“I should live to be 100!” How many times have we heard people say that? It appears we believe that those who live to a ripe old age have received a special blessing. I’m not so sure that is true. Those who die old are often neglected and forgotten.
Tomorrow I will celebrate the funeral Mass of a woman who died at 100 years old, and I just came back from the wake. Now, usually wakes are crowded places where the mourners are overwhelmed by people coming to pay their respect to the dead and to comfort the family. That’s terrific! That’s just what a wake is for! In addition to flowers and condolences, there is usually a pile of Mass cards from friends and acquaintances. Well, at this wake, there were only eleven people present – all members of the woman’s immediate family. This is by no means an exception; in fact, I would say it is the norm. All these people no doubt have friends and acquaintances that would be there if the person lost someone at a tender young age. So where were they? Why do we not attend the wakes of the very old?
I think that somehow we decide that, since the person was very old, the family will be dealing with it better than if the person died young. To a certain extent this is true, and I certainly admit that, when a funeral is called in to the rectory and we hear the person was 100, that’s a lot easier to bear than if the person was 26. But that 100-year-old woman is still someone’s mother, someone’s grandmother, someone dear to them, and even if their grief is not as poignant as one mourning a child, they still have lost someone dear to them and can use our comfort. Even if we only stay at the wake for a few minutes, and even if we only can think to say “I’m so sorry for your loss,” that alone is so helpful to them. Our presence is reassuring that we care for them. And most importantly, as Catholics, the most important thing we do when someone has died is offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the repose of his soul, and people need prayers for their soul whether they die at 100 or at 20. So whenever you hear someone has lost a loved one, attend the wake, send a Mass card, make a phone call. The family will be grateful for your thoughtfuness and concern and might even need it, even if the person lived to be 100 years old.