Below is, roughly, the text of the reflection I gave at the vigil prayers for my grandfather. I share them so that you can know a bit about the simple holiness and love that my grandfather lived.
Last week, when I went to see Pepere at Eagle Ridge, I joked with him, asking him if his snoring had been waking his neighbours. A grin came over his face, and he informed me he hadn’t been snoring much lately. That remark had us reminiscing about another event. We recalled fondly the great road trip we made to Winnipeg for the Bouchard family reunion. We picked up Uncle Guy in Calgary and got a motel room for the evening. At the end of a long day, we were all eager for a good night’s sleep. We all were laying in bed when it began. *Insert 2 snoring sounds*. Memere, of course, was asleep. She was used to it. But the rest of us weren’t. Jonathan was particularly frustrated with Pepere’s snoring. He tossed, turned, and cussed in frustration to the point where he just couldn’t take it anymore. He got up and stormed out of the room to the porch of the motel room, which consequently woke up Pepere. He said to me “I didn’t think someone so young could snore so much!”
I share this story only because memories, it seems, are all we have now. I can’t speak for everyone, but it seems that the sorrow of death elicits in us the joy of memories. We want to hold onto Pepere and memories are a means for us to hold onto the absence of his presence.
Memories, too, help us deal with the real sorrow we experience with the loss of our Peper, father, brother, and friend. Sorrow is painful because it is a feeling which expresses the fact we have lost someone we have loved. No matter how prepared we were for his death, we now experience in the depths of our hearts an absence. But we must also take comfort in our sorrow for, ultimately, sorrow is a beautiful experience because it means both that we loved him and he loved us: sorrow is an expression of love.
We live in a world which says “it is not okay to be sad and sorrowful.” Our world says that only happiness and joy are the proper emotions to experience, are the proper expressions of love. Indeed, we are encouraged to avoid, at all costs, sorrow and sadness. Yet, many of us got to see Pepere in his last weeks, and we all experienced his vulnerability, his sadness, his sorrow. I asked him if he was ready for death. He said he was ready to meet “the good Lord” as he called him, but that he was sad to say goodbye to everyone. And we all know how much he teared up in his sadness. It was a side of him we almost never saw, and it was difficult to see, but the more we think about it, the more we will see how beautiful it really was. It was difficult for him, and it is difficult for us. It was with great courage that he allowed us to see his sorrow and sadness, and if Butch can be sad, it’s okay for us too!
There are many things we could say about Pepere this evening, but I want to focus on his faith for it was what defined him. How he loved us, how he interacted with others, what he gave to and for others, was all formed by his simple yet profound love for Jesus.
I could speak about his faithfulness to attending Church, his constant devotion to working with the Knights of Columbus and the community; but, in a sense, these are not the most profound expressions of faith in his life. The profundity of his faith was its subtleness, its hiddeness, its seeming ordinariness: it is these qualities that made him extraordinary.
St John says “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.” (1 Jn 4:7). We all know his love. The door to the house was always open. The grandchildren would often stay overnight on a Saturday night and would join him and Memere for Church on Sunday (though we were more excited about them treating us to breakfast afterwards than we were about Church). I just heard today stories about when they used to live in Maillardville; how his house was always open to the stranger in need of a meal. He would constantly be there to help family in any way possible: who knows how many times both he and Memere had to drive my brother and I to work at Golden Eagle Golf Course! They owned the property at Emory Creek, but it was almost never idle, with both he and Memere there often with many of us up for a visit. The examples could go on and on, we would be here all evening with stories: we all know them well. But the point of the matter was this: all that he had – both time and money – was always for the sake of others, for family or the stranger. He may have had little in the eyes of the world, but he was rich in love. Thinking of self rarely, it seemed, to cross his mind. In his life we concretely see the words of Jesus “to him who has much, more will be given.” The Lord constantly helped him grow in charity and he continually found Jesus in those whom he served. Yet, Pepere never pushed his faith into the faces of others. It was second nature to him, he didn’t need to say “I am doing this for the Lord.” He just did it. But, Pepere had a attraction about him: his presence simply drew us to him. We wanted to be with him. There was something hidden in him which gave him a certain gravitas. That was his faith: it was what made him Butch. His faith, though hidden, was ever present in him, and it was what drew us to him. Jesus was his comfort, his joy, his strength.
This, as I said, was all second nature to Pepere. He never questioned because he saw no need to question. And he also had a prayer life that was second nature. He found comfort in the Mass and in saying his three Hail Mary’s every day. How appropriate is the end of the Hail Mary: pray for us now and at the hour of our death. His one prayer, he said often, was to die in his sleep, and the good Lord granted him his desire and Mary interceded for him. The hour of his death came and he was welcomed into the kingdom of God.
Life is a constant preparation for that hour of death. This is why Pepere never feared death: he spoke often of how he was ready to go. It is beautiful to see someone ready to embrace death as it is so uncommon. But he was ready because his whole life prepared him. And the day came when the good Lord called him home. It is because of his death we are gathered here and it is tonight that we begin our goodbyes: a task that is burdensome and difficult. Yet, we have hope that he is now with the Lord. As he approached the Lord, he would have been asked about how he served Him. And he will point to those behind him: those whom he loved. He will point to his wife, his children, his brothers, his sisters, his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren. He will point to the strangers he fed, to the people he helped when they were in a rut. And he will say to the Lord – with that grin of his we loved so much: Lord, I sought you, and you were in all those whom I loved. We can take comfort that the Lord responded to him “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the reward your Father has prepared for you.” It is with the Lord that he is still surrounded by us, alive more now than he ever was before. We are a testament to his love. We are his legacy, and we must continue to love and be with each other because he is still with us in Heaven.
He is not completely gone. We do have our memories, as I said earlier. More importantly, we have that sure hope that he is alive with the Lord. If he is alive with the Lord, then we can take comfort that he is interceding for us: he is not far away. We can still draw close to him, talk to him. He is still with us, but just in a different way now. His death is the final touch on the masterpiece of his life on earth. We can be comforted by his salvation, knowing that he can still comfort, console, and be with us, especially in the time of sorrow we experience with his death in this world. He will continue to love us in Heaven, and we can continue to love him. So, as we begin to say our goodbyes this evening, we pray to the Lord of all comfort. We turn to Him in these days with our pains, sorrows, sadness, and joys. We ask Him to be with us. We look to Him One who is now the source of peace for Pepere, and Who can be our peace. Pepere is now drawing close to the heart of Jesus. It is in that heart of Jesus that we can dwell, it is in that heart that we can meet our beloved Pepere, who is at peace, free from all pain, in the joy of the kingdom of His Father.