Friday, December 28, 2012

Funeral for a Friend

His name was Giuseppe. We met over thirty years ago in graduate school while  both pursuing a relatively useless Masters Degree in Spanish Language and Literature.  Though he was almost 20 years my senior, we had much in common in addition to our course of studies:  Like me, his parents were from Sicily.  In fact, his home town was only a few miles from my parents’ birthplace of Torre Faro, Messina.  We hit it off well, and I invited him over to dinner often, as both of us enjoyed having someone to speak Italian with, as well as talk about Sicily.   

There was also much that we did not have in common.  I was a young Christian, married for a couple of years with an infant daughter, attending a local church and doing my best to stay on the straight and narrow as best as I knew how.  He on the other hand, was an older, confirmed bachelor, and very much a man of the world.  I had some opportunities to share the Gospel with him and was thrilled when he prayed a prayer of faith and repentance, only to be disappointed that his profession of faith apparently did not result in an immediate change in lifestyle.

After we both completed our studies, we saw much less of each other, though we kept in occasional contact.  He eventually retired and moved to Florida, still a confirmed bachelor, but not like he used to be.  He started living a relatively solitary and quiet life, and his social contacts seemed to be limited to friends in a small prayer group at the church he attended in Florida.  His conversations with me seemed to be limited to two topics:  (1) his politics, which—believe it or not—were even further to the right than mine; and (2) the church, and he was particularly fond of talking about his prayer group.

I got to see him about once a year, inviting him over to the house when he periodically traveled back north, but otherwise our contact was limited to an occasional phone call and exchanges of Christmas greetings.  I was surprised this year when the Christmas letter I sent him was returned with no forwarding address.  I had not heard from him, and it would not be like him to not let me know that he had moved.  When I called his number and got a recording that the number was no longer in service, I assumed the worst--  “googling” his name and the word “obituary”--but the search did not yield any relevant results.  When I searched exclusively on the address and found some real estate records listing him as the owner, I clicked on his name and learned that he died sometime in 2012 at the age of 73.  There were no other details.

Given the lack of an obituary on the internet, I wonder if there was even a funeral.  As far as I knew, his only living relatives were a sister and some nieces and nephews in Sicily.  Though his absence will not have a major impact on my life, I am taken aback that a friend of mine is no longer here, and I am particularly saddened by the possibility that he may have died alone.  And yet, by God’s mercy, I have reason to hope that he did not die alone.  So long, paisano.  May you receive a rich welcome in God’s Kingdom, and I look forward to seeing you there.

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