Yesterday evening many of us were at a two hour long talk by Fr Bernard. I found the talk very enriching and mentally I made a note that I would like to reflect further and write about dying and care-giving. One of the things that Fr. Bernard shared about was on his dad who had died way back in 1958. His body had been buried in Bidadari cemetery. Of course, most of us know that by now that cemetery is no more. Notice was given years ago for the bodies to be exhumed. So, on 2 July 2002, Fr. Bernard was at the cemetery to see to the exhumation. It had been raining that morning. A man in his 20s or early 30s approached Fr. Bernard with the advice that he was to tell his late father that he would be moved to a new home. Fr. Bernard understood that that man was a Taoist and that he feared disturbing the dead.
I remember my mother going to a cemetery to have the body of my grandfather exhumed. She told us briefly about it, but I was not interested and did not pay attention. For Fr. Bernard, it was different. As the man showed Fr. Bernard the soil, he told him about the changes in colour. He could point out where the coffin had been. So what did they find? Nails of the coffin. Fr. Bernard expected to see the skull of his late father, but it was not there. There was a white belt with some green moss. There was also a mud caked rosary. An incisor tooth was found as well.
This discovery put Fr. Bernard in a state of shock for a while. His thoughts went to all the Ash Wednesdays he had celebrated and the words he had uttered as he marked each person with ashes. Remember, man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return. Fr. Bernard was saying that if it were not for the fact that the dead man was his father, who would have known or cared about the corpse buried so long ago? So, why are we so serious about so many issues in life? In two or three generations from now, no one would know you had lived and died.
Another friend of mine has a crucifix in his room. It was found in the exhumation of his late grandfather. The metallic corpus of Christ crucified was intact and so my friend had a wooden cross specially made for it. A good reminder of God’s love for us and that He is truly Lord of the living and the dead.
What is so important is to know that God cares and that is enough. It is far more important to be remembered by God than by people. Looking at graves in a cemetery, one often wonders what kind of lives people led. Does God remember them? Deep questions come at such a time. Who am I? Where am I going? We look at the dying. We look at ourselves. What is there to fight about? Fr. Bernard said that he had been called to execute wills several times. He had witnessed families fighting over inheritance left for them. He had seen families broken up. Relationships had been severed over money and inheritance. What is the difference? Without the inheritance, can life not go on?
Thank God for our faith. In the final analysis, it is when we confront our mortality that we will also see our faith in God come into play. While we must learn to say our goodbyes, we must also learn to review our values. What really counts? What really matters in the final analysis? Good questions.
We are never too early in pondering over such questions for death knows no perfect or convenient time. It can happen any time and any where. Happy are we who know that it is to the Lord, the Author of Life, that we return. Happy are we too who will persevere faithfully to the Lord.
‘Be brave. I have conquered the world. ‘ Praise God!