Remembering a funeral at a wedding

Every morning my iPad Pro somehow chooses a picture to feature in the little photos gadget on its home screen. This morning it is this photo from July 21, 2021. Here my mother, Dolores, is seated on the little side deck of her house in Hopewell VA with my niece Lauren.

This is the house where I grew up. My parents added this little deck 30 or 35 years ago so that my widowed and frail grandfather would have a place to sit outside in the sun while he waited to be called home. In the 2010s and up until a few days before her own departure in January 2022, my mother in turn sat there in the sun.

Here she is looking at something on Lauren’s phone. It might be a photo. More likely, it is a family member on a FaceTime call. The smile on her face is how I think we all mostly remember her. It is how she responded, reliably, right down to her last days, to her children and grandchildren and other loved ones.

Tomorrow Beth and I will fly to Baltimore for Lauren’s wedding on Sunday. My mother will be there, smiling. Others may not see her, but I will, and I bet Lauren will too. Maybe Andrew will as well—he traveled to Virginia with Lauren to see my mother a number of times; or maybe he will be seeing the face of his own grandmother, who he hoped would attend in person but who is too ill for that now.

Clever iPad can freeze moments, hold them, and show them to us later. But iPad is weak compared to the mind and heart of God.

John Swinton—psychiatric nurse and pastoral theologian—wrote a book on dementia in which he asked whether and how a person remains a person when their mind is gone. His answer: the person with dementia remains secure because their identity is grounded not in their own memory but in God’s.

Time takes away every mortal mind, and every mortal body. Even those, like my mother, who in old age are spared the ravages of dementia suffer both de-minding and de-bodying at death, at least as far as we can see. But they live on, not in the thin techno-survival of digital photography but in the infinitely thick eternity of the mind and heart of God, in which are also held those whom they leave behind.

And we believe that this enduring existence is not static and subjectively dead, like a person preserved only in a photograph, who may be alive in the mind of the viewer of the photograph but is not self-present and alive and looking back out of the photograph. We believe that the person held eternally in the mind and heart of God is even more alive there, not only objectively but also subjectively, than when they were sitting physically in the photonic sunshine in a resin chair on their wooden deck.

Lauren’s grandmother will be with her at her wedding, just as her grandmother’s departed father and brother and husband were present with her during her many hours in the sunshine on that deck. Lauren’s grandmother will be with her at her wedding not just because Lauren will remember her (so no one need worry that in the busyness of the big moment Lauren’s mind might be elsewhere!) but because both of them are alive, primarily and most securely, in the mind and heart of the maker, redeemer, and sustainer of all that is.

This is also why Andrew’s grandmother will be there, even if she is physically in a sickroom. And, if you can follow the logic, it is also ultimately why and how I myself will be present to that moment, even if I am sitting right there, with mind and body fully intact and attentive.

This is part of the meaning of “the communion of the saints,” and it is part of the meaning of the hope that we have because of the resurrection of Christ. It is part of what St. Paul means when he speaks of being absent from the body—but present with the Lord, which he says is far better. This is why we can be joyful not only while sitting in the sunshine but while remembering those moments in the sunshine when walking—or dancing—through shadows and tears. 

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