Death leaves a void: Passing on the intangiblesBy: Matthew D. Henderson
Recently, I attended the funeral of Rosie San Paolo, a 93-year-old lady who is a bit of a rock star around here — known for being active in diocesan and charitable issues.
Rosie left her mark on the area, possibly most noticeably, as a pro-life leader. She organized the formation of Voices for Life, a diocesan-sponsored activism and outreach group. She rallied people — young and old — to participate in public events like Life Chain. She invited crowds of people to educational and philanthropic events for organizations such as Birthright and Vitae dinners. She worked hard for decades to see the last abortion clinic close in southern Missouri. For me and many others, she was the first person that engaged us in a life-affirming event. She personally invited people and persisted until we gave her point of view a chance. Her legacy is seen in this area of the country in the form of a much-stronger pro-life culture with activists from many different faith traditions, thriving pro-life pregnancy centers and services, as well as a public that is less tolerant of the culture of death found in the media and politics at large.
Rosie’s story reminds me of my wife’s grandmother, Virginia McKenzie. She was also known for devoting her life to causes that she felt called to. She volunteered at her local pregnancy center. She drove cancer patients to their doctor appointments, two hours each way. She helped daily at the church she attended and lived near. She brought the Holy Eucharist to those who were sick or homebound and she organized regular card games for seniors in her neighborhood who needed fellowship. Most remarkably, she prayed constantly for her family and even a list of strangers on the parish prayer chain.
At her funeral, everyone spoke of the good deeds she did during her life all the way up to the end. After the service, family members were invited next door to her house, to collect the things she had left for them. All of her dishes and household goods and religious items found a loving home somewhere in the country. My wife and I think fondly of her every time we drink out of an orange juice glass from her kitchen, or read one of the many theology books from her collection, or look at the crucifix hanging in our nursery. But I remember, after her funeral, thinking that there was more to distribute than just her belongings. She had 40-plus hours of work she did every week, a void that charities would have to scramble to fill. She had friends who needed someone with whom to visit, not to mention who now would recite the hundreds of prayers that needed to be said each day?
Maybe after a funeral, when the loved ones are learning which items they will receive from the official will, the manager of the trust should stand up and say something like:
“We have found someone to accept the house, the furniture, the car, and even the cat. But this person who passed also volunteered once-a-week at a homeless shelter, greeting the guests with love and acceptance, and doing remedial tasks without any applause. Who will now take on this work? And this person visited the elderly each and every Sunday at the nursing home, bringing them the Blessed Sacrament and some much needed company. Who will take on this role? This person smiled at everyone on the sidewalk and shared the faith with strangers. Who will carry on those habits? This person spoke the truth, with confidence and kindness, even when it wasn’t popular. Who will stand up for what is right on his or her behalf? And you children, who this person raised, a rosary or other devotion was prayed everyday for you. Now you must pray for yourselves, each day, and for your children and their children.”
Just as with Rosie San Paolo, after people pass, there is a deficit in the world. There is work that needs to be done. And the rest of us must pick up the tasks and carry on. The legacy of these individuals must be maintained by those left behind and those who benefited from those works.
May we all look for ways to fill gaps, to meet some need that is not being met, to place ourselves in the void left by someone else.