. No surgery. No chemotherapy. Bring her home. Make it as pleasant as possible for her. By June 30, around 4:00 am, she was gone.
There are experiences in life that will leave you scarred and hurting for a long, long time. And the wound never heals no matter what you do. Every time you try to remember and attempt your very best to let go and surrender, you just end up crying and more questions arise. Why? Why her? Why to us? Why too early? If only…
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were in the same situation as I was. Frustrated and upset with Jesus. They were not able to recognize the stranger walking with them because they were so focused on their emptiness and confusion. I could not see Jesus because he greatly disheartened me. When my mother was diagnosed, my first reaction was Jesus would not let this happen. I called on some healing priests and nuns to pray over my mother. I borrowed some “miraculous relics” just so my mother could touch them. Deep in my heart, I really believed that cancer was no match to the power of Jesus. But he disappointed me.
When tremendously difficult experiences beset us, there are two paths we can take. The path of disillusionment. Or the path of gratitude. I was on my way to the first. How could you, Jesus? After everything? Really? I was being swallowed up by a deep dark hole of anguish.
THIS TOO SHALL PASS.
To deal with the pain of loss and the piercing loneliness, I tried to keep myself busy. My first way of coping was to ignore and deny. Just have something to do and you will have an excuse. Just go some place and you won’t have to think about it that much. But to no avail. One couldn’t hide from oneself. I ended up restless, miserable and losing steam.
I also tried to explain away everything. Perhaps by convincing myself of some plausible answers, I would be able to understand. She’s in a better place. She did not really go away. She’s just around. She’s fine. Don’t worry too much. This too shall pass.
BUT NOT REALLY.
Sometimes things don’t come and go that easily. And in truth, maybe there are really things that will never go away. I read somewhere Fr. Ron Rolheiser citing Karl Rahner, “In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we come to understand that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.” This idea resonated with me strongly. It consoled me to a great extent. It permitted me to be okay without being totally okay. I guess I needed to accept the insufficiency of the attainable, the incompleteness of life, the unfinished symphony.
Rainer Maria Rilke said almost the same thing, “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
THINGS DO GET BETTER.
I tried to find my way to an answer. And yes, things do get better. There are some bad days. There are also good days.
Like the seasons of nature, the rain eventually stops and the sun rises up. I see this all the time whenever I’m on the road with my cycle. I gear up for the wet drive but I end up swearing because the clouds have moved and cleared the path. It happens to me sometimes that I blame the weather channel for not giving me an accurate prediction. Instead of being grateful that the ride has become more pleasant because there is not a raindrop and it is not that hot.
IT WAS ENOUGH.
How we wish things turn out the way we have imagined them to be. But that’s exactly what it is, wishful thinking. As I have grown older, I have tried to engage more in “grateful thinking.” Instead of wishing for things to be picture-perfect, I try to be thankful for the beauty and blessings of the imperfect.
How we wish we would have more time to live, more time to be with one another, to relish life without end. But that is not how God has designed earthly life for us. We don’t have much time perhaps. But the little time we have, sometimes that is enough.
When somebody dies, it is naturally taken as a loss. We are creatures of habit. We get used to each other being there “all the time.” So, when this routine is broken by death, we get disoriented and shaken.
Faith directs us to the truth, however. It opens a new door for us to understand death.
Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, in his book, Wrestling with God: Finding Hope and Meaning in our Daily Struggles to be Human, said something profoundly comforting about death,
“Perhaps no image then is as apt, as powerful, as consoling, and as accurate in terms of picturing what happens to us when we die and awake to eternal life as is the image of a mother holding and cradling her newborn child. When we die, we die into the arms of God and surely, we’re received with as much love, gentleness, and tenderness as we were received in the arms of our mothers at birth. Moreover, surely. we are even safer there than we were when we were born here on earth. I suspect too that more than a few of the saints will be hovering around, wanting their chance to cuddle the new baby. And so it’s okay if we die before we’re ready, still in need of nurturing, still needing someone to help take care of us, still needing a mother. We’re in safe, nurturing, gentle hands. That can be deeply consoling because death renders every one of us an orphan and, daily, there are people dying young, unexpectedly, less than fully ready, still in need of care themselves. All of us die still needing a mother. But we have the assurance of our faith that we will be born into safer and more nurturing hands than our own.”
Indeed, even in death, we shall be kept warm. Even in grief, we will be safe. Enjoy the ride home.