“I need Larry. And now he can help me even more than he did before.”
This weekend is the year anniversary of the death of my friend Larry. While he did not die of COVID, his death in the midst of the pandemic meant that his loved ones weren’t at his bedside in the hospital. His death was sudden, and in the silence and isolation of the pandemic it took weeks for it to sink in for me that he was gone.
His funeral was on the first day public Masses returned to our diocese; for many of us, it was the first time we received Communion for weeks. Even the word bittersweet falls short of the emotions that tore at my heart while I knelt in that pew with my Eucharistic Lord. At the cemetery, we stood at a distance, unfamiliar with feeling such strong emotions in a climate that frowned upon personal touch.
I needed my friend Larry. I just did not know it until he was gone.
To be honest, I don’t remember meeting Larry for the first time. He probably came to a talk I was giving, because he was one of those people who sought out formation and knowledge wherever he could get it. When I began working at the diocese in adult formation full-time, he came to everything I offered – speaker series, Bible studies, you name it. He and his wife were among my biggest supporters.
Larry was a convert to Catholicism, and I think if I had to give him a new name for Confirmation, it would have been Barnabas. For me, Larry was truly a “son of encouragement.”
Everyone has those difficult days or tough weeks, when work is piling up or personal problems seem to be too hard to carry. Many times, I couldn’t even vocalize to my friends the various burdens that crossed my desk. I didn’t want to burden others or I couldn’t share what I had been told in confidence at work. Almost without fail, Larry would email me on those days. Seemingly out of the blue. He had no way of knowing what was on my mind or heart.
Sometimes it wasn’t anything in particular, just a note to say hi. At times it was a quote, or a deep thought he had. Sometimes it was a link, a piece of advice, or something to make me laugh.
“Hope you’re having spiffy day. Not too spiffy. It is Friday after all. Penance.”
He would talk about how much he loved his wife, or how he read an article about yoga with alpacas but he wanted to hold out for llamas. He wrote down his thoughts about St. Paul and the Temple or about people leaving the Church.
“The one thing I’m absolutely sure of about Mass is that I’m amazed God lets me be there.”
Sometimes I thought Larry could read my soul or mind. Then I would realize he just knew human nature. He understood people. Probably because he actually listened to them. He also had experienced enough of life to be open to curve balls, surprises, and messes. He had the wisdom and perspective that one only gets through mess.
“Love is easy on good days. The test is the bad days. The days you’ve been betrayed and disappointed. Nations and states are all too human. And the Church is human and divine. Humans literally screwed up Paradise.”
Larry was always looking for ways to give. He asked his pastor how he could help out in the parish, anxious to find an outlet for the things he was reading and learning on his own. He volunteered his technical skills to help out his chapter of Dominican laity. Even though his boss was not Catholic, he somehow convinced the printing company he worked for to print things for my office practically for free. And he and his wife shared the fruits of their baking, finding joy in sharing their latest experiments. When he found out one of my coworkers was vegetarian and another was sensitive to gluten, he and his wife went out of their way to test gluten-free flours and to tweak their famous sausage balls with vegan sausage.
He was willing to give whatever he could to help someone else. He found joy in other’s joy.
Of course, he would never admit all of this. I can see the look that would be on his face right now, because it appeared when someone gave him a compliment or tried to sing his praises. He was a humble man who was conscious of his shortcomings but eager to do the Lord’s work.
“Quick note. Gave me some things to think about last night. You’ve done good. I think we’ll keep you around another week or two.”
So I miss Larry. I need Larry. I need that son of encouragement.
So I started talking to him again. Because he’s not gone, even though I feel the hole that he left when he died last May. But he’s here. The veil between the two worlds is so thin. I used to think he could read my mind. Now I tell God that He can let Larry see my struggles and hear my prayers. Because I need Larry. And now he can help me even more than he did before. That’s the beauty of the Church: triumphant, suffering, and militant. I pray for him if he’s in purgatory, and I ask him to keep praying for me, as I know he did on earth.
Three days before he died, no one dreaming of what the next few days would bring, Larry emailed me about heaven and the first thing he wanted to do if he got there. I hope he did it.
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