"Seven Funerals and a Wedding" by Terrence Halloran

Connie's sister Vallie Pluto died in April 1993. A Baptist minister and I officiated at the graveside burial service in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I said this:

Vallie, we can all imagine how things have changed in God's heaven since you arrived there three days ago.

Vallie, your heavenly companions have always been respectful and reverent toward God's angels and archangels. But now you poke fun at the angels and joke with them, and you encourage them to tell wild stories about themselves.

Vallie, your heavenly companions have always praised God through poetry and music. But now you encourage everyone around you in eternity to praise God by cheering for the Chicago Cubs.

Vallie, the human family in heaven has always had a few rules and traditions that everyone accepts. But now you tell your heavenly companions what a joy it is to bend the rules and fill eternity with surprises.

Vallie, stay close to us in spirit during the rest of our journey through this life. We'll try to honor you by doing what you've always done so well. You've given help and compassion to those who come to you in need. Help us to do the same.

And when we leave this life, Vallie, welcome us into God's heaven where we will share your joy forever.

Katie Knight, who helped my parents raise my three youngest sisters, died in July 1993. Asked to speak at her memorial service, I said this:

Katie Knight, we've always called you Morning. You've left this life, but you're still with us in spirit. And we'll be joining you soon, Morning, in the eternal life God promises to those who love him.

Morning, I'm one of Terry and Billee Halloran's eight children that you know so very well. You came into our lives 37 years ago. That was in 1956, Morning, the year Jane was born. By the end of that summer Mary was one and a half, Letty was four, Don and Dennis were 17, Kathleen was 19, Mike was 20 and I was 22.

It was Letty and Mary who named you Morning. At first it was a greeting, "good morning," when you arrived each day at breakfast time. Then Morning, short for "good morning," became your name. You never seemed to mind, and it's always seemed right to us.

When our Dad died in 1964, Morning, you were there to hug us. Letty, Mary and Jane were only 12, 9 and 8 at the time. Thank you for comforting them and Mom and all of us. May God reward your kindness.

You remember, Morning, when we introduced you to the handsome and beautiful friends who later became our husbands and wives. And you remember each time we brought our newest child to smile at you. When all eight of us gathered to surprise Mom on her birthday four years ago, you accepted our invitation and joined us for dinner. We'll feel your presence at each family celebration in the future.

So long, Morning. With a little help from our Dad and from you, we'll finish our journey through this life. Then we'll be with you in God's love forever.

Rose Delaney, Connie's friend since 1947, died in September 1994. Her husband Bob and I have been friends since 1948. The funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Anthony Church in San Gabriel, California. Asked to speak at the Mass, I said this:

Rose, you were a Benedictine nun for 18 years. You have a master's degree from the University of Notre Dame. You've taught high school English literature on three continents. Father Robert Delaney, priest and theologian, has been your husband for nearly 24 years. You've explained to your children, Michael and Miriam, and you've whispered to Miriam's daughter Nadja, the difference between good and excellent. So God isn't surprised that after a few days in heaven you're having words with the Gospel writers and letter senders of the Bible.

"Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Peter, Paul, James and Jude," you're saying, "I'm Rose Delaney and I've read your book. You did not tell about family reunions with Mom and Pop and their parents and grandparents. You did not say we would have poetry and music, card games and sailing, libraries and museums. You did not tell about the rainbows, blossoms, echoes and breezes of eternity."

Rose, your words to the apostles and evangelists remind God of a poem you composed 35 years ago. Your friend Sister Thomas, also a Benedictine nun, had written some verses she called "Long April Songs." This was your response:

On having read "Long Songs Of April"

You did not tell about the April rain that slashes winter away and glazes the window screen so that the earth is seen in sparkling springtime green.

You did not tell about the rainbow after the rain that rinses the world in a color whirl, and stains the rain sustained on a quivering blossom chain.

You did not tell about the lavender loveliness of spring that blows through lilac horns, and echoes laughter in the Judas trees, or purples in the violet.

You did not tell about the earth not mourning bell tolls in mauve, but ringing and singing ALLELUIAS in lavender Eastering.

