Today we celebrated yet another funeral in my parish. I use the word celebrate because in the Catholic faith we chose to say a Mass of the Resurrection in celebration of the deceased being resurrected into new life with Christ.
I am a member of the Ministry of Consolation and so I find myself attending more funerals than the average person. As part of our ministry we prepare the church for viewing services and vigils which usually take place the day before the funeral Mass, and then for the Mass itself. We are on hand to greet family and friends of the deceased as they come to the services and to be of any assistance to them or the priest.
As I stood in the church narthex this morning greeting everyone, I noticed a mother and her son come in to join those already present. The young man carried himself with great care and dignity. He wore a uniform of sorts, some kind of cadet perhaps. His posture was perfect, and even though he walked with a slight limp, he carried himself “tall”. I found out later his name was Teddy.
In all the time they were in the narthex before Mass started he stood quietly by his mother’s side. Every once in a while they would look at each other and smile. I could not help but notice that it was more than just a smile. It was a communication. In that one act they seemed to speak volumes to each other.
Close by them stood another couple with a small girl of about three years old in a stroller. Teddy noticed the girl and stood staring at her as though mesmerized. After some moments, his mother touched him gently on the arm and he looked at her with a huge smile. He then turned his attention back to the girl for a few more moments before turning once more, the smile still upon his face, to gaze intently, lovingly into his mother’s eyes. Again I had the feeling of a long, silent communication between them.
It was time for Mass. We discreetly directed everyone into the church and Mass began. The ritual was beautiful, the songs and readings perfectly chosen for the occasion. Then came the moment for Communion and once again Teddy and his mother took front and center stage of my attention.
I had already received Communion and had just returned to my seat to pray when I looked up to see them returning down the aisle. As before, I noticed how tall and straight Teddy walked. His mother walked beside him and, with one hand resting lightly in the center of his back, seemed to gently guide him. But more than guiding, it appeared to be a sign of reassurance.
It seemed to me that Teddy was totally focused in the moment. He had just received Communion and his hands were folded in front of him in a gesture of quiet reverence. Yet as they walked together I noticed that with a slight movement of his head he seemed to keep his mother in his peripheral vision.
Once back in their pew, they knelt side by side. It looked as though it was difficult for Teddy to kneel, perhaps something to do with that limp. Then he slightly turned his head to his mother and waited. I don’t know how I knew he was waiting, nor did I know what he was waiting for. As I watched, his mother leaned in to him and brought her lips to his cheek in close proximity to his ear.
As if on cue, Teddy inclined his head just fractionally in her direction and she began to speak to him. In that moment I thought that perhaps she was saying some prayers for him, or perhaps suggesting some prayers that he might like to say. No matter what, the moment was precious, just utterly precious, and I felt humbled to have been part of a very intimate act between them.
What made this Mother’s and son’s love so precious and special? Teddy is a Downs Syndrome child. He is now twenty six years old. The unconditional love that flowed so freely between them was palpable. I felt privileged to see the warm compassion that this mother showed her special child. As I was allowed into their space and allowed to share their beautiful relationship,I felt as though I been given a priceless gift.