Monday found me slightly stressed, with a sugar hangover, and an overwhelming feeling that we would not, under any circumstances, be ready to host orphans by Saturday. My efforts to clean and reorganize the whole house were constantly being undone by my family who didn’t seem to grasp the importance of having everything absolutely perfect in less than six days. That evening, I drove Byron to his Parkour class, knowing I needed a quiet hour to read and relax, but also thinking of everything else that needed done at home, and wondering what messes where being created in my absence.
And then my phone rang. And I ignored it the first time, because it reminded me I promised to call my mother and talk to her during Parkour. I would let it go to voicemail, then call my mom. But my friend didn’t leave a voicemail, she called right back, and so I begrudgingly answered, thinking of one more thing I would now have to do when I got home.
But my friend didn’t sound like her normal cheerful self. In fact, she started crying so hard I couldn’t even understand what she was saying. I immediately started to worry and then she managed to choke out the words that a dear friend, a husband and father of six children at our parish had died suddenly of a heart attack. “What?!? What?!” I screamed, unable to wrap my mind around what she was trying to tell me.
I hung up and called my husband in a panic. For a moment we both thought, maybe there’d been some mistake. Maybe it was actually his father, who shared his name, that died. Yes, that made sense. I texted my friend back, praying fervently that a mix up had been made. But there wasn’t. Our good friend, who’d we’d laughed with just the day before at our parish’s St. Nicolas Party, was gone.
Byron came out of Parkour, smiling, sweaty and excited to tell me how well he’d done. I just looked at him and said I had some horrible news. And I had to tell him that the father of one of his best friends had died; and we both sat there and stared at the dashboard.
It’s amazing how my schedule, which was so packed, immediately opened up. It’s amazing how all those worries and concerns, evaporated. Suddenly, my house, still messy and slightly disorganized, would have to do. Everything, as is, would be enough.
Tuesday morning, the kids checked their shoes for St. Nicolas coins, but unlike past years, St. Nick didn’t leave his usually funny letter. My husband just didn’t have it in him. And rather than gorge on candy, or start school as scheduled, we quickly dressed for Mass. “Mama, are we going because it’s St. Nicolas Day?” “No, we’re going to pray for our friends. I don’t know what else to do, so we’re going to say lots of prayers.”
When tragedy strikes, and your priorities are realigned, you realize how easy it is to make time for Mass, for buying extra food, for visiting someone you never imagined calling a widow. There are good reasons to loosen up the social media restrictions you imposed on yourself during Advent and spend time organizing meals, sharing information on funeral arrangements and fundraisers. The house can sit and the kids can stay in their pajamas a bit longer as you call and cry during the usually sacred school hours. There’s time in the evening to sit close to your spouse and remember to thank God for another day together as you sip drinks and reminisce about your friend.
I realized that maintaining relationships with those we love is of the greatest necessity. That people should be a priority at all times, not just when tragedy strikes. But we slip into complacency and assume our time together is guaranteed. We put things and tasks above people because we think they’ll always be here. We delay forgiveness and reconciliation with others because we trust in tomorrow. We don’t say what we mean, or withhold saying anything at all, hoping the words will come later. But in the end, we are left with either regrets or consolation with no chance for do-overs.
It is only in making time for people that we get to build the wonderful memories that sustain us when death comes. I posted on Facebook one of my favorite stories of my friend, and invited others to share theirs, and man, there are a couple doozies that made me laugh out loud. I’m glad I made time to stop by and visit, even when I had housework or school to do. I’m so glad my family set aside Christmas Eve for at least the last six years to visit with his family, even when I still had packages to wrap. I’m glad I accepted invitations for parties and conversations and help when they were offered because I gained a great friend in the process and list of memories to draw on for my own comfort, and to share with his wife and children.
The Church teaches us to meditate on the four last things: death, judgement, hell and heaven. We know our actions today have eternal ramifications for our soul, so we must carve out time daily to build a strong relationship with God. However, we are meant to live in community and it is in building close relationships with each other that we mirror God’s love for us. Our relationships with each other will be how people see God’s love in practice. We rely on each other, share our burdens, laugh and mourn together and overlook our individual flaws to see the greater good we create as a whole. Making time to build relationships isn’t selfish or frivolous, it is essential to our identity as Christians, and it is how thrive in the face of adversity rather than simply survive.
His funeral mass will be on Monday, and I ask for your prayers for his soul and his family. Thank you for excusing this break in the Quick Takes programming. We will return to our regularity scheduled blogging about orphans and weirdness soon. In the mean time, join up below and be sure to include a link back to this post so your readers can find the rest of the Quick Takes. I look forward to reading your posts!