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A Journey of Life Through Death – Catholic Cemeteries and the Year of Mercy



By Nicole Lecheler and Kathy Fanger
Outreach Department

“Living happens to all of us, dying happens to all of us. It can be sad, messy, and powerful, hard, normal, and absurd and everything in between because dying is a part of life.” Zen Hospice Project

God calls us each by name and has a plan for our lives before we are even born. We all have a story in life and in death. As Catholics we acknowledge our earthly journey is only one piece of the puzzle, sometimes the only piece we find light in. As Americans we often see death as darkness and the end of our journey. However, our faith should instill a hope and a light to continue living in the resurrection.

In the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis encourages us to acknowledge our own human existence, our own stories, and calls us to understand the stories of others. He calls us to live a life of love, forgiveness, grace and mercy. By acknowledging our own brothers and sisters we can honor the legacy of one’s life as they are living, but carried forward into dying and their death.

As we continue our journey of faith, we recognize things we cherish most in life are the same things we carry toward death. The moments that make us feel awake, loved and human as God intended. It is the ministry of Catholic Cemeteries to honor and remember these moments as we bury the dead and care for the living faced with death. In this Year of Mercy we will journey through the lives we have touched and served in our important Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy – visit the sick, comfort the afflicted, bury the dead and pray for the living and the dead.

This is Charlie Long’s story…
On October 17, 2011, Gate of Heaven Catholic Cemetery’s dear friend, Charlie Long, died. Charlie came to our cemetery in the hills of Los Altos nearly every day for six years, rain or shine, to sit in his portable chair at the grave of his cherished wife and soul mate, Mary Jean. He lovingly tended her grave with flowers, an angel statue, two American flags, and pinwheels. His deepest desire was to be reunited with her in heaven.

How was it that Charlie chose Gate of Heaven Catholic Cemetery for their resting place?
Charlie’s daughter, Elizabeth Best, tells this story: “My dad was raised a Methodist. He converted to Catholicism before he and mom were married. He became an avid Catholic and his Catholic faith was very important to him. He was very active at our parish, Saint Lawrence the Martyr. My dad wanted to be buried in a Catholic Cemetery, specifically in the Veterans’ Section. He was so proud of his military service!

My mother always wanted to be buried in her home state of Ohio. But when she became very sick and was dying, she told her caregiver, ‘Wherever Charlie wants me to be buried will be fine.’ My dad and I looked at other cemeteries in the Santa Clara area. He did not like them. As we drove through the entrance of Gate of Heaven, my father immediately felt peace and tranquility and knew this was the place he wanted them to be. The Veterans Section was beautiful! I encouraged my father to choose a spot along the sidewalk near the monument plaza, telling him he could safely sit in a chair when he visits my mother.”

Over the years, Charlie befriended many other visitors to the Veterans Section – sharing their personal stories and their faith that one day they would be with their loved ones in heaven.

Elizabeth adds, “Because of my dad and you (Catholic Cemeteries), my husband and I finally bought our own burial space at Gate of Heaven. My dad and I were very close, almost inseparable. After mom died, he had dinner in my home almost every evening. I realized I wanted to be buried nearby my parents when I died. Even if I were to move out of state, I still would want to return to Gate of Heaven to be close to my mom and dad. You kept encouraging me to make an appointment. Because of your kindness and the way you loved and respected my father, Don and I bought our own burial space recently in the new section, Our Lady of La Vang. When we stand there now, Don and I can see across the road to where my parents are buried. We feel we are very nearby.”

Elizabeth and Don are carrying on Charlie’s faithful and loving legacy and the Church’s Works of Mercy by regularly visiting, decorating, and praying at their grave. She, too, feels the same peace and tranquility at our Catholic Cemetery that her father did. Although she misses them dearly, she, like so many other visitors, trusts that one day she will be with her parents again in heaven.

Parish Bereavement Ministers’ Training Series
Presenter: Kathy Fanger, Catholic Cemeteries
Most Holy Trinity Parish-Room 104 | 2040 Nassau Dr. San Jose
6 Thursdays: February 9, 16, 23, March 1, 8, 15 from 7 pm – 9 pm
An in-depth training and enrichment series for parish staff and volunteers to focus on bereavement support in the parish setting.
RSVP by February 5.
To register, contact Kathy Fanger at 650-428-3730 x508 or www.ccdsj.org.