Can we get a grip on death? Can we calmly face it?
Our invisible souls animate our visible bodies. Then they don’t.
The bodies that seemed so full of life, so vigorous, so truly beautiful—these bodies become lumpen deadweights.
My father had a large frame. During the last ten years of his life, he had a hard time moving that frame around.
Helping my dad the stroke victim get into or out of a car was a workout. But he was still alive then.
Such tasks seemed like nothing, compared to hefting the dead weight of his 260-pound corpse into the church.
Now his body has been in the ground for 6 ½ years. Hamlet’s dear old friend Yorick had lain buried just about that length of time when the prince came upon the grave-digger who happened to be moving Yorick’s remains. Hamlet took his old friend’s skull in his hand and spoke to him, like I might speak to my father’s skull now:
Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?
Death makes us nervous, so nervous that we say and do strange, nonsensical things. What purpose does it serve to release doves at someone’s grave-side? Or, if the dead man loved Snickers bars, what good will it do him to line his casket with them?
In his encyclical on Christian hope, our Holy Father recalls the custom of the ancient people to whom St. Paul wrote Ephesians. The ancients entombed their dead with the inscription, In nihil ab nihilo quam cito recidimus. “How quickly we fall back from nothing to nothing.”
In a word, our bodies are doomed. And, as for the fate of our spiritual souls, how can we know? Without definitive information, given to us by a higher power, we have no way whatsoever to know what becomes of our souls after death. Hence the human propensity to make stuff up. Like that Michael Landon might have something to do with it. Or that you could come back in the next life as a cow. If we look death squarely in the face, we have to dismiss all such silly fables.
Praised be God, we have, in fact, received definitive information from a higher power about what happens. Although God allows our bodies to die as a just punishment for our sins, in His mercy He will not leave them in the dust forever. In the same way in which He formed them in the beginning, He will raise them up anew, and we will be able to share in the perfect justice and glory of the risen Christ.
Not only that. God has given us clear and decisive information about what to do for our departed loved ones in the meantime. Pray and offer sacrifice for the expiation of their sins.
All the dead will rise again. We will see them at a grand re-union. Only God knows the day and the hour. Only God knows what kind of decorations will adorn the moment, what kind of birds will be singing in the trees, what kind of foods and drinks will be on offer. That’s His business.
Our business is to pray and offer sacrifice while we can, so that, when that great day comes, we will be able to greet the ones who died before us with the peace of knowing that we loved them and did our best for them.
One thought on “Yorick and Praying for the Dead”
“de mortuis nihil nisi bonum”. thus quoted Dean Rusk when he heard that Sen. Joe McCarthy had died. “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”: it isn’t totally true; but it is largely so. The business of life keeps most of us busy — full time — and we have it on good account, ““Let the dead bury their dead.* But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
So, not only do we have our perspective on the dead, we also have our marching orders for today.
By the way, did anyone ever mention that your Dad looks a lot like Bill Cullen (brought on by your Hamlet).
In God we trust.