There will be suffering, but there will also be joy

I recently attended a funeral for a family friend who was my age. I have the fondest memories of us playing together when we were little. One of the things I remember most about her was her strong faith and love for God. She had many health struggles, battling cystic fibrosis her whole life, but she always carried such a light and had an aura of hope about her. She had a fiery spirit to match her fiery red hair.

She called me up last year, in the midst of the pandemic, looking for a local church that she could attend regularly. Even amongst everything that was going on in her life and in the world, she sought out a faith community. I remember having such admiration for that.

After her passing, it feels very strange to be joyful, especially at Christmas time. I am at an exciting time in my life, where doors and opportunities are opening up along with the world, which has seemed so shuttered in the past few years. But I find myself questioning why she didn’t get to continue to experience all these wonderful things as well.

I was struck by something Bishop Caggiano recently said in his homily at the Dedication Mass for the new recreation center at St. Matthew Parish in Norwalk. The Mass was celebrated on Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of joy.

The bishop said, “We are not always promised that we will be happy, but we are promised that we will have the gift of joy. For joy comes from the deep trust that we have in our hearts that no matter what happens to us, challenges before us, or suffering we face, our God will be before us.”

I immediately thought of Abby. Even as she struggled with her health, she had joy. She had a deep trust that God had a plan for her and that her suffering was a part of that plan. She lived her life unapologetically.

Similarly, as the parish of St. Matthew celebrated the dedication of their new recreation center, many missed the presence of Msgr. Orlowski, who began the project in 2018 and for whom the center is named.

Even though the parish still mourns his loss, they were able to celebrate this joyful occasion in his memory.

The bishop mentioned that although Monsignor experienced suffering and challenges, he had the gift of joy in his heart.

Abby did too. And I think she would want us to remember that most of all. There will be suffering, but there will also be joy. And perhaps the two can exist simultaneously.

The priest who said the homily at Abby’s funeral explained that God was not just a puzzle piece in her life, but rather He was the table or surface on which she put the puzzle pieces of her life together. God was the foundation on which she built her life—and that will be my Christmas this year—the understanding that Christ is close to us.

Is this why she was able to have joy even in the face of hardship? I’d like to think it was.

As I was saying goodbye to Abby’s family, her dad pulled out a small Rosary from his pocket, mentioning that she had it with her. I’d like to think it was a comfort to her, as it now will be to him.

The night before Abby’s funeral I had a dream about her. We were playing together again in the backyard, our laughter that of immense joy. I think I’ll hold on to that memory, and I think it is how I will always remember her.