CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Harry McAvoy: Graveside visit a time of joy amid the tears

By  Harry McAvoy
  • September 24, 2021

On a recent afternoon, the Bride and I met with my sister, Carol Anne, and our youngest daughter, Hope, at Holy Cross Cemetery, just north of Toronto. We had gathered to remember the second anniversary of the death of my mother, Anne McAvoy.

It is always good to see Carol Anne, who in some respects has become the quasi-matriarch of the McAvoy family. Sadly, my brother Pat was not in attendance; he would have enjoyed the ensuing teasing that normally occurs when members of the McAvoy family gather. 

As we looked down on the bronze marker that informs this is the burial place for our mother, father and younger sister, Catherine, who died as an infant, I noted one spot remained. On a piece of paper, I scribbled Carol Anne’s name and placed it on the empty spot and speculated about what malady would finally take her. Her immediate response was to call me “sicko,” which took me to an elementary school playground in the 1960s where such labels were standard fair. We all laughed as Carol Anne feigned great offence.

A few minutes later, after the teasing subsided, we did as our parents had taught us. Having lost our dear sister when she was only two, there were many visits to Holy Cross when I was a child and young teen, when my parents provided a faith-filled example. We would watch as mom would carry the flowers and dad would do a tidy-up of the marker. Dad would then invariably make the sign of the cross and we knew it was time to settle and pray. He would remind us of those who were suffering and lead us through several prayers that captured the beliefs and hopes of our Catholic faith. Dad and mom would then add prayers for others buried at Holy Cross whom they had known, and those who had no one to pray for them.

After leading my family in prayer, it occurred to me to reflect briefly on how blessed we are. I said it is because of our belief in God that we are able to gather prayerfully at the graveside of our loved ones, and also enjoy a few minutes of silliness and laughter. Yes, over the years there have been tears at this graveside and there will be more in the future, but there has also been happy times and the joy of being together, remembering and celebrating the lives of our loved ones who have gone before us. As Catholics who do our best to live our faith, we are not a people who view the grave as an ending, but rather, without being presumptuous, a step on the journey to an eternal life filled with wonder and joy.

It is this belief in our all-loving God that has sustained me as I live with mild cognitive impairment, manifested most often in short-term memory slips. Just last night, I mentioned to the Bride we should watch the latest instalment of The Chosen, a television drama based on the life of Jesus. No sooner had the words been spoken and I saw the look on Jennifer’s face; I had again forgotten. We had watched it just the night before, she responded, and didn’t I remember?  After a deep breath and a few hurried moments of trying to recall, I did remember, but only bits and pieces. Such moments are deeply discouraging and painful, for both of us. With Jennifer’s help, I was able to retrieve more, but not nearly enough to comfort either of us. 

On occasions when I don’t remember, or stand beside the grave of a loved one, or spend time with one who is suffering, I am grateful for the wonderful gift of my Catholic faith. I am comforted in the belief we live and one day will die in the loving care of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus. This belief does change everything, even making it possible to remember a dearly loved mother and grandmother, with smiles on our faces and a deep and abiding peace in our hearts, trusting we will be together again.     

(McAvoy has been sharing his journey of dealing with memory loss with Register readers.)

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