My high school math teacher lost his daughter to suicide last week, and an amazing celebration of her life occurred last Thursday. I post the following, a Homily by the priest and eulogy from Mairead’s sister, not only for reflection, but so I don’t lose it. What wonderful things we can do with our words – I never met the girl but I think we could have been friends…
Father Ryan’s Homily for Mairead Brigid Corrigan
January 23, 2014
There are things in life that, by any human reckoning, should simply never happen, and moments in life that, if we could, we would escape at any price. This is one such thing and one such moment, and we are powerless to escape or to change it. But no matter how devastated we are or how dark this moment, there is a ray of light. The light is our faith –- Mairead’s faith and ours — our faith in God and in Jesus Christ who triumphed over death and promised that we would, too. The light is also the wonderful Corrigan family — Maggie, Barrett, Siobhan, Clare, Nora — who, in their heartbreaking loss, are wonderfully there for each other and for us with love and care and support and, at times, even a few laughs amid all the grief and tears. Thank God for that. And thank Mairead for that, because that’s what she would want. And thank God, too, for the Irish who know how to grieve and how to celebrate!
Like all of you, I am at a loss for words, and am keenly aware that there is really nothing I can say tonight that will take away your pain or make sense of what happened to Mairead a week ago. I doubt Mairead could have explained it, either, and that’s part of what makes all this so agonizingly difficult, so unspeakably sad. And although any attempt to explain is going to fall short, I have come to believe that there is a kind of pain that cannot find words, a heartache so deep that it defies healing, a choice so clouded by mental anguish that it is really no choice at all.
For reasons we can only guess at, Mairead came to a point where the road ahead seemed too long, the well too deep (her expression), the horizon too distant, the journey too dark. No one who hasn’t personally known this hopeless void should try to describe or explain it, and that includes me. But I will say that when it comes to a beautiful young person like Mairead — a young person just can’t be expected to have the same perspective on life that we who have lived longer are likely to acquire. And I think, too, that, no matter how mature Mairead was for her age, the depression she struggled with so long outweighed the hope she fought for and clung to for so long. That depression must have seemed to her like the only enduring reality.
And so, in thinking about Mairead, maybe we shouldn’t so much question why she did what she did as marvel at how she carried on so well for so long. And even though we will always have more questions than answers, there is one certainty we can hold onto, a certainty perhaps best expressed by the contemporary spiritual writer, Fr. Ron Rolheiser, who describes suicide as “a terminal illness no more willed by its victim than death by cancer, stroke, or heart attack.” To that I would add one other certainty. It’s this: no one is to blame for Mairead’s illness or death. No one.
I spoke of the hope that Mairead held onto for so long. As we deal with her death, it’s very important for us to remember that when her hope gave out, God’s love, God’s boundless mercy, took over. It did. I have no doubt of that — no doubt whatever that Mairead now rests in the tender, loving embrace of the God she loved, the God she came to know uncommonly well for a young person of eighteen. For that reason, my friends, I hope that, through our tears, we can allow ourselves some peace and quiet joy and, yes, maybe even a smile – a Mairead Corrigan smile – a smile better than any I ever saw, a smile that brought joy to everyone who knew her, a smile that lit up our lives and now lights up the heavens.
That smile is something that I, along with our servers and sacristans here at St, James got to experience every Sunday morning in the sacristy before the 10:00 Mass – Mairead’s Mass. Mairead’s arrival in the sacristy was the sun coming out on a cloudy Seattle day. She didn’t need to say anything (although she usually did!) -– she just had to arrive on the scene, and the sun was out. Which puts me in mind of what Mairead told the interviewer when she was applying for a job at Starbucks. When asked what she would bring to the job she simply said, “I make things brighter.” Were truer words ever spoken?! Would that Mairead could have made things as bright for herself as she did for all of us!
