February 12, 2021

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

When an obituary becomes a prayer

I’ve never had to write an obituary. I realize how fortunate that makes me.

As a professional writer, I’ve imagined what it would be like to write one.

Of all writing forms, the obituary is the life summary, the final word. It conveys what may be the only information future generations will ever know of a particular ancestor. I cannot imagine a more daunting assignment for the grief-stricken.

Last summer, I read an obituary that has stuck with me, challenging me to live well. It was written for my husband’s beloved Aunt Bridgann, his godmother, who died in July after a short illness. She was 79.

The obituary names her parents, her eight siblings and her three children. It highlights the happy milestones in her life. Somehow, the mere date and location of her wedding Mass—on April 20, 1962, in Castle Grove, Iowa—sparkles, conjuring a nostalgic springtime joy.

With the biographical facts aside, the obituary goes on to describe Bridgann, capturing her essence in just a few words: “Her smile and laughter were contagious.”

And then, the sentence that stopped me in my tracks: “She was deeply faithful in everyday life.”

Wow.

Bridgann was a Catholic who cherished her faith. This statement testifies to that: daily prayer, countless rosaries, an abiding love for the Mass. And it speaks to fidelity more broadly, to be faithful in all facets: faithful to God, to spouse, to sisters, to traditions, to children and grandchildren, to birthdays and birds, to favorite singers and long-held values. To be faithful to all you hold dear.

The fidelity is applied broadly—and, even more challenging—it is exercised “in everyday life.”

This is where the real beauty comes. There’s something quiet and stirring about a mother who is faithful in everyday life. Bridgann was. She was faithful to warm meals and dirty dishes, to handwritten cards and late-night text messages. She tended to the work of daily life with grace. She was unwavering.

We tend to measure life in terms of résumé points and marathon moments. But what nobler goal could you pursue than to be like Bridgann, to be faithful in everyday life?

I can think of none.

That simple sentence in her obituary has stayed with me, connecting me to Bridgann. It has become my prayer.

I thought of her often at Christmas, recalling her beautifully wrapped presents and the gingerbread ornaments she hung on the tree. I think of her when I wipe down the kitchen table and sing my kids lullabies at night. Faithful in everyday life.

I feel something easing in me, the high-achieving college student who racked up internships and endorsements. Where once was an urge to prove myself is now a trust to simply be. I’m letting life emerge, embracing its quiet gifts. I’m no longer compelled to take my private life, spiff it up and make it public. Quitting Instagram helped. I don’t view my days as fodder for social media, but as moments to hold to my heart. I’m the protagonist, not the producer.

Maybe this is a shift that comes with aging. Perhaps the pandemic accelerated it, clarifying for me what matters most and casting all the rest aside. But surely, I know, the memory of Bridgann inspires it, with the words from her obituary as a guidepost. When we are tired, when we are unsure, when we rise each morning and begin anew, presented with 100 little ways to serve our people: faithful in everyday life.
 

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn.)

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