Whether we live or die


I’d never been to the funeral of a perfect stranger before. Nor had I cried so bitterly over the loss of someone I’d never met and never will. Last week, I joined over 2,000 people in commemorating the life of Gerry Grandzol, a devoted husband and father who died protecting his two year-old daughter. I managed to squeeze into a pew in the third row, watching and waiting as sadness hung in the air. “I played hockey with Gerry,” a man in my pew whispered to the woman next to me. I prayed they wouldn’t turn to me next, tears already starting to stream down my face. I sat directly facing the entrance to the sacristy, and I watched as ten priests processed out behind Gerry’s family. A dark-suited man held up Gerry’s young widow, her face racked with grief. I didn’t even know him. But somehow, my heart is still broken.


I didn’t know this man, but I almost feel as if I did. After the funeral, I sifted through hundreds of posts on a memorial Facebook page dedicated to Gerry. The stories and pictures shared there pointed to his gregariousness, his loyalty, his joy and devotion, his love of hockey and jorts and crazy socks. There are posts from college and high school and grade school friends, teammates and beloved family members and neighbors from his block. This man was deeply loved and will not be forgotten.


And it’s gotten me thinking, this crying in a pew and rubbing shoulders with his friends and perusing memories of a life well lived. How am I living my life? What will my funeral be like? The goal is not recognition, of course. My hope is not to have 2,000 people at my funeral Mass or widespread acclaim. But Gerry’s death has reminded me of the fragility of life and has urged me to honestly evaluate the impact I have on those around me.


“None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself,” we heard in the second reading at the funeral Mass, the lector struggling through tears to get the words out. These words from St. Paul to the Romans give me pause. Can I truly say this about myself? Is it a fair claim that I do not live at all for myself? That I’d be willing to die for another? These questions of life and death, of my lasting impact and possible regrets and ways to change overwhelm me.


So instead, I’m starting small. I’m looking for little ways to love. I’m seeking invitations from God to allow my heart to grow. Whether it’s opening my home to friends new and old for a meal, spending time in adoration with my roommates, getting to know the names of my local barista and bike shop owner and hardware store worker, I’m looking to live with greater purpose and intention. I want to join my neighborhood’s civic association, develop deeper friendships with the runners I see weekly at my running club, write letters and make phone calls to faraway friends out of the blue.


Gerry has reminded me that this gift of life we have is precious, that it is not to be taken lightly. But I remember, too, that death is not the end. That in Christ we have the promise of eternal life. And that, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.


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