This evening a funeral is taking place. It’s the funeral of a young priest. He leaves behind a family in grief, a parish community in shock and a diocese deflated. It’s a loss beyond measure and a cross difficult to carry. We will never know or fully grasp the Calvary he encountered or the darkness that overwhelmed him but it’s obvious there was a darkness over his land until the “ninth hour”, when the veil of the temple was surely torn in two. We pray light came to him out of that dark place and that his death, brought him to deeper peace – a more lasting peace. God rest him. Amen.
I stopped short of including his name – many who read this will know it but maybe he deserves that anonymity now. His life would have been very public during the relatively short journey of his priesthood. He stood with and for countless people and, I am sure, spoke to them of reassurance in their uncertainty, hope in their despair, laughter in their tears and life in all its goodness. I am sure too, he meant every word he ever spoke and wanted to be a good and effective priest. Certainly he gave witness, worked hard and made a difference.
His death will be recorded as a statistic in some future report, quantifying death by suicide. Another number to be added to an already much too full list of people of all ages who have journeyed to this point of no return. There will be calls for task forces, reports and findings to try to get to the bottom of this problem that has so enveloped us. Behind each statistic – each number is a person and behind him or her, countless broken hearts and shattered dreams. It is sad beyond words.
A few years ago the mother of a young man who journeyed this way spoke to me about her worries. She was heartbroken for the loss of her son, the taking away of a brother for the rest of her family and the emptiness she felt. She was, alongside all this, deeply worried for others – for his friends and feared the impact his death might have on them. She asked me to speak to his friends, to try to reassure them and to let them know how much they meant. I knew what she was saying but was less sure what I should or could say.
In the end, I decided to take the words away from me and put them on another’s lips. Who though could speak from any level of knowledge? I thought of the Guardian Angel and borrowed his presence to try to speak.
I might share again the words spoken that night. I’ll change the name of the young man – we’ll call him Kevin. In remembering him alongside our young priest friend and all who have died in similar circumstances, the hope is that they have found lasting peace and the banishment of clouds ……..
Dear Friends of Kevin,
My name is Solas. I know you don’t know me though I have often been in your midst. I have, for close on a quarter of a century, been Kevin’s Guardian Angel. Like you, I felt such sadness as the weekend brought its story and the news to your ears that he had died. I talked to God and told him I felt I had failed. He asked me to watch out for Kevin and, while it wasn’t always the easiest of jobs, like a lot of you I enjoyed his company. Though I am supposed to know things, there were times I left the house with him and hadn’t a clue where we were going or what the night would bring. In fairness, I think there were two of us in it! I enjoyed his company though, and while it might seem he passed little heed of me, deep down he knew I was there. He knew God was there. God told me the other night that I hadn’t let him down. He said and I remember his words so clearly; “Solas, you were the last to say goodbye and the first to say hello”. God too wished that Kevin had made different choices and especially this, his last and irreversible, choice.
You see what Kevin knew was the love of his family, his friends and his desire for peace. He knew the future was taking shape and that the past, whatever he might have thought of it, helped shape that future. He came from a bright and caring family and he inherited more than his father’s height and his mother’s kindness.
What Kevin did not see, though in all honesty I tried to tell him, was the tears in your eyes. I whispered and shouted at him but somehow he could not hear me. If he did, he certainly gave no impression of having heard me. I know enough about him to know that he’d not have put anyone through the grief and sadness around us this evening. God said to me, the other night, that he still cannot understand how slow people are to realise how much they mean. Regardless of what happens in life, regardless of the successes or mistakes, we matter to so many people. If only we could fully take that in. I’ve been there myself, even as an Angel, that feeling that nobody would really notice if I faded out but then thankfully something always reminds me that were I not around the world would be minus something special – something holy – someone needed.
I suppose that’s why I am writing these few lines, to thank you all for noticing and to say I am sorry for your tears. God wants me to say to all Kevin’s friends, look around you tonight. Look at the tears on your own cheeks, feel the sadness in your own hearts and look at the faces of Kevin’s family. Your lives are so, so precious. So many people need you and depend on you. Don’t ever think your life doesn’t matter or that you’d not be missed. My friend Kevin must not have seen this the other night. He knew it absolutely but, the other night, he didn’t see it. It’s so important that you all see it here this evening. We should not be here. Kevin should not be here. I still had miles to travel with him.
Your Angels want to travel with you.