A priest and I have met in a cool, bustling lobby on a hot summer day. We smile at one another. We don’t know one another really except by sight and a few short conversations. But we have a warm, positive regard for one another and I feel safe and encouraged as soon as he comes in. I am so grateful that he is here.
We are about to head up to bless the place where my brother committed suicide. I know this is not a light task to ask someone to come along and join in.
I came here twice before to make sure I could handle it. The first time I sat in stunned silence for an hour and a half without even realizing the time that had gone by. The second time I was pretty sad but I thought I was ready. I am ready.
I am impressed that this priest who barely knows me responded to my request so readily and agreed to come here for this. He seems to understand the need for healing, both emotional and spiritual for all concerned.
Our plan is also to commend my brother’s soul to God, and to pray in that place for my family’s healing.
Father walks with me toward the elevators, which we take to a high floor. We walk down a hallway, then through a stair exit, and out onto a tiny bare balcony overlooking a pool area.
“Just be however you need to be,” he says reassuringly.
This is the spot where my brother, Mark, sitting on the railing here, shot himself and fell down to the concrete below even as friends and family repeatedly called his cell phone and frantically texted him begging him not to do it while the police looked for him not knowing where to begin. I have thought of those moments over and over, tried to understand, tried to feel the way he must have felt, wondered why it had to be this way, watched my family and our friends do the same.
What is there to say in a place like this?
After a time of respectful silence, Father talks to me earnestly about how the Cross conquers everything. “I believe that,” I say.
He has such a kind face, I think to myself. It’s an easy, open, playful face, too. He is the kind of person who puts others at ease.
I get out my phone and show Father one of my favorite pictures of my brother. I briefly tell him about Mark, about my symbiotic relationship with him, and what happened to him as best I am able to understand it now.
This gentle priest takes all this in thoughtfully.
He tells me what he would like to do, how he would like to proceed now.
I show him what I have brought: a grocery bag full of rose petals, some bubbles; a small bottle for each of us.
He smiles. He says the bubbles are a great symbol for what we are doing with the commendation. He blesses them.
He puts a thin priestly stole over his shoulders and smiles at me.
We begin with the Sign of the Cross together. He prays the prayers for the blessing of a place, telling me we are also reclaiming this place for God. In our prayers we invite the angels to come and drive every trace of evil from here. We bless and bring healing to this place where there was so much pain, where there was such a tragic, senseless death.
Seriously and with purpose, he begins to fling holy water all around us; over the rail, down the stairs, all over the balcony, the walls of the building, and splashes it down to the concrete below. He blesses this place in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
I tell this dear priest how hard it is not understanding what happened, and how I agonize still about how my brother could do this. Didn’t he know we loved him? Didn’t he know that any of us who loved him would have forgiven anything, given anything, done anything for him? How could he do this to us?
Tears are running down my cheeks.
Father listens closely, nodding.
I tell him how I have come to understand that somehow, that for some reason I will never know, my brother wasn’t able to let our love and support change what he did. Maybe to him we seemed so far away, he just didn’t know his way back.
I have to cry a little bit.
“You’re being really strong right now.”
He reminds me that as Catholics we believe every soul is given a moment of choice at the time of death, an encounter with God’s merciful love and truth, so each of us has a chance to choose the embrace of mercy.
He mentions that our Lord is here on this balcony with us, and that our Holy Mother Mary is here with us, too, to pray with us.
I am moved to talk to her. I tell her I had never thought I would be OK again but now I see I can have a new life and that Jesus wants me to have life. I spontaneously renew my consecration to her offering my life to her and committing to follow her Son better than I ever have before.
I can hear Father quietly praising Jesus as I speak these words of my new hope to Mary.
I close my eyes and smile. I say, “I love you, God.”
In his gentle voice, the priest reads a reading from one of the Gospels, and we pray for my family’s healing. We pray the Our Father together. I pray for the deep inner healing of the Holy Spirit for each person in my family. We say Amen.
We talk. We pray more. I tell him about the evolution of my understanding of my brother’s death through the tenderness of God in my prayer life right through all the horror of this death, this overwhelming loss, and fear I had of finding out something that would make this even worse. I explained that I still needed to understand all the same, and how I feel God helped me in His ingenious ways.
I feel so much less alone as the priest listens quietly and with compassion to all I am saying. I don’t think even I knew how much this day would mean to me. I am grateful for his courage and kindness in coming here.
He said he would like to pray the Prayer of Commendation now, that we use for funerals. He says it is our prayer to send the soul to God, commending the person to God’s mercy and love. It serves as some release to us too, allowing us to send the person forth with love, to God.
So he prays the beautiful Prayer of Commendation.
Together we pray a Litany of the Saints.
We blow bubbles and watch them glide out shimmering, into the sun, cascading down the side of the building, drifting out over the pool. We send streams of them up into the blue and watch them float gently. We can’t help but smile.
I open the bag of rose petals and toss some out over the rail. I sprinkle some over Father. ‘Yay! Thank you so much!”
We grab more and more handfuls of petals and throw them out, everywhere, like confetti at a party. Some of the petals drop quietly onto the water below, some waft out on the breeze, some scatter themselves on the patio.
“Did you SEE that?!” he exclaims, as, amazingly, some of the petals suddenly spiral upward into the sky and away. Laughing we throw more and more of them everywhere, as if we are showering the world with roses.
He takes some holy water and blesses me with the sign of the cross on my forehead.
With trembling hands, I drape a rosary over the end post of the rail and fasten two white silk roses to it.
Something I need to say to my brother:
“You’re not that.”
You are not the way you died.
You’re just… my beautiful brother.”
Smiling, Father and I take pictures of each other, of the balcony, of the draped rosary, and the scattered petals, so my daughters can see what this looked like today.
We hug, and peacefully we leave the rose petal strewn balcony.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O God.
~ And let perpetual light shine upon him.