LeDuff: This Lent, honor the dead and love the living

Charlie LeDuff

I visited my sister's grave. Many of us Christians consider the Saturday before Lent as the original All Souls' Day, the time to honor the dead.

My niece is buried with my sister; or my sister was added with my niece. I can't remember. Our family is like that. They were laid to rest in the family plot of my niece's grandparents out in Plymouth, near the courthouse, just outside the right field fence of the old municipal ball diamond.

I couldn't bring myself to sweep the snow from their headstone because I'm not sure their names have been added. A decade later, the pain is too great. The thoughts make me weep.

The grandmother of my niece has her name chiseled in the granite. I'm not sure if the woman has passed yet. How strange, I thought. How we all fall away. There were some withered wreaths near the headstone blanketed in ice. I said my piece for my kin and left a tobacco offering.

Lenten season is for sacrifice and remembrance. It is a time to appreciate those we still have with us, and to honor those we miss, LeDuff writes.

I drove to see my mother afterward. She lives on Joy Road about 10 miles from the cemetery. My mom doesn't visit their plot much either. Too many memories. Too much pain. My mom doesn't like headstones, and doesn't want one.

She doesn't say it exactly, but her day is coming upon her. I hope her days are long and happy, but a time comes when we must all repay our loan from the Maker and be at peace with that.

Mom lately has been giving things away. Furniture and old copper pots and such. She says strange little things now like: “I want to get a puppy, but it would be unfair to leave it behind.”

In an upstairs closet she keeps the remains of her third — and favorite — husband, and her second — and favorite — son. 

“When I go,” she says, “put us on a Viking raft together, set us out to sea, and shoot fire arrows at us.”

This manner of dispatching mortal remains does not comport with the law of the Faith, nor maybe do some episodes of her life, but surely my mother has conducted herself in the spirit of it. To that, I can bear witness.

There was always room in her raucous and crowded house for the wayward teen, or the troubled child or a relation in need of an airing. There has always been warm coffee and buttered bread and a compassionate ear in my mother's home.

And now, in this season of sacrifice, my mother teaches me a last, great lesson: how to conduct oneself in the fading rays of life. Behaving with dignity and grace and courage while treating each new day as though it was no different than the one just lived. There is nothing to fear. A life passes, but a mother and son's bond is forever.

And so we did not dwell on the maudlin. We watched TV and smoked cigarettes and talked the talk of mothers and sons without looking at one another. The cable news droned on. Train wrecks and egg prices and mass shootings on the college campus. She considered the future.

“Do you think it'll get better?” she asked.

“Sure, just change the channel, Ma.”

“No son. I'm worried for the (grand) kids.”

“Me too.”

They say every woman dies twice. Once when she is buried or set to sea, and once when her name is spoken for the last time. That is how some people become immortal.

I am not wholly certain of what awaits any of us on the other side of life's door. I will pray and reflect upon this during this lenten season. 

But I do know this for certain. Headstone or none, my mother's name will be spoken for generations — within her circle of blood and beyond it.

Good deeds make good persons, and good persons are remembered.

Or as my mom says: “What does it hurt to be kind?” I love you, Ma.

Charlie LeDuff is a columnist for The Detroit News and host of "The No BS News Hour." His column appears on Wednesdays.