I was in a church yesterday and, like many, decided to light a candle. I had no particular intention in mind but said a short prayer for all I know and, in particular, anyone that needed a prayer at that time. Just one candle, among the many burning there and one prayer among countless offered. The candle came to life and my hope was that my prayer too, would be of some benefit.
Less than an hour later my brother phoned me with the heartbreaking news that a young lad from near us at home had been killed in an accident. The report in the paper and local radio would say he was a 22 year old man but I can’t see him in that way. I see him as an eight or nine year old in Monasteraden school when I first went to Ballaghaderreen Parish in the Autumn of 2000. He was there with his brother and sister and they reassured me that I knew people in the parish and knew them well. For years earlier I stood with their parents on their Wedding Day. I had heard of their births, had seen them playing around the house and watched them grow. I’d seen them in their father’s shop and was reminded of our own place at home when we too, as children, were known to the customer and they to us.
Of course the years passed and, when I left Ballagh, he was eighteen but there was a consistency. It was a home I could call to in the certain knowledge that if there was some little job to be done around the church, I’d not be refused. Even during those changing years of the teenager, there was a constancy there that meant so much to me.
Gerald Doherty has died long before his time. I don’t know why. I don’t know what to say to his parents, brother or sister. I know I can’t be there these days and called his father who was stronger than I on the phone. I feel so sorry for them all. I don’t think I could speak with his mother yet. I see her walking down the road near home on her daily and brisk walk and a hand held high in the air as she greets the passing me or anyone that toots the car horn or raises a hand. Her walk, so full of life, must be limp today and I wonder how she’ll find her step again.
Last night I celebrated Mass on the Feast of St Mary Magdalen. She became a close friend of Jesus, having known something of his forgiveness and closeness in life. Following his death, her life caved in. She went to the tomb on that first Easter Day, not to celebrate a Resurrection but to anoint a body. She had wondered, as she went, who would roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb. The stone, we are told, was very big. It was a practical question. She wanted to do the right thing by the Lord but this stone would surely get in the way. I sometimes think this stone is grief. It’s huge and daunting and blocks so much light and creates such distance between us and a loved one. When Mary got to the tomb, the stone had been rolled back. Maybe there’s hope in that. Hope that grief passes, in time, and with help.
I thought of Gerry and Eileen, Maria and Martin and Gerald’s friends last night during that Mass. I prayed that the stone will shift and that light will get through for them again. Mary realised that when the stone was moved she had a new worry. Jesus was gone from her sight. She asked the Angels where he was but received no certainty in their reply. She asked a man, she presumed to be a gardener, where he was. The man was Jesus but she did not recognise him. Jesus said one word to her. A word she must have heard spoken countless times but whatever way he said it, whatever twist was in the tone, she heard his voice – she knew it was he. He said to her “Mary”!
For some reason, I took a picture of the candle (the picture above) and, in that way, it seems as if it might still be burning. So my hope is that the candle lit yesterday, the support of so many people now around Monasteraden, Gurteen, Ballaghaderreen, Four Roads, Roscommon and many, many places will help Gerry and Eileen, Maria and Martin to hear the familiar voice of their son and brother. May that voice, that whisper bring them peace.
God rest you Gerald – I am truly sorry for your family’s loss and pain – may you rest in peace and, from that place of certain peace, bring hope and strength to all left wondering why.