Between two words … phrases

As mentioned in previous post, we celebrated the Funeral Mass of Fr Andrew Finan during the week.  I’ve been more than a little surprised by the impact that has had on me. Though I didn’t spend much time in Andrew’s company over the years, I am happy that I got to spend some time with him over the past months of his illness, on his final journey.  I’m glad also, that I told him that I admired him and appreciated the witness he displayed.

Bishop Kelly’s homily remains with me too and, not least, those final words and phrases that he deciphered from Andrew.  “Frustrated” was one of them.  I imagine it spoke to the confusion Andrew felt around his illness, the grieving of his loss of independence, mobility and gift of speech that he so freely and ably utilised.  It’s possible too, that it spoke of anger around his illness and maybe even doubts.  It was a very real word, describing a very real and painful moment in life and a word, that has resonance with anyone who has gone through a difficult situation.

The other phrase, Bishop Brendan mentioned, was the last he understood from Andrew.  The bishop, in sympathy and empathy, spoke with Andrew about his personal regret for what was being experienced, not least Andrew’s inability to communicate freely and easily.  Andrew’s reply, the last the bishop heard from his mouth, was “I don’t mind”.  It was a phrase rooted in acceptance.

Somewhere between those two spoken moments; “Frustrated” and “I don’t mind” is found the story of coming to terms with grief and loss. We’re told there is a clearly defined journey in grief, sickness, separation and loss that goes from anger to acceptance.  For some it might be a short journey and for others longer.  In the perfect journey, irrespective of time, the hope is that the move is made from one to the other. There are other stops along the way, “denial”, “bargaining” being some of them but hopefully and ideally, the destination of “acceptance” – “I don’t mind” is reached.

Joe Byrne, father of Jonny Byrne, R.I.P.

Joe Byrne, father of Jonny Byrne, R.I.P.

Those two words are with me today and maybe we might spend a bit of time with them.  That word “frustration” seems to the fore now when we hear of the death of young Jonny Byrne last week.  A similar death also reported from Dublin.  How frustrated both families must feel.  We saw Jonny’s father on the Late Late Show on Friday night.  He could scarcely ever have imagined himself being a guest on this show.  He was not there to promote a series of concert dates or his most recent book.  He was there to speak to all, willing to listen, about the senselessness of his son’s death.  He talked too of his sadness for his other son, sitting in the audience, who had to watch his brother die in such awful circumstances.

His son died, it appears, as the result of a dare posted somewhere or other on social media, daring him to drink a certain amount.  I’m not sure of the details but it seems to be part of some social stupidity where people are dared to act in a reckless way and to nominate someone else to do likewise.

Frustrated!  How frustrated that poor father must feel? Frustrated that his son’s life has been snuffed out in such a meaningless and unnecessary fashion.  Frustrated, that somehow his family’s concern for him, love for him, need for him was sidelined by peer pressure in its most anonymous form – a post, a text, a message – the click of a mouse or send button.  Frustrated, that this moment can never be reversed. Frustrated, that years of family life, nurturing and growing ended in the coldness of a foolish and pressured decision.

Surely this is the frustration of many parents who seem to be the last ones heeded when advice is needed and whose opinion seems well down the line of what’s considered in the making of a decision.  Our hearts go out to parents who have to worry when their sons and daughters go out at night. Many of them worry into the small hours and are just left to hope that eventually they’ll hear the key in the door rather than the doorbell, the familiar voice of the child they love rather than the uniformed presence and hushed tone of a policeman or priest – “Sorry, we have some bad news ….”

I feel this frustration too since, as a priest, I think I’ve tried to talk to people through the years about the importance of life, the need to cherish it and the care that needs to be taken.  I have spoken about behaving in a responsible way that brings credit, not shame; hope not despair; life not death ….  Teachers too, in the classroom, speak of lessons for life- that they hope stay with their students.  Frustration must be felt there too when they hear of their students’ funeral arrangements rather then their plans for marriage, graduation – life!

The Lord tells us today that we are “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” and this surely describes many of our young people. They ooze goodness, the are talented, decent, focused, giving, happy, loving, fun-filled – all they need to be to enjoy life.  Maybe the Lord is calling to them now to be mindful of one another.  Maybe He’s asking them to pull back from the brink and to pull others back too so that parents don’t have to walk into empty bedrooms, see their children’s clothes left on a chair or in a wardrobe. Clothes that will not be worn again. Maybe He’s saying to them, don’t leave fathers like the man on the Late Late Show, having to look at his son’s picture over the mantle piece when he should be able to stand beside him on his wedding day.  Don’t allow hurt to be inflicted on family or community. Be light to one another, salt for one another ….

Maybe Fr Andrew’s final words heard by Bishop Brendan, with a necessary adaptation, have a place too.  Maybe they become the words of those who might feel pressured to act in a way that could cause hurt to them or others – “I don’t mind”.  “I don’t mind if it’s not cool, to ignore this dare”.  “I don’t mind, if you think I’m boring because I’m not willing to take a risk with the greatest gift I have – the gift of my life”.  “I don’t mind, if I loose you as a friend since you are ultimately not for my good anyway.”  “I don’t mind, if it’s seen by some as childish to know that my parents, family and friends love me and would be devastated and plunged into darkness if anything bad happens to me”.  “I don’t mind ….. and if you don’t mind, I’ll mind my life …..”

I’ve been amazed how much I miss Andrew these past few days.  It’s not that we were very close or spent a lot of time together but, in recent months and during his illness, I came to have a profound respect for him.  It strikes me then, if I miss someone that I didn’t know as well as I could have or maybe even should have, now much more so that poor man on TV on Friday night, his son and young friend in the audience, his wife at home must miss Jonny Byrne.

We need to mind and value life.  Anything that belittles it, puts it at risk or ultimately destroys it needs to be avoided.

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