Life can be so…life-y.

Life can be so…life-y

I went on retreat. This you know.

And here’s a photo of the retreat featuring some too-cute young’un’s who rescued some puppets I made out of paper lunch bags.

"...and someone just threw them in the trash!"
“…and someone just threw them in the trash!”

It was beautiful, you know? My dear friends were there. The creative Josie and the crazy brother Thomas and Father Pio whose love seeps from the smile-crinkles around his eyes and the dry humor of Father Anthony and the people who needed me…just like I needed them.

And then I came back.

I came back because we’re not on top of the mountain yet and we haven’t stopped walking. That was just a happy night of dance and song and stars in the midst of our pilgrimage, so to speak.

I came back to heavy news—Monseigneur Easton had died.

Me, Msgr. Easton, Christine, Father Tim and a girl I don't know in Australia waaay back in '08.
Me, Msgr. Easton, Christine, Father Tim and a girl I don’t know in Australia waaay back in ’08.

His death was a surprise, a shock, the result of a cardiac episode/ fall and in one short week there was a permanent hole where there used to be the happy, laughing presence of a hearty, devout man who shared my love of travel and my love of dogs.

Last Friday I attended his funeral. I was sitting in a choir loft because I had some weird connections, and I could see, from where I sat, his casket and the Knights and the boy scouts and the police (?) standing around it at attention.

Then our good Archbishop came to pay his respects, and I watched as his shoulders bounced as he began to weep in front of God and everybody at the foot of Monseigneur Easton’s casket.

So I began to cry too, dagnabbit, even though I rarely cry and so I only had three Kleenex in my pocket and they needed to last an entire mass. Not a good sign.

From my spot I looked down as the funeral took place—songs and prayers. The Archbishop shared many things when he addressed us, and the thing I remembered most was this: that Monseigneur was a pilgrim, ready and willing to travel, with passport in hand. He was a pilgrim in all things, ready and smiling for new challenges—great and small.

The boy draped in the Samoa flag is named "Easton," after his parents met Msgr. Msgr. beamed when he spoke of the boy-Easton.
The boy draped in the Samoa flag is named “Easton,” after his parents met Msgr. Msgr. beamed when he spoke of the boy-Easton.

One time, when I was younger, I asked Monseigneur Easton, “What does ‘Monseigneur’ mean?”
And he told me “Mon” stood for “mountain” and “seigneur” stood for “stupidity” so the title essentially meant, “Mountain of stupidity.”
I remember staring at him, this mountainous man, not knowing what to say.
And then his hands started shaking, which betrayed his laughter and then his eyes laughed second and finally his chuckles exploded out and we laughed together.

Now, “Monseigneur” is actually a title having to do with being a “prince of the church,” a title granted by the pope. Monseigneur was granted the title after working long and hard on coordinating the gigantic event when Pope John Paul II (almost a saint!) visited Detroit in 1987.

I was too little for that event, though, and I have no recollection.

But I do remember the time he brought the relics of St. Therese of Liseux through his parish when I was a little girl. I remember sitting, crouched and squished, on the balcony as they passed below. I remember the throngs of people.

I remember the times I visited his parish for Good Friday mass. I remember the many times I rode my bike to his church when I had summers off in college.

I remember the last time we really chatted, we were at a parade in our home town and he had brought his giant puppy and I said to him, “When are you coming over for dinner?” but we never solidified plans and now we’re going to need to wait for the grandest wedding feast.

Here is the "tent village" where we lived for a bit in Australia. Msgr. was a few tents from me. The tents frosted over one night. SO COLD!
Here is the “tent village” where we lived for a bit in Australia. Msgr. was a few tents from me. The tents frosted over one night. SO COLD!

The church was overflowing with white and red poinsettias, white Christmas lights and evergreen branches. My line-of-sight was basically: casket, altar, cross-above-altar, and ¾ size nativity scene (the church is in the round).

And it was so life, you know? Life in its fullness and emptiness.

The congregation was full of people who loved him, and people who I love. There were the families I knew in high school and college. The young men now in seminary. The ladies I traveled with to WYDs Germany and Australia. There was a guy I knew from high school who is now a priest, there concelebrating. My youngest brother, perpetually loved by Monseigneur Easton. The girl who just moved to town, sitting next to me, “I didn’t ever personally chat with him, but he was always around.”

And then a young woman missing hair from, who knows, chemotherapy?, came up and sang, “Ave Maria” and I was gone again as we pleaded for prayers “now and at the hour of our death.”

Together we all sang about the Jesus coming to the seashore and the last time I sang that song I was overlooking the ocean at the end of my Camino to Santiago.

I'm only smiling here because I didn't die. Some people (myself included) will tell you pilgrimages are good--but they kind of suck, too.
I’m only smiling here because I didn’t die. Some people (myself included) will tell you pilgrimages are good–but they kind of suck, too.

So. I lost a fellow-pilgrim last week. And I, who didn’t even cry at my own brother’s wedding, mourned deeply. Because some people are just on your side, you know? They want what’s best for you and they want to share with you and walk with you, and that’s who he was.

When I heard he died I remembered when I was in Australia, with him.

I had walked a hike with my overnight belongings to our location to see-the-Pope and, unbeknownst to me, became dehydrated. I knew I was thirsty, but drinks were expensive inside of the pilgrim-sections at the sale-tents (monopolies, humbug!) and I didn’t want to buy them right away.

And Monseigneur Easton said to me, “here” and handed me hot chocolate (for it was winter in Australia) and water.

A simple act, but it saved me that night.

I thought about this when I heard he died. Me and this man and the challenge that was WYD Australia. Him giving me water and saving me.

And a verse came to mind, the one about the little ones and the cups of water and not losing the reward.

Obviously God welcomed another servant to paradise last week.

Surely he didn’t lose his reward.

So, one of my pilgrims has arrived prematurely and it is our loss, not his. May our pilgrimage continue, ever mindful of our pilgrim brother…and may our reunion be joyful one day.

Our pilgrimage in Australia.
Our pilgrimage in Australia.

Because if he loved anything, it was a good party.

And I hear heaven doesn’t disappoint.

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