Mairead brightened the lives of hundreds and hundreds of people in this Cathedral Sunday after Sunday when she would lead the procession down the center aisle, swinging the thurible, enveloping herself and all of us in clouds of incense. Mairead swung that thurible with style and class, swung it like no one else, and wherever she went after Mass, the sweet scent of St. James, the fragrance of holiness went with her! (We don’t usually use incense at a funeral, but we’re doing so tonight in honor of Mairead.)
There were other times that Mairead brightened the lives of a Cathedral-full of people. I think, for instance, of the time a little over a year ago when, at five Sunday Masses, she stood right here in this pulpit and spoke to us about Sacrificial Giving. We all marveled at how a sixteen-year-old could charm us so completely. She held us spellbound as she shared with us what this Cathedral and this community of faith meant to her and had meant to her ever since she was a child. She got us laughing when she told us how, when she was very young, her big sisters, Siobhan and Clare, practical jokers both of them, told Nora and her that — at the time of the Mass just before Communion when everyone prays, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you; say but the word and I shall be healed” — the ‘word’ to be said in order to really be healed was “hippopotamus!” Where they came up with that, God only knows, but Mairead and Nora fell for it for some time until they realized that they had been tricked. (Something tells me there was payback time…!)
In a more serious vein, Mairead went on to tell us that day (and here I quote), “I wonder how I was ever able to get from the little girl doodling on the bulletin to where I am now. My parents and my family have taught me many things, but teaching me how to practice my faith and love my faith is the most important lesson. St. James is a unique place…, St. James is family.”
At another time, Mairead wrote a lovely piece for our parish journal which we call In Your Midst. She spoke poetically and powerfully of (again, I quote) “the light that bathes the altar in this place, the light that bathes the hearts of those in misery, the soft echo of private whispered prayers, as well as the public declarations of faith.” She spoke, too, of the many people in the parish who reach out to give a helping hand to those less fortunate and she concluded her thoughts with these words: “The Holy Spirit is in you, in me, and in this community.”
Well, she got that right. And the Holy Spirit is here now, my friends -– gathering us, comforting us, challenging us. We are hearing the voice of the Spirit tonight in our prayers spoken and sung, and we heard the Spirit’s voice, too, in the Scripture readings which were the foundation and the inspiration for everything I have been saying.
The reading from Isaiah, spoken long ago to God’s people in exile, far from home, far from all they held dear, spoke poignantly and tenderly to this moment, too:
“For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back. For a moment I hid my face from you, but with enduring love I take pity on you, says the Lord, your redeemer…Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you!”
And Jesus, in the passage from John’s gospel, reinforced those words by telling us that “Everyone the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it up on the last day…This is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise that one on the last day.”
Those words don’t demand much, if any, commentary from me. They are foundational to our Christian faith; they are what give us confidence in the midst of deep sadness and mourning; they are our reason for hope, even for joy.
The reading from the Book of Revelation was really more a painting than a reading, a beautiful picture painted on the vast canvas of the created universe, a picture of “new heavens and a new earth, the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, beautiful as a bride on her wedding day.” The city really defies description, but we know this much: there is no death or mourning there, no crying out or pain, because God dwells there among his people, God who wipes away the tears from every eye.
My friends, we need to keep our eyes fixed on that glorious vision now and in the days to come. We are all destined to live forever in that new and heavenly city, destined one day to join all God’s friends, including dear Mairead, in that glorious new world where pain and heartache are no longer and where God makes all things new.
Three years ago, in a lovely poem she wrote for our parish journal, Mairead spoke movingly and beautifully of that glorious new world. I thought I’d let her have the last word here by reading her poem for you.
God has painted the world so many colors
The brilliance of the golden sun
The silver clouds,
When God truly comes the color will be indescribable
A color that will bring all colors together
There will be no color left out
And anyone who may have doubted will know God is here
The happiness and joy spread by this color will be infectious,
The doors of opportunity will open,
And our meaning of life will become clear.
People will understand the unity of humanity,
And how we all deserve equality.
Hatred and sadness will be swept away
Forgiveness will overcome those in need.
Then God will have come again,
And God will have shown us his full power.
