by Msgr. Steven A. Ferrari
My life closed twice before its close –
It yet remains to see
If immortality unveil
A third event to me.
So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.
A 19th century recluse poetess in Amherst, Mass., penned the above words. Emily Dickinson had experienced the deaths of two loved ones and transformed her feelings into an immortal poem.
Exactly 25 years ago, my own family underwent a similar experience. Within the short period of three weeks, both of my beloved grandmothers died. Nonna Maria Ferrari passed away on Wednesday, Dec. 29, 1993, four months shy of her 97th birthday. Nonna Acquilina Lusardi followed on Friday, Jan. 21, 1994, barely four months before she would have turned 90.
Although a quarter of a century has gone by since then, I still can yet recall the upheaval in our family at the time. We felt like we had been caught in an emotional hurricane. The winds of grief and sadness blew, the torrents of release and tears crashed against the rocks of faith.
The month of January – and its preceding “holidays” – all seemed like a blur. They didn’t even feel that they had occurred.
In the fourth century, St. John Chrysostom wrote these words as a gift for each of us: “They whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before: they are now wherever we are.”
I know that my two beloved grandmothers are now wherever I am. I carry them around with me. I frequently hear their words of advice, and favorite Italian phrases often come to mind and heart.
One who has died is still alive. Our departed loved ones are alive in us, in our memory, in our hearts, in our blood. We are never completely alone. We cannot ever entirely separate ourselves from the dead. We don’t want to. We want to hold on. And yet we also learn to let go.
When I arrived as pastor of St. Teresa’s parish seven years ago this month, I told people that now I would be living close to my grandparents. For just five blocks east, down 50th Avenue from the church, in Calvary Cemetery, is the grave of my maternal grandparents. I visit frequently and say a prayer. I thank God for their loving example of family, faith and hard work. And I know that when my time comes, I too will be laid to rest close to them.
“I am the resurrection and the life,” says the Lord.
These words of Jesus our Savior ring ever more loudly in my ears.
Msgr. Ferrari is the pastor of St. Teresa’s parish in Woodside.