April 27, 2012

Emmaus Walk / Debra Tomaselli

Alleluia! Christ is risen … and so are we!

Debra TomaselliThey shouldn’t have to make caskets that small.

I squinted as I stepped into the packed church on a bright Tuesday afternoon. The tiny, white coffin placed on top of a steel, accordion-like framed cart was the first thing that I saw. It was in the vestibule with Father Charlie and the family of the stillborn infant. I greeted the young parents, who were former classmates of my daughter, and scanned the congregation, looking for familiar faces.

Suddenly, my gaze returned to the little white casket, and I recalled the graveside burial of my own granddaughter, Abigail Therese.

Just months ago, she, too, was stillborn. I could still envision her tiny white casket topped with pink flowers. I could still smell the fresh dirt piled at the grave. I could still see Father Richard’s vestments waving in the gentle breeze. I could still see the sad look on my daughter’s face.

Snapping back to the present moment, I watched as the small group in the back of the church assembled around the little casket and began to process down the aisle. As they approached the altar, I slipped into a nearby pew and sat next to several friends.

Katie looked over and hugged me. “This must be really hard for you,” she said as the service began.

It wasn’t difficult though. I wasn’t sure why, but it wasn’t.

As the service ended, others greeted me with similar sentiments. Finally, Katie turned to me and, wiping a tear, said, “I know you say you are OK, but I know better. This really has to be hard for you.”

I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. Why wasn’t I upset? Why wasn’t this difficult? How was I able to handle this?

Unexpectedly, answers arose from deep within. I knew why I was there. I was there to provide strength for the family. I was there because presence is sometimes all you can do. I was there as a statement of faith.

In fact, my ability to transcend the sadness was even more profound, and suddenly I knew how to verbalize it.

“No, Katie, it’s really OK,” I repeated, pointing toward a mosaic of the resurrected Christ behind our altar. The words blurted out of me. “I believe in the Resurrection.”

Death is sad. Grief can be crushing. In fact, it once nearly defeated me. But then, with nowhere else to go, I chose Christ.

When you know the end of the story, you are bubble-wrapped in strength, peace, love and joy.

When you believe—really believe—nothing can penetrate you. Yes, there is sadness. Oh, there is sacrifice. But there is that kernel of faith deep within that upholds us—no matter what.

That child is free. That child is dancing. That child delivered an important message to all of us. May she rest in peace.

(Debra Tomaselli lives in Altamonte Springs, Fla. Her column appears in several diocesan newspapers. Her e-mail address is dtomaselli@cfl.rr.com.)

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