His full love for us,
And we will have nothing to say
But God will know our thanks.
Dear Mairead, from your place with God, you now know all those colors you painted so beautifully in that poem, and you also know the unity and equality and forgiveness you envisioned for us all. And you know so much more. You know God’s “full love for us,” as you put it, and God knows your thanks and your overflowing joy which we can only dimly imagine at this point but will one day share with you and all the saints when a loving, compassionate God gathers us all together for joys that will never end.
Until then, Mairead, be with God, and never stop being there for us.
Siobhan Corrigan’s eulogy for Mairead
I don’t know where to start exactly, so I will start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. When you read you begin with A-B-C. When you sing you begin with Do-Re-Mi. When you talk about Mairead, you begin with figuring out how to pronounce her name.
Her name is Mairead, rhymes with parade, and she is one of the silliest and bravest of our little band of sisters. We who she left behind cannot help but be preoccupied by the shock of the past few days, but there are millions of memories that will outweigh our sadness and confusion.
We are so lucky and blessed to have grown up the way we did. We were raised without a television, something which gave all of us hyperactive imaginations. Our backyard was part of our playground, where we crept around in waist-high grass pretending we were cattle-herders in the Wild West. The stairs in our house became a giant mountain. We would “hike” halfway up and then stop on the landing and say to each other “It’s going to snow and the mountain will become too dangerous. Let us camp here for the night.” And then we would dump all of our blankets and books and board games and notebooks and candy and fake homemade maps on the landing and proceed to block anyone who was trying to go up or down the stairs for any reason. The futon in our bedroom got dragged off of its frame and folded over to become Pride Rock for our reenactments of The Lion King. It was always the four of us, believing in our stories wholeheartedly.
We are so lucky and blessed to have grown up with our sister, Ray, a drop of golden sun. She is a peacemaker among the four of us. She could be incredibly ridiculous, like the time we had just gotten off of the bus in Ireland and were trying to find our way to the hostel near Dingle. We were not sure how much money we had with us to pay for the rooms when we arrived, and while Clare and I were discussing this problem, Mairead yelled from behind us, “Don’t worry about it, I have cash!” We both turned around and tried to shush her, saying “Mairead, don’t freaking yell that you have wads of cash while we’re walking along some random street!” “Don’t worry, I can fix it,” she said. Then she bellowed “I MEANT…I HAVE A RASH.” We cracked up. And needless to say, nobody bothered the crazy American girls on their way to the hostel.
Mairead was lucky and blessed too. Her life was too short, but it was amazingly rich and full. It was full because of all of you, everyone here with us in body and in spirit. It was full because of the Sundays she spent with her St. James family of altar servers, because of her Makah family hurtling down the toboggan hill at Brian’s cabin, because of the huge families of St. Joe’s and Blanchet that taught her so much, because of O’Dea football games where she screamed her lungs out, because of the nights playing charades incorrectly around the campfire at Lake Wenatchee, because of forty dollars worth of candy bought and eaten in one night by a mob of kids in West Seattle, because of the hours spent dancing in basements and gyms, on stages big and small, and because we, the Corrigans and the Pringles and the McDevitts and the Perris had her, and she had all of us.
All these communities, all these families which we have been part of over many years are the reason we will get through this. Your presence, prayers, and overwhelming love and generosity have helped us and will continue to help us more than words can tell. On behalf of my whole family, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you so much. You are God’s grace made present to us.
To my dear sisters, we will always be a club of four. Cry when you want to, laugh when you want to. We have so much to look forward to.
To everyone in the whole world, please talk to each other. Talk to each other and forgive each other the small things. Then talk to each other some more and forgive each other the big things. When you are lost or angry or scared, put your hand on your chest and be still so you can feel your heartbeat. That’s your body, your heart, telling you that you are meant to live and live and live. So do it. Live and live and live. Life is, and ever shall be, worth the hard parts.
R.I.P. Mairead, Born March 9, 1995, Died January 16, 2014. May she rest forever in the arms of the best of all angels.