Hope in place of weeping
Posted by Francesco Bertolina on 15 October 2009 ·
Shortly before summer, a young mother in one of the villages where I carry out my pastoral work died tragically. She fell sleep with a lighted cigarette, and was suffocated by the beginnings of a fire. She left three children, by three different fathers. She had been baptized two years earlier, together with her mother. She had a strong desire to overcome her alcoholism, which we had spoken of many times, including during her baptismal catechesis. I spoke with her on the phone a few days before she died – she wanted to know what time Mass would be celebrated on Ascension…
In my relations with this woman animated by good and sincere intentions – which, sadly, remained only intentions – I became conscious of the fact that the Lord gave me insight into her limitations so as to show me my own.
The news of her death reached me unexpectedly, and I wept. I wept for the bond that had been established between us, in which I found myself also to be needy, a beggar. I wept for her three children. For two years they had been living in an orphanage about 200 kilometers away, but spent the summers with her. The next day, I left for the woman’s village, planning to stop first at the orphanage. During the trip I would communicate the terrible news to the children; but how, and when?
I prayed as I went to the orphanage. I knew the director had not told the children, who weren’t the least surprised that I came to pick them up, since there was only one day left of school. The smallest, eight years old, got in the car and said right away: «Mommy will be so happy we’re coming today!». They like me, and speak quite freely with me. At one stretch, while we were looking out the windows at the magnificent landscape, deep green from the constant rains, I said to them that God is great to have given us such a beautiful world. I began to speak of creation, and of the Creator, encouraging them with questions: «Who created all this? Who created us?».
Little by little, I moved the conversation to life, and death, reminding them of their grandfather’s death and funeral two years earlier: «Where is your grandfather now? Who knows?… Do they weep in Paradise?…».
The moment had arrived: I stopped the car, and told them that their mother was now flying toward heaven, and that we all needed to pray a lot for her to help her in that flight. I tried to help them understand that what they would soon see would just be their mother’s body: she had died on this earth, but her soul was still alive and one day, when God wills it, we will see her again.
After a long moment of silence, during which the children looked at each other, crying, the little one surprised me by saying: «Mommy is now with grandpa in Paradise». Those words expressed the certainty that had been born in them: their mother was no more, they could no longer see her – but she was alive. This certainty stayed with them during the funeral and the days that followed, during which they had to stay at the orphanage while their aunt sorted out the issue of their adoption.
Precisely that certainty was the greatest gift that the Lord gave me in all this, and it made an impression on all those who saw it. A woman of the village, for example, a friend of the aunt, asked me for a ride to Novosibirsk just as I was taking the children back to the orphanage. «I can’t understand how come they don’t cry for their mother», she said to me in amazement, «I would cry constantly ». I replied that in the hearts of those children, weeping had been replaced by the certainty of eternal life and the immense hope of seeing their mother again in heaven.