My Dear Rotarians and friends, in particular my Action Presidents,
I can never thank you enough for the concern and condolences, and love and support you have given me through words, messages and flowers following the death of my mother earlier this month. My life has not been as organized as I hope these days, and this was not helped by he travel commitments last week which saw me out of town for most of the time. This means that I am stilling opening messages, let alone replying them.
Quite a few friends sent me condolence messages through email with apologies that they did not have my phone numbers, while still others sent messages to friends of friends with requests for theirs to be redirected to me because they did not have my email. I thank all of you all the same. At such times, one needs all the support one can get; and I count on friends for that. And I request that you broadcast my message to friends who had asked you to pass on me messages that they know that I am not as unthankful as I sometimes appear to be.
I need also thank many people I did not know, or at least as well as I would have liked, including for example the staff of the funeral home, the priest who gave her the last sacrament and conducted the last rites, the brothers and sisters from the Aberdeen diocese who turned up with the priest, the friends of my parents many of whom I had never met, and the people at the cemetery.
Most of you did not know my mother, and I suspect she knew very little about Rotary. We held a family meeting the night she went at our father’s place. We decided to notify only the relatives and close family friends, but that we would put out an obituary in two local papers. I mentioned the news to one or two close friends in passing as I was replying to email the next day. I therefore had not expected the many wreaths, flowers and blankets from Rotarians and Rotary club, thankful though I was. At the risk of offending the more sensitive, I cannot help feeling that I would have liked to see the money on the flowers going to charity, the Rotary Foundation in particular. Let me hasten to add that we were extremely grateful to Rotarians and friends for their flowers. While still on the subject of flowers, when I go, I would most certainly like my friends to send donations to the Rotary Foundation in lieu of flowers.
My mother was a rather strong-willed person. She would like to see everything under control, in the manner and fashion she desired preferably. She organized our father’s life and ours until we got married. As we grew older, we would urge father to fight for more freedom and independence, including when and where to eat and drink and how much to drink, for example. The children often joked about the price of democracy, and we suspected that he would enjoy some freedom. After all, who wouldn’t. Somehow, he must have grown accustomed to her and become very good and adept at living with her. In his short and moving eulogy, he talked of their nearly 60 years of happy marriage through thick and thin and in a few words epitomized what a marriage was meant to be. They were married in December 1941 during the war and possibly because of the war. I was very touched. I think the priest was touched too. The priest echoed father’s sentiment in his sermon. He said he had just come from a wedding and witnessed the couple exchanging vows. He suggested that the new couple would benefit if they were there, and so on.
I was in Palace Hotel in Beijing last week. Before breakfast, I was watching the end of a 1992 movie featuring Mel Gibson as Daniel who volunteered to be frozen and into hibernation in a scientific experiment. Then the war broke out and he was forgotten for 50 years before he was accidentally defrost and came to life. He began looking for his friends who were mostly dead, and for a long while he thought that Helen was also dead – Helen had vouched to marry him after he came out of hibernation. I recall such details because I saw the film before from a fund raising premiere of a Rotary club. They story had it that Daniel hijacked a military plane and with the assistance of a kid found Helen on a remote island where he proposed and she said yes. My eyes welled with tears as my thoughts went back to my mother and what father said about their marriage.
Sunday morning in my hotel room in Grand Vista Hotel in Kobe – they cancelled the morning activity – I was thumbing through the Holy Bible when I stopped at John’s story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. I have always found the passages about living and dying beautiful and they assumed a special meaning at the time. Coming back, I looked up some readings on life and death and would like to share the following passages with you.
Life and Death
Much of life and death remains for us a mystery, we cannot grasp it completely. We do not fully know or understand exactly how a new life is created but we know that as a child leaves the womb, he or she moves from a familiar world to a new world; a world of life outside the safety of the womb. Life is changed but the child is still the same person.
In the same way, we do not fully understand exactly how life in this world ends in death. We know the facts of death, just as we may know the facts of life, but there is much we do not know and a lot we don’t understand.
Making sense of death
The whole purpose of the life and death of Jesus Christ was to show clearly that there is more to life than what we experience here on earth. Our faith gives us a guide to understanding death because it is based on the words and life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus came to re-assure us of God’s deep love and commitment to each and every person in this world. He showed us, too, how our lives and our futures are caught up with one another; we cannot live in isolation, we belong to the family of God. This means, of course, that we are also victims of one another, just as Christ himself was a victim of the people and the times in which he lived. Many people at that time and in the years since have wondered why, if Jesus Christ was truly the Son of God, he didn’t use his power to control and contain evil. But because God’s love is complete and entire for all his people, good and bad alike, he is not prepared to step in and solve the problems of the world in a worldly way. If he did so, he would take away from many people the opportunity to change and grow in goodness.
The kingdom of God is the kind of kingdom that grows slowly, like a small seed in the earth. It is to grow within each one of us, good and bad, so that we may become more and more like Christ. In this way, the values of the world will be transformed and renewed so that the love of God will be clear to every single person. God is not prepared to write off even the greatest sinner because he loves each one of us so very much.
The Funeral Mass
For Catholics, the celebration of the Mass or Eucharist is at the heart of our faith. In coming together for Mass we celebrate our belonging as members of Christ’s family here on earth, and for eternal life.
As we listen to the words of God in Holy Scripture we discover new ways of making sense of life and of death. We learn, too, how we can find the way to God in a world, which is often confusing and difficult to understand. At Holy Communion, Catholics share in the life of Christ in the sacred meal. We experience the result of God’s great desire to come to us and be one with us in this life.
To make the bread and wine for our Communion, grain and grapes are crushed. Jesus Christ was also crushed for our communion with him. He was crushed and crucified on the Cross, so that the power of God’s love for all could be shown. In all our lives there is suffering, but our suffering is not meaningless. For when suffering is faced with love, that which is crushed and broken is transformed by such love into new life.
Our celebration of Holy Communion, which we call the Eucharist (meaning thanksgiving), brings into focus the cost of all true loving and shows us where such love will lead us – into the hands of God the Creator of love.
In our Funeral Mass we are re-assured, then, of Christ’s very real presence with us at this time. And the prayers of the whole Church are united on behalf of the one who has died and those who mourn the loss of a loved one.
My dear friends, if you find this letter too personal, it is because I have tried to share something with you. There is nothing more tragic between people than a failure to communicate. Life is for the living, and it is always great to be alive and well. I wish you all good health and happiness, and once again, thank you for everything.
Talk to you soon.