It will be a tough Christmas for Imelda Espiritu whose husband Leonard died of cancer late last year.
But Christmas offers a hope that’s greater than any loss.
“Christmas has been difficult without him,” Espiritu said. “But as I’m reminded here – with God, you can endure everything. I know I had the chance to help prepare him for heaven and I am grateful for the time we had. It was an honour to be with him. He was such a wonderful man and he loved the Church.”
Espiritu was among the 500 grieving friends and family at annual Mass for those who are mourning the death of loves ones recently. The Mass was held Dec. 21 at Holy Cross Cemetery and Mausoleum, where Espiritu’s husband is buried.
Holy Cross hosts a public Mass on the third Saturday of each month. For the Advent Mass, a remembrance tree where visitors can place ornaments is displayed.
Espiritu said she was comforted by the words of Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith. While Christmas is a time when we’re reminded of the absence of deceased loved ones, Archbishop Smith said we’re also reminded of the hope Christmas brings us.
“We can’t help avoid a sense of pain, loss and absence – particularly if this is our first Christmas without a loved one,” Archbishop Smith said in his homily.
“While the occasion of Christmas can accentuate our pain, as people of faith we realize that the message of Christmas touches and transform us. That pain somehow mysteriously coexists with a real sense of hope.
“The message of Christmas is precisely one of God drawing near to his people by becoming one of us. Because God has drawn near, death is not the end. Death is a beginning, an opening to the most wonderful gift of all – the gift of eternal life. And all of that is possible precisely because of Christmas.”
As she pulls out a photo of her late husband from her purse, Espiritu said there have been many hardships since he died in November 2018. The pair had only been married for two years, and his death came only a month after his cancer diagnosis – leaving Espiritu suddenly alone and widowed.
More than anything else, Mass has been her greatest source of healing.
“The Mass is always powerful, especially with the Archbishop here and his message,” she said. “The letting go is tough, the pain is still there. But I pray that one day we will be reunited with our loved ones.”
It’s a prayer that resonated with the hundreds of families gathered for the Advent Mass. Afterwards, many of them gathered at the entombments of their lost loved ones, many reaching out to their inscriptions and praying for them.
Dan Ouellette and his wife Debbie have attended the Advent Mass for nine years, ever since his mother Jeanette passed away in 2010 and his father Albert died in 2014. Both are buried inside the mausoleum.
As the couple finished praying before the entombment and held back their tears, they said the Mass is a special time to honour Dan’s parents.
“Especially around Christmas this gives us a time to remember them, and we just feel closer to them while we’re here,” said Debbie. “It’s always an experience that makes us feel good.”
Lily Doyle has been attending the Advent Mass since her husband Patrick died in 2013. This year she brought her daughter Lisa with her.
“It was very powerful for me to see the amount of people here, and to know we’re all here for that same reason – to remember those we’ve lost,” Lisa said.
“Christmas has been a tougher time since my dad passed away. He would have liked that we came for him.”
Espiritu has attended most of the monthly Masses at Holy Cross Cemetery since she lost her husband. She said it’s a continual reminder that, no matter the pain and loneliness, God will give her the strength to go on.
“I’ll never stop praying and trying to continue my husband’s legacy,” Espiritu said. “And when I look to the cross, I’m always reminded that no matter what I can carry on. It’s quite hard being by myself but there’s always a way. God will provide.”