You did not tell about the tulip cup that holds its goblet up to drink the rain and sun and spill it out again upon the grass because of April, a breeze, or a pretty lass.

You did not tell about -- but there were secrets that you told -- soft sudden sounds that bound beauty round the earth in fantasy. What you did tell (we all agree) you did tell well, so very well.

Rose Delaney, we'll be joining you soon. Meanwhile, thank the authors of the New Testament for the good news of God's love, for their words of eternal life. In you own poetic style, say to them: "But there were secrets that you told. What you did tell (we all agree) you did tell well, so very well."

Our admired friend Al Ranford died in November 1995. The funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Columban church in Garden Grove, California. For the memorial leaflet distributed at the Mass by his family, I wrote this:

You've left this life, Al, but you'll always be with us. You and your wife Bernice have spent close to a decade feeding the needy in the parks of our city. Last Tuesday, God's poor spread the news throughout the community that the man who helped feed, clothe and care for them had died. Bernice tells us that one man who had been on the street for years said he never prayed for anything. But he prayed for you.

Al, we marvel at how much of your own time and money you've spent caring for the homeless and hungry. You've driven around town four days each week, picking up donated supplies from bakeries, grocery stores and warehouses. On Sundays, people have gathered at Pioneer Park, and more recently at Twin Lakes Park, as if for a giant picnic, to eat the meals you and your wife have prepared in your own kitchen. There are usually ten or more large casseroles of spaghetti, chicken or lasagna. Bernice says other volunteers who bring contributions make the weekly event like a big potluck.

"Al was a good man," says a Garden Grove policeman. "He was genuine. He saw people in need, and regardless of how they got in the homeless situation, he felt everyone needed a meal." Al, help us to love God and to love others. As we finish our walk through this life, help us to be like you. We'll be joining you soon.

Connie's brother Bob Roberts died in December 1997. We held memorial services in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and in Chicago. Presiding at both memorial services, I said this:

Bob, your ashes will await the coming of God's kingdom in Montrose Cemetery on the north side of Chicago, next to where your mother and father were buried more than 50 years ago.

Your death touches all of us, partly because we know how young you were when your parents died. Bob, you were only six.

Your Aunt Alice tells us that one day soon after your mother's funeral, she took you shopping. Suddenly you let go of her hand. Aunt Alice ran after you, begging you to stop. When she finally caught up with you, Bob, you were crying.

"I was following that pretty lady," you said. "I thought she was my mother. But she turned, and I saw it wasn't really her."

Bob, we know you as a gentleman in every sense of the word. You're a gentle, soft-spoken man. You like good jazz. The birthday cards we sent you often had Joe Cool on them. As your nephew John says, "Uncle Bob is mellow, and he makes people with him feel mellow."

We'll always feel your presence among us, so we won't say goodbye. We'll just say, "So long, Bob, we'll be joining you soon."

Connie's brother-in-law Bernard McGann died in January 1998. The funeral mass was celebrated at St. Pascal Baylon church in Chicago. At the vigil service the evening before the funeral, I said this:

Bernard, you were a U.S. soldier and a truck driver when World War II ended in Europe. You belonged to a unit assigned to transport thousands of civilian refugees back to their homes in Poland and Hungary. You soon learned that these people didn't want to return. They jumped out of your trucks and disappeared into the woods. Some of them left their babies behind, hoping at least their children would have a better life. So you went back to the supply depot. You loaded food, cooking utensils and blankets into a truck. You took the supplies and the babies to the sisters at a nearby orphanage.

Bernard, after a few days of this, you and your army buddies were disgusted. You decided to pretend your trucks weren't working. You spent hours each morning tinkering under the hoods and beneath the axles. Your officers threatenedto court-martial all of you, but you didn't give in. Finally the army decided the refugees could seek new homes on the two American continents. Bernard,thank you for your brave defense of human freedom.

Bernard, you were a Chicago policeman for many years. One afternoon you stopped a young driver and asked for his license. He had forgotten it at home. Heand his wife were rushing their baby to the hospital. You felt the child's forehead, then told the couple to drive carefully.

