How we face death reveals our love for life

Gary Schaaf is the Executive Director for the Archdiocese Mortuary and Cemeteries.

“Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect” – Pope Francis, Day for Life Greeting, July 17.

As the Executive Director for the Archdiocese Mortuary and Cemeteries, I have a unique vantage point from which I reverently watch people struggle with some of life’s most profound questions, including “What happens when we die?” On almost a daily basis, I see people dealing with the impact of losing a loved one, wondering what happens next. As though life were an ocean, death seems to propel many people into deeper waters.

What strikes me as obvious after watching these families grapple with the death of a loved one is the depth of loss that is felt by all families, regardless of the age of their loved one. Our Catholic faith teaches us about the dignity afforded each and every life, regardless of age. From the widow who has lost her beloved spouse after 50 years of marriage, to the young parents dealing with the loss of their baby only months after conception, we see real loss and real grieving. We are reminded in each of these circumstances that neither the size, condition, nor age of one’s body impacts the reality of their soul.

One day every month, we bury babies who have died in utero. As sad an event as this is, watching the reverence for the lives of these young souls makes me deeply proud of my Catholic faith. Many families participate in this service, which we provide at no cost. It is clear that all present are impacted and that not one of those young souls will be forgotten. It is also clear that the depth of loss is hard to understand for someone who has not experienced it – an observation gleaned from watching the empathetic embraces between mothers who are going through these services at the same time.

Although difficult in so many ways, it is also moving to hear the stories of those who have accompanied a loved one at the end of a long life through the suffering that so often accompanies death. Much more often than not, we see how these difficult trials draw families together in ways that were never anticipated. Frankly, we see pure, self-sacrificing love on display in ways that words can only partially describe.

Observing the sacred moments surrounding the deaths of the faithful departed has only strengthened my faith in our Church and our collective mission to protect the lives of all who are living, from the moment of conception through natural death.

Although I never anticipated my job at a Catholic Cemetery would so significantly impact my perspective on life, I feel privileged to have witnessed people of faith handle with grace and courage the reality of death, and further privileged to share those observations.

COMING UP: Love St. Thérèse? Here are 3 events for her feast around the Archdiocese

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

St. Thérèse of Lisieux is, according to Pope Pius X, “the greatest saint of modern times” — so much so that St. John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church, the youngest so far.

If you love her, there are a few events around the Archdiocese of Denver where you can celebrate her feast day, which is Oct. 1.

“Rose Petal Evening” with Community of the Beatitudes
Celebrate the feast of St. Thérèse with an evening of praising the Lord with poems and songs from the saint and asking her intercession. Bring a rose and a self-addressed and stamped envelope (optional).
Sept. 29: St. Catherine of Siena Parish, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5: St. Frances Cabrini Parish, 7 p.m.

Feast Day Celebration with St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Mass to celebrate the feast of St. Thérèse will be held at the Carmelite Monastary. Mass will be celebrated by Fr. Nicholas Larkin with a blessing and distribution of roses.
Oct. 3: Carmelite Monastary, 6138 S Gallup St., 80120
Cost: Free

FOCUS Presents: “An Evening with Thérèse”
The Fellowship of Catholic University Students at CU Boulder present a unique fundraiser. Keynote speaker is Bishop Jorge Rodriguez. Enjoy wine, hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction and delectable dinner.
Oct. 6: Sacred Heart of Mary Church, 6739 S. Boulder Rd.
Cost: Individual ticket if before Sept. 18, discounts available online.
Contact: Janet Driscoll, 303-898-8865 or jmdriscoll7@comcast.net.