Is it possible to reconcile with someone after he or she has died? This question applies to situations where there’s been some estrangement or conflict at the time of death, especially when that death was sudden or unexpected. This is not uncommon, and those left behind are often burdened with feelings of remorse, guilt, and regret.
But in our life of faith, death should never be the final word. Jesus has achieved perfect reconciliation. That reconciliation “is finished” on the cross (John 19:30). The reconciliation is between God and us and between one another. Yet how do we realize it, or experience it, when there was a relationship breakdown at the time of someone’s death?
The first thing we recommend is to find reconciliation in and through the Mass. It’s in the Eucharist that we experience most fully and sacramentally the communion of saints—the communion and ongoing fellowship that exists between the living and the “living dead”—those who have died to this world but are living already in the world to come. Practically, it’s helpful to have a Mass offered for the deceased person and to ask one another forgiveness for past hurts and conflicts during the Mass.
An ‘Emmaus’ Reconciliation Meditation
On a more personal, spiritual, and psychological level, the following meditation steps may help. It’s based on the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35). For them, all felt lost with Jesus’ death. But an extraordinary encounter with Jesus takes place, renewing their faith and hope.
In the meditation, be alone. Invoke the wisdom and light of the Holy Spirit. Invite quiet into your heart and spirit. Imagine the Emmaus road through the Judean countryside where the two disciples walked, conversing. They are depressed, discouraged, dejected.
Now imagine that you are one of those two disciples. The other person with you is the deceased person whom you have hurt or who has hurt you. Have an imaginary conversation in which you speak honestly with the other about what had happened, how you each feel. Allow yourself to feel the sad and/or angry feelings of the memory. Don’t shy away from the pain. In your imaginary conversation, make sure you give “each other” equal time to speak. If you knew the other person well, you should have a good idea what he or she would say.
Then Jesus comes along and joins you in your walk. He asks you: “What are you discussing as you walk along?” Tell him honestly. Allow Jesus to speak to the situation.
Now you reach an intersection on the road. Jesus tells you he is taking the other person along with him, but that you must remain behind for now, going your own way. Jesus embraces you. The other person embraces you. Watch them walk off and fade into the distance.
Bring your meditation dialogue to Mass or to a time of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. You may also wish to arrange to have a Mass intention offered for the deceased person. Remember, forgiveness heals.
Adapted from Why Do You Weep? Finding Consolation and Peace in Times of Grief © 2012 Larry Kaufmann, CSsR; Sean Wales, CSsR; and Russell Pollitt, SJ