A few days later, the lieutenant at your precinct station showed you a letter. The couple that you stopped had written to the mayor. They were gratefulfor your kindness to them and their sick baby. The police commissioner hadattached a note, saying you should have arrested the young driver.

Bernard, the lieutenant asked you what he should tell the commissioner. You wrote a short note saying exactly what you thought. The lieutenant blushed and protested. He said, "I can't say that to the police commissioner." Bernard, thank you for your impatience with cold-hearted bureaucrats.

We'll be with you soon, Bernard. Meanwhile, keep reminding us to be good spouses, loving parents and honest workers. Stay with us in spirit. Be our companion in God's family, now and forever.

Virginia McGann, widowed since 1998, died February 3, 2002. We and our sons Dan and John, and John's wife Melisa and their son Jordan, went to Chicago for the funeral. I officiated at the vigil service on Thursday evening. At the Mass on Friday morning, after the Communion I gave this eulogy:

Virginia, you've been my sister-in-law for 34 years, and my dear and admired friend. Orphaned at age 15, you earned your high school diploma from the Benedictine sisters. During those years, you and your sisters Connie and Vallie became Catholics. I'm glad you did, because otherwise I'd never have met you or Connie.

Connie and I raised two boys. If one of our children had been a girl, her name would have been Virginia. You and Bernard raised five children, and you helped raise your brothers Frank and Bob. That's not easy to do when your husband earns the salary of a Chicago cop, especially if he's an honest cop. You worked for many years at RCA. Most mothers can't do that if they have five children. Fortunately you and Bernard shared equally the task of parenting.

Virginia, you never gave us advice without our asking. Your advice was always sensible -- just go with the flow, you can't live their lives for them, some things you really can't change, don't worry, it will all work out.

We liked the years when you and Bernard first retired. Once or twice a year you would come to California to visit us and other friends, or we would all meet in Las Vegas for a few days. Since then we've enjoyed our occasional visits to Chicago and our frequent phone calls.

Virginia, thanks for the gift of your life. Thanks for the blessing that you and Bernard, and your children Mary, Connie, Ellen, Peggy and Al have been to us and our families. We look forward to your company when we've all returned to God.

Jarrod and Gail were married on May 9, 1998. I said these words at their wedding:

Jarrod and Gail, today you promise lifelong, faithful love before God and the community. It's a special occasion, not only for you and your families, but also for our family. We're honored that you've asked me to perform this ceremony. I've been presiding at weddings for 38 years now. But this is the first one where my wife Connie and I have known the bride and the groom during the entire 18 years that they've known each other. Both of you, and our sons Dan and John, were students together at Vista Verde Elementary School and University High School.

Jarrod, we admire your skill at singing, playing stringed instruments and acting. In the school musical play when you were in the sixth grade, you were Charlie Brown's dog Snoopy. In the seventh grade, you were Oliver's companion the Artful Dodger. No jazz combo is complete without a gifted bass player like you. Gail, as a teenager and a young adult you've often joined Jarrod and our boys and their friends, playing board games at our dining room table. Usually you've been the only girl present, competing skillfully and adding your graceful charm to the game environment. We still have the score pad from a Scrabble game played at our home about six years ago. Jarrod, Dave, Dan and Gail had a combined total of 422 points. I won't reveal the individual scores right now, of course.

Gail, you and I can imagine watching television a few years from now, on the night when they announce the nominees for the Academy awards. One of the movies nominated for best music will probably have words and musical score composed and directed by Jarrod Cox. Jarrod, you and I can imagine watching television a few years from now, on the night when the Dodgers end another championship season. The announcer, Vin Scully, will probably remind us that the Dodgers have a new level of confidence, mostly because of the gentle and earnest skill of their new team psychologist, Gail Cox.

Jarrod and Gail, we can all see that you're in love and you're meant for each other. And thanks to your hard work and the generosity of your parents, you're both well educated. But we also pray for you here today, because you'll also need a full measure of God's grace in the years ahead. It's a brave step you're taking. We admire you for your courage.