Absence at the table
I imagine we all can point to people who inspire us in our faith. For me, one of the first people I ever knew who was super serious about their faith was my Uncle Dean. He was so serious about Jesus that all of us cousins rued the day we got stuck in the front seat of his truck because we knew we were going to be pretty fiercely preached at for the duration of the trip.
Uncle Dean toed a hard line when it came to the lived experience of the faith. He did not simply talk a good game, he walked the walk better than most. He was instrumental in starting prison ministry in his diocese; he brought the St. Vincent de Paul Society to his parish. When he realized that the men he had ministered to in prison struggled to assimilate back into society, he started a new ministry to help these people find success. He spent his own meager funds and pestered others for their donations to support these ministries.
He seldom took no for an answer and as a result he probably had as many detractors as he did supporters. Even in his last days when he seldom left the house and his health was failing him, he was working the phones and talking ears off (mine included) about the need to love Jesus deeply and serve the poor just as deeply.
Uncle Dean passed away this September. He will be greatly missed by many, but especially by those who, by his efforts, are in much better circumstances today than before.
To say that my uncle was an inspiration to me would only be a part of the story. He also never stopped challenging me to do more. Whenever I saw him, he wanted to know about my prayer time, Scripture study, and how I was personally serving the poor. In short, he never stopped treating me like the 10-year-old on the front seat of his truck.
The passing of Uncle Dean will make the upcoming holiday season particularly difficult, most especially for his wife, children, and grandchildren, but also for the nieces, nephews, friends, and those to whom he ministered.
When people we love die, the holidays have a very different tenor. They seem dulled, incomplete, melancholy, or just downright sad. Maybe this is true for you this year. If so, these are very normal feelings to have. Seldom is any holiday as picture perfect as a Hallmark movie. When we are still knee-deep in the season of grief, no amount of pumpkin spice or peppermint can sweeten our mood. And that is all right. Be honest with yourself and your family about how you are feeling and adjust your celebrations accordingly.
If you are blessed to not be experiencing loss this year, be mindful of those you know who might be sad this time of year. Make a special point to invite them for coffee (maybe one of those pumpkin or peppermint lattes) and take the time to listen to stories about the people they are missing.
The holidays are about family and friends, community and gathering, decorating and celebrating, and all of this is wrapped up in our faith and expressed in liturgical splendor. As special and awesome as each of these aspects are, they often have direct connections to those we have lost.
One of the reasons my Uncle Dean loved the holidays so much was all the great food. I know he never met a pie or spare rib that he didn’t like. So, this year I will savor every morsel of food as a way to keep him alive in my memory.
Uncle Deano, pray for us all, especially those who are sad this time of year.