I was lucky enough to be able to call him Uncle Ed. Most people called him Father Ed. He was awesome in both roles. On Good Friday of this year, he wrote a blog post with a great insight into the mystery of life and suggested a large, “15-foot-tall, 8-foot-wide, old weathered door” as the symbol of Christ’s death on Cavalry. On Easter Monday, he had an accident and passed away later in the week from the injuries. He walked through the door he’d been waiting to open all his life. (Thomas C. Fox wrote a great tribute to Uncle/Father Edward Hays at National Catholic Reporter.)
Uncle Ed taught me important lessons in life and faith. He taught me everyone and everything hold the grace of God. Faith and belief are meant to be lived every day in our every action. He showed me that creativity through stories and art was possible and not just a pipe dream. After having a little time to reflect on his history, I’ve come to realize the best lesson Uncle Ed left me came with the last thing of his I carried at his burial ceremony.
Uncle Ed’s casket was hand-carved for him in the late 1960’s. Family legend tells the beautifully crafted casket was by a Native American friend who lived near his assigned parish at the time. In 1971, when Uncle Ed went on a world tour to pray and study with different religions, he left the casket under the care of my family. And did we ever take care of it!
Imagine a good, Catholic family with five well-behaved boys and one girl, in your average, Mid-American, middle-class neighborhood. Now imagine the exquisitely carved casket, sitting prominently in front of the living room picture window, and being one of the main pieces of furniture in the household. That was my house growing up. It was heaven.
We watched hours and hours of TV lying on top of the casket. We sometimes fought over whose turn it was to lounge on the coffin. At Halloween, or when new friends came over for the first time, it was a tremendous prop to frighten the unsuspecting visitor. We thoroughly enjoyed our times as caretakers of Uncle Ed’s casket, but I think my mother didn’t really mind it when, more than a decade later, he finally had the room in his residence to take it back.
Years passed. The casket became a happy memory and a good topic of reflective conversations of our sometimes ornery youth. Then came the news of Uncle Ed’s accident, followed by the thoughts of his impending death. The sadness of the loss of a mentor, spiritual guide, and uncle-extraordinaire left a hole in the world.
Then I read his Good Friday post. He’d opened the door he had lived to open.
Then I remembered our scientific and philosophical discussions of the past few years on quantum physics and the cosmos. He was now part of the cosmos which so completely intrigued him. All his questions are now answered.
Then I remembered the beautiful casket. It would finally perform the task for which it was made.
And I smiled.
Of all the lessons learned from Uncle Ed throughout my life, I hope the indelible, final lessons of his casket will remain forever.
- Faith, like this casket, is meant to be used.
- The path to Christ, like the path to the casket, is a “one day at a time” journey.
- Creativity, like the fine craftsmanship of the hand-carved casket, can, and should, be infused with faith.