We are offering a series of fifteen posts on living out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in motherhood.
Today is our seventh in a series of fifteen posts and focuses on the inherent mercy of motherhood, Bury the Dead.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this? . . .When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Sir, Come and see, Lord,” they replied. And Jesus wept (John 11: 25-26, 33-35).
Death is a part of life, and although it is a part we try to shield our children from, we must teach them to face death with the hope of eternity. While considering this work in the context of motherhood, I immediately think of all of us who have buried our babies, whether they were lost to us in early miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. Perhaps some of us have lost older babies, or even older children. This is a loss so great we cannot comprehend it – a kind of loss that we can’t even assign a word to the way we do when a spouse dies, and we certainly cannot survive it without the constant outpouring of God’s grace.
It is a beautiful act of mercy to bury the dead, especially when you are the mother who asks for your tiny baby’s remains and the doctor looks at you like you are crazy; or when you do your best to lay the little one to rest and honor his life and commend him to his eternal rest. To bury our dead is to speak as a witness to the dignity of life and to give our beloved back to God. Death is a part of life. We will all live forever, but not here.
It is essential and beautiful to teach our children that Christ has overcome death, that we do not need to fear it, and that we are never hopeless in the face of it. As 1 Corinthians 15:55 asks, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
As Catholics there is tremendous hope in death and great beauty in the way we respond to it. That hope begins with burial. Bring your children to funerals. Show them the great mercy found in the liturgy of Catholic burial. They will see us bury our parents, and they will most certainly lose someone else close to them at some point in their lives, so arm them with the truth and expose them to the grace of God’s mercy in death.
We must also teach them to grieve. Consider the story of Lazarus. Great care was taken in his burial by those who loved him, and they mourned his loss deeply. Christ, knowing he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, still wept in response to his death. Grieving is essential, and we must allow ourselves to mourn the loss of those we love, even though we know we will not be separated forever. We need to show our children the truth of both grief and hope, and how we can live in both simultaneously.