My friends Michael and Daniel Rolland had a difficult duty to perform last week. The brothers, both Catholic priests, had to preside and preach, respectively, at their mother’s funeral Mass Friday.
They could have opted out and let another priest take over. But they said it would feel even more awkward for them to be on the sidelines than to be at the altar.
So as we gathered at St. Daniel the Prophet Catholic Church in Scottsdale, there they were, joined by fellow members of their Dominican order from around the Western United States and by family and friends.
Ellen Rolland died a week ago Wednesday at age 77. I’ve known her and her children, a total of four boys, since Michael and I were teenagers.
As I watched Mike and Dan do so well — they even were able to inject a bit of humor into the proceedings by feigning brotherly competitiveness — it was still enough to make anyone wonder what it would be like someday for most of us to deal with the loss of our own parents.
Funerals do that, of course. They have done it before and since 17th century poet John Donne’s famous phrase about not asking for whom the bell tolls.
It wasn’t hard for me to think about my mother and father at all. They were sitting next to me at St. Daniel’s. They are in their mid-70s and in good health. As I listened to Dan’s sermon, I asked myself, would I be able to give a eulogy for one of them someday?
I confess that I might not be able to pull it off. Today, I get so emotional I can’t even watch my mother tap dance (she’s taken classes in it) without sniffling and tearing up with love and pride.
At Friday’s funeral, Dan’s remarks were given without notes — he is, after all, a professional — and he paused to collect himself only once. He commented on the gospel passage about Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary. His mother, he said, was more like Martha, always anxious about details.
And for a few minutes, there was I, also rather anxious about details myself. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.
Details plague us. They are what get us to where we’re going, to what we’re trying to accomplish. And yet they can take us away from the satisfaction of getting there, of accomplishing that, to the point of delving into all those details in the first place.
Martha’s sister Mary was not one for details. She concentrated instead on the simple truths of her faith.
The family mourning the loss of their mother Friday provided her with their last gifts to her, their attention and respect and love, as always.
For those of us whose parents are still with us, the eulogies will have their own day.
We have living to do before then, making those phone calls and appointments to see our loved ones. How we do it isn’t anywhere near as important as just doing it.
The details can wait.