Wednesday, May 29, 2013


I try not to talk about my faith too much. I am Catholic, I go to church and I am both a cantor at mass and the funeral cantor of my church. At many times in my life, the predictable comfort of weekly mass was the only constant in a life that was rife with uncertainty and unpredictability. While I have serious philosophical issues with some of the man-made tenets of the Catholic Church organization, I can't imagine practicing my faith anywhere else. However, I also believe that God doesn't care what building you are sitting in, what language you use, what missal you follow or what prayers you pray as long as you talk to Him somehow, and try to follow His ways.

Both my parents were deeply faithful. My father was Jesuit educated, and he was a member of Cursillo. He raised hundreds of dollars for churches over the years, lending his fundraising expertise free of charge. The church where both my parents are buried still use the nativity figures he donated to the church in 1962 when he found out the church couldn't afford to buy them. The altar of the church where my daughter made her first communion recently is framed by wooden pillars that my father helped to raise the funds to create. The Community Living house across the street from the church we attend now came into being because my dad raised the funds to make it happen.

My mother's faith was both simple and profound. While she was anchored by the gospel passage about God's house having many rooms, she also lived in terror of angering God. Her father's family were Protestant (he became a Catholic to marry my grandma) and fire and brimstone was in her DNA. My mother attended daily mass until her health prevented her from doing so, and then we watched it on television. While she was dead set against things like an open casket ("I'll reach up and close it and then I'll haunt you"). visitation ("why would we waste all that money. No one is going to come anyway") and using the funeral home cars (we'll just drive ourselves) she was definite about wanting a full mass and a "proper Catholic burial". Ritual mattered to my mother almost as much as her sense of decorum and proper behaviour. (and what her daughter was wearing...)

So when I was planning my mom's burial for the May long weekend, the first thing I did was contact the English priest at the parish down home. My parents' grave is located behind the village church in St. Eugene, Ontario. My grandparents were married there, my mother and all her siblings were baptized and receive their sacraments there, a few of my aunts and uncles were married there, and many of my family members are buried behind the church. However, the church is now French, and only has a priest once a month. The English church is about 20 minutes up the road, so I contacted that church first before making any other arrangements. The priest agreed immediately, set the time that would work in his schedule and we made all the other arrangements accordingly based on the priest's availability.

And then he didn't show up. The time of the burial he had chosen necessitated various family and friends travelling several hours to be at the graveyard in time. My mom's two lifelong best friends, aged 86 and 88 respectively, stood in the sun with 50 other family members. At first we attributed the delay to a street festival in the adjacent town that had a detour. By 1110 hrs, I was asking the clerk of the church to call the English church. He spoke to someone who confirmed the priest should be enroute. By 1130 hrs, my uncle, my mom's baby brother, and his son had to leave because they had another funeral to attend. The clerk even tried to reach the Deacon of his church...and then he handed me the book with the Catholic Rite of Burial...and I presided over my own mother's burial. I guessed my way through the prayers, thanked everyone for coming, and ended with the committal song from a Catholic funeral because I didn't know what else to do.

Various family have told me that it was nicer and more personal than if the priest had done it. Many have said that my mother would have been proud of me. But here's the thing. First of all, my mother wouldn't have been proud at all...she would have been mortified. I am not a priest or a sister or a deacon...I have no business using the Rite of the church. She would have been happy that I had "gotten on with things" because people were standing in the sun and my daughter was up a tree  (literally) from anxiety, but she would not have been comforted by me doing the ritual of her burial, because it would not have met my mom's definition of a "proper Catholic burial."

The priest was apologetic and claimed to have the wrong date in his phone although the date was correct in the planning calendar at the church. (if he used the phone for scheduling, why could no one reach him ON the phone that day?) He says he has offered a mass for my mom, and also said that he went to the graveyard the next weekend and said the burial prayers over my mom's grave. I have only his word to go on about that.

But here's the thing-I don't have the solace of witnessing the burial ritual. I don't have the comfort of the ritual and the knowledge that mom's final wish was fulfilled. I did my best under extraordinary circumstances, but I still feel like I failed my mom in her last wish.

I know that my mom is in heaven and I know that the mass is the important part, but I still needed the solace of the burial ritual to complete mom's last journey. I needed the comfort of the ritual, and more specifically, I needed the comfort of someone else DOING the ritual. Presiding over my own mother's burial was just another thing that I never thought I would have to do for my mom...and it was the hardest of all.

Eternal Life grant unto her O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon her.

I'm sorry mom. I tried.


  1. I understand that you feel let down, incomplete in your goodbyes, but I think that you have to believe that once the soul has departed, it is more forgiving and understanding than when it was on earth. So, I do think your mother is okay with how it happened. You had an original ritual, out of necessity, but I think it must have been lovely. If God permitted it, it must be what you need and what your mother needed. Keep the good memories.

  2. Wow. I'm so sorry that this happened to you. Can't imagine my priest doing such a thing to anyone. Clearly there is another back story here, perhaps addiction, trauma, health or other personal issues. Forgive him and ask another priest to do the burial ritual if you don't believe it was done properly. Perhaps you could even find a priest willing to webcast it for you. Hopefully someone from the Catholic Church will read your blog and offer closure in some way. I hope that happens. Hugs.

  3. I am sorry this happened. How utterly disappointing... and strange to have to do it yourself. Here's my experience: we attended my uncle's final burial a week before your mom's (he died in January). The priest did come, but the 2 page handout with prayers had the WRONG NAME printed in it several times. Very uncool. It was very short, quite anticlimactic, and I'm not even sure it was Catholic. To be honest, it didn't really resonate with me spiritually, especially since the priest invited OTHERS to sprinkle Holy Water on the box and burial place. That is NOT OK, in my books. Anyway, more to my point. When my grandmother died (just last August), I asked our wonderful priest about the best prayer(s) for the dearly departed. He said, without question, it is the Hail Mary. Every time you say it for your loved one, they receive instant refreshment. And to have a Holy Mass said for your mother, is truly a great thing, as the Mass is the greatest of all offerings that can be made for your mother. Be well and comforted in that, my friend.

  4. Oh Lisa, I truly believe that the way people are here on Earth - adhering to rituals and schedules and being proper, etc. really does fall by the wayside once they pass away. Yes, you remember her that way, but I would like to think that once someone you love passes away and enters heaven, they are then given true life - that is, they aren't trapped by their humaness but now are free to truly love and watch over us. Certainly, having the ritual would give you comfort (and for me, it kept me sane and grounded as I continue to work through the grief) but I agree with Barbara that once the soul has departed, it is more forgiving and understanding. At times when we feel terribly overwhelmed and riddled with emotion, it is those rituals that we feel we need to hang onto. Please give yourself a break and know that you did do your best.