The Power of Simplicity

Cardinal Sarah writes: New funeral customs display a false joy and an adulterous form of bereavement that are unwilling to let silence do the speaking. (The Power of Silence, Sarah, Ignatius, 2017).

Reading his words reminded me of the final funeral and burial at Moberly Lake Cemetery, BC that I attended in early summer, 1995. I was standing at the edge of the cemetery, 100 feet above Moberly Lake and as I gazed out at the water, I thought to myself, “I’m gonna miss this.” This being the simple way that the Saulteau First Nations bury their dead.

Moberly Lake was one of 3 places that I served when I was appointed pastor of Our Lady of Peace, Chetwynd; the other 2 being Tumbler Ridge and Hudson’s Hope. The Saulteau people loved their founding pastor, the legendary Fr. Emile Jungbluth, OMI. He was pastor for a few decades. I was the third pastor in the history of the parish, serving there from 1991-1995.

The Saulteau First Nations express their bereavement in a beautiful way. On that day, when I stood alone at their burial ground, it was their silent way of expressing sorrow that struck me. There were no clichés in reference to the dead person (e.g., he is in a better place; God called him home). No! Silence was the resounding word that was spoken. There were no jokes, eulogy, laughter or applause, just a look, a long look, into the eyes of the grieving family members, a hug, some moaning and tears. That’s all, then they moved on so that the next person could do the same. Children played on the hill, not able to fully understand the grieving elders, yet understanding enough to behave themselves. The elders were led up the steep, rocky path to the cemetery by younger family members. A rough hole was dug, there was a ladder, some rope to lower the plywood coffin, a few shovels, a few prayers, some holy water, a silent moan, silent tears, groaning, then everyone departed.

I stood alone, the only non-Saulteau, marveling at the simplicity and truly real bereavement around me. As I gazed out toward the lake, hiding my tears, I said myself, “I’m gonna miss this.”

Now, 23 years later, I understand better what this is, thanks to Cardinal Sarah’s words. I have been to many wakes,  vigils and  celebrations of life. I have heard some comments that were rude, seen people laugh, joke, talk way too much, hug, reminisce, not pray, make stupid remarks. Yeah, I’ve heard lots, but the last burial at Moberly remains etched in my heart and soul and Cardinal Sarah’s words have brought those thoughts back to life for me.