Holy Week and the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday) have long been my favorite time of the liturgical year.I love hearing the Passion twice in one week and watching the pageantry of Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday. The rich symbolism of the Easter Vigil touches my heart and invites me to renewal in a unique way. The baptisms and confirmations of people choosing my faith as their own always strengthens my faith and makes me more hopeful.
Since 2002, Holy Week has the added significance of being the week my dad died. It was Monday of Holy Week (March 25 that year), and every Holy Week Monday is now a memorial day for me.
On the Saturday before Palm Sunday in 2002, the hospice nurse called and said, “Your dad is ready to die, but your mother won’t let go. You have to come home.” I explained that I was coming home for Easter and already had my ticket for Thursday. “No, you have to come now,” she insisted. So I changed my ticket and came home the next day, Palm Sunday.
Contemplating Jesus’ Passion and death that year, while my dad was also dying, brought new, deeper meaning to the mystery of death and resurrection.
Once my mother let go of my dad, once she truly said good-bye to him, he died within an hour. The nurse was right; he was ready.Then five years, ago, my friend Jim died on Tuesday of Holy Week (April 3 that year), adding another memorial to an already meaningful time.
On Palm Sunday 2012, almost nine months after his diagnosis of brain cancer, we knew Jim was close to death. He ate his last meal that Sunday afternoon, spent the next day in bed, and died early Tuesday morning.
Their deaths, occurring during this holiest time of the year, has deepened my understanding of the Paschal mystery—how death is part of life and how new life can come from death.
Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a single grain; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. (John 12:24)I ask myself what fruit has been produced by their deaths—and the deaths of others I have loved.
One fruit is my deep awareness of how fortunate I am to have loved and been loved. I know myself as blessed, even in the absence of those I love.
St. John Chrysostom said, “Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they once were. They are now whenever we are.”
It is true that my dad, Jim and all the other people I have lost are no longer present in physical form, but I carry them in my heart, and they are with me in a different way. I think of them often, and their lives and deaths help me to live each day in awareness of the fragility of life and in gratitude for all that is.