What an enormous blessing my job affords me. Death affects everyone. And affects the families of the deceased, enormously, in different ways. And as part of my job, I get to work with many people and families that come to the parish office to arrange funeral Masses and Services with our clergy, and then with me for every person who wishes to have the internment of Ashes in our Garden of Remembrance. I have also worked with many families who move ashes from another GOR to ours, or bring ashes back from overseas. It is an important time in these families’ lives, and to share this process with them in the weeks it takes, is very special.
The Garden of Remembrance is very close to my heart. Not because I have any family there yet, but because of the 70 plus families I have worked with, whose family, friends and others are remembered there. We have sold niches to people preparing for the future, sold niches to people immediately after a death in their family. We have had people now needing to use niches bought years ago. I often get asked, when niches are being selected, "how do I know which one to choose?". Very often people choose immediately and come to me with a picture of the niche or the number. When people are confused as to where to place their family, I often tell them to go and sit in the Garden of Remembrance. Just sit. And listen. And look. And wait. You will know. I don’t know how, but of this fact I am certain. The process of picking words for a plaque is easy for some and so hard for others. Getting to the point of sending me those words, is so traumatic for some that even I am driven to tears. Many many times I have had people opposite me in the office, when the plaque is manufactured and ready, who say they are not ready yet and how will they know. I always say the same thing. Go home. Go sit in our Garden. This week, next week, next month, you will know when you are ready to place the Ashes. I have had people bring Ashes to me and then just not being able to hand me the box. It is heartbreaking. I have gone and sat in the Garden with many many many people over the last 5 years. Just sat. It is a blessing. Every time.
I deal with the administration side of engaged couples in prep *149 so far* .. I do wedding rehearsals *27 so far*, I stand available for questions .... my opinion on veils, invites, you name it. Simply because I am impartial. I mop up tears. I prepare baptism certificates, very often for couples whose marriage certificates were also written by me in years gone by. I get so excited by that!
However death is a huge part of our office. My own friends have asked me if it is not depressing. No. It is very sad. I have seen families heartbreakingly enter our offices after family have died from illness. I have seen families who are shattered when their adult children, small children, babies - pass away. Parents, uncles, aunts, cousins. Sudden deaths. Long time coming deaths. Tragic deaths. When Fr C is not able to be there he trusts me to deal with arrangements with the families. I find that incredibly moving - Fr Chris likes to know about the deceased person ... what families remember most fondly, what the person liked to do etc. I listen to the most wonderful stories. How people met. What their hobbies were. Their funny traits. Husband mourn wives and vice verso. Grandparents. Parents. Raw grief. Raw pain. The reality of life. You do not have to be a member of clergy. Just like undertakers deal with it, so does the secretary of a parish office. And in a very big parish like ours, this is often about 25 times a year. I have often had to go to the bathroom and wipe my own tears away after dealing with a family.
I marvel at how many people I have sat in the Garden with, or at my fountain,or in the Adami Centre, at my desk, in their car, in the church. How many tears, how many tissues, how many whatsapp’s. And I am so grateful for this.
During my lunch breaks I usually do one of two things. Sit in the Presbytery garden and read / do my crossword, or go to a coffee shop and do the same. Now that Jess is in Pretoria, that lunch restaurant is always by her. Recently I looked for a new sunshine spot at the parish and I realised that I would use the garden of remembrance. So I take my lunch, and my book and my coffee. And I sit in a different spot there each time. With great respect. I sit. And I listen. And I remember. And I randomly let my eyes fall on a plaque or booked spot. And I play in my mind the story behind that plaque, that family, that moment. There are beautiful ones and tragic ones. Angry ones and touching ones. And I always leave with a prayer for a family in particular on each time and also all those there. Each plaque and each niche has a story attached to it - and I can tell a story for every one I have worked on. Each family is different, each story is different. I just tell them in my mind.
I ring the wind chimes every time and I listen. It is not morbid. It is not depressing. It is a moment in which I thank God for the chance to touch these lives in a little way. I thank God for giving me a nature of deep compassion, I thank God for the blessing of being able to have my lunch here in the Catholic graveyard, because it is so important to me and close to my heart.
I am blessed indeed.
till soon, be good to yourself
c'est la vie