The obituary for Richard Gonzales, 43, said he died suddenly. It also said his brother Vincent and his father preceded him in death. At the memorial service for Richard, a very sad day for the family, no mention was made of the reason why he died suddenly, leaving a two-year old son. An autopsy was conducted before he was cremated, but the results were not yet available.
His mother and her husband, two brothers, and many relatives and friends had gathered at a funeral home chapel for a memorial service officiated by Deacon Andy Chavez from St. Francis Xavier Church.
A prayer card with Jesus on the cross was given to all attendees, with a poem that goes:
God saw he was getting tired
And a cure was note to be,
So He put His arms around him
And whispered “Come with Me.”
With tearful eyes we watched him suffer
And saw him fade away
Although we loved him dearly,
We could not make him stay.
A golden heart stopped beating,
Hard working hands to rest.
God broke our hearts to prove to us,
He only takes the best!
At the front of the chapel, a display table held a box holding Richard’s cremated remains, draped with five rosaries, a Bible open to Ecclesiastes and highlighted (To everything there is a season), three photos of a trim, smiling man, three caps that he wore in life, several flower arrangements, and a crucifix on a stand with three lit candles.
Deacon Chavez blessed Richard’s cremated remains, sprinkling them with holy water in remembrance of baptism. He led prayers, starting by saying, “We place ourselves in the loving presence of God and ask forgiveness for sins.” He quoted Isaiah, Romans, John 3:16 (In my father’s house there are many dwelling places). The 23rd Psalm was read in a responsive version, with attendees repeating, “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want,” throughout the recitation of the psalm.
The deacon went on to offer biblical words of comfort. He noted that Richard loved to pray the Bible. Recordings of the songs “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art” were played. Before opening the podium to attendees to speak, everyone rose for the Lord’s Prayer and greetings of peace. This is when you shake hands with those around you in the pews and say, “Peace be with you.”
The peace greeting is an act that originated in Jewish practice. On Sunday, I was at an educational event called “The Landscape of Grieving” held by the Reform Jewish temple, Congregation Albert. One part of the event examined Talmudic rules regarding the treatment of mourners, defined as those mourning the loss of a parent, spouse, sibling, or child.
It said that mourners may not accept a greeting of peace, and should instead say, “I am in mourning.” This way, the community knows the person has suffered a loss and to treat them with special sensitivity and loving kindness.
A letter written by Richard’s mother was read by her sister-in-law. Some of the passages said, “I know the Lord has a reason for this… In death, brother Vincent is there to help you… Our family chain is broken and nothing seems the same, but one by one, the chain will be connected in heaven.” Others who spoke said he was a good friend, he loved his baby very much, and that he would be missed. Sounds of crying, sniffling, and cell phones going off filled the room.
The service finished with a final commendation and the priestly blessing. The funeral director invited everyone to greet the family and return to the mother’s home for a reception and more visiting.
And everyone got a black plastic wristband with the word “Remember” highlighted in white. We were encouraged to remember good things about Richard. I hope those who knew him will do that.