I was awakened in the early hours of August sixth by the telephone ringing; it was my sister, Cathy, with the sad news that Travis had drown in the flood waters of the Meramic River. The car he was driving had gone off the road into the flood waters, it appeared that he had hit his head during the crash and was unable to escape from the car. Travis was 20 years old when he died; he was the second oldest of Cathy’s and her husband, Carl’s, four sons. The sudden death of one so young is always a shock that leaves one numb with pain and sorrow. That’s the way I felt as an uncle, but as great as the sorrow was for me I knew the depth of pain and sorrow that Cathy and Carl experienced was so much greater. I think the greatest pain and loss for any parent is when they see their own child that they brought into the world die before them.
When I announced to my new parishes that my nephew had died I felt their prayers and support, especially from parishioners who had also faced the tragic death of a child. One mother in particular, whose name was Mary, also had a son die in a terrible accident. Mary asked for my sister’s address to extend her condolences, she knew on a level above us all what my sister was experiencing. She even continued to have Masses celebrated for my nephew and her own son and other youth who died far too young. I know my sister greatly appreciated her support and prayers. Cathy later had the opportunity to meet Mary on a visit back east. I believe their sharing was a help and strength for both of them.
Mary did something that I think is very important in living out the gospel message. She was willing to share from her experience and more importantly to share from her pain and sorrow. Her willingness to do so allowed the compassion of Jesus to shine through her to my sister and others. I know other people who have experienced great sorrows and losses in life because of the death of a loved one, or a debilitating accident, or the end of a marriage, or from dealing with a disease or illness , to name but a few of the trials in life that can leave a person numb. But I believe that God always wants to help us through such times, and he so often does so through people like Mary who are willing to share from their own pain and weakness and help a sister or brother in need to rise from their painful trials in life. When we do so the grace of God shines through.
I remember celebrating my nephew’s funeral Mass, I certainly felt the grace of God with me that day as I gave the homily. As I was flying out to St. Louis for the funeral I read the words of Psalm 46, “The Lord of hosts is with us the God of Jacob is our stronghold.” I knew that the God of “Travis Jacob” was there as my stronghold. The church was full that day with so many people who knew Travis and his family. I must say it was overwhelming to see so many young people in mourning. But God must have blessed my words that day. My sister later told me that a number of Travis’ friends who were at the funeral were touched in a way that led them to become Catholic. The Spirit of God truly works in mysterious ways to give new life.
Each time that I am called upon to celebrate the funeral of a young person I always ask Travis Jacob to pray for me that I have the words to bring comfort to the families. Whenever I have done so, I have felt his prayers and the grace of God at work. Rest in Peace Travis, until we meet again.
God’s blessings and peace, Father Bill