Last weekend, I sang at the vigil service and funeral for a young man whose family has been a vital part of our church and school communities.
While I felt honored to help sing this dear soul to heaven, I would have preferred different circumstances, as would everyone.
He was only 25, an age when it seems many are just entering the prime of their lives.
Though I’d never met Matthew Thomas “Matto” Traynor, his parents, Mike and Mary Beth, serve regularly in our parish as Eucharistic ministers, distributing the body and blood of Jesus.
It’s not a commission one enters without a whole lot of faith, so I know the family loves God greatly and did everything to pass that onto their children.
It’s tempting to ask why the all-powerful God didn’t do more for Matto. But as the Traynor family’s longtime friend Monsignor Jeffrey Wald said at the vigil, the question misunderstands the nature of God.
Addiction and depression, not God, took Matto from us.
The night of the vigil on June 7, I become acquainted with Matto. I learned about the antics of him and his brothers as kids, like the time they flung their mother’s undergarments onto a wildly spinning ceiling fan and the delicate pieces of clothing ended up flying out the open window, much to the consternation of his mother and neighbors.
And how Matto and his neighborhood pals once concocted a scheme to have a toad and frog store, collecting 100 or more amphibians from nearby window-wells, surprising his parents, who discovered the “operation” jumping in droves across their newly installed carpet.
Through stories, I met the mischievous gleam in his sparkling blue eyes, love for hunting and fishing, fast endearment to friends and others and his desire to make them happy.
Matto tried, but couldn’t quite get there himself.
From my outside glimpse, I couldn’t have guessed the pain his family had been experiencing trying to keep Matto hopeful, or the suffering they’d endure on June 4 at the discovery he’d ended his life.
We don’t often know what others are really going through, because some pain is just too hard to share readily or easily.
At the vigil, Monsignor reminded us that every last thing Jesus did during his time on Earth was done out of love for us. He said that though John was the original Beloved Disciple, each of us is also that to God, and so was — and is — Matto.
While he spoke words of God’s mercy, Mary Beth held and sang to her sweet little grandson — a sign of life and consolation — and I sensed Matto being held by God at that same moment, every bit as tenderly.
Tears streamed down my face as I found myself connecting with the Traynors. Though not able to fully comprehend the deep pain they are enduring right now, I’ve tasted the kind of consternation that has plagued them these last years.
As a teenager, engulfed in watching my father’s addiction slowly try to devour his soul and my helplessness in that and other things, I contemplated, and tried, taking my own life.
And in more recent years as a parent, emotional anguish experienced by my own children — despairing that I alone can’t quell — has pierced my mother heart.
Some have gotten the wrong impression from my public writing, it seems. I’ve received letters calling me smug and other similar adjectives, and been told not everyone lives an “awesome, religious, great life” like I do.
But they don’t really know my life’s story, including the sleepless nights, the searching God for answers, the attempts at humor in odd moments because, if we didn’t crack up on occasion, we’d crack.
Though my hope is to convey the ideal of the faith life, that doesn’t necessarily translate into a carefree existence. It’s the same with the Traynor family, because despite strong faith, tragedy came.
And yet Matto’s life was of great value to them and others, and certainly to God. At the funeral Mass, Monsignor said that when God looks at us, he sees us not as the world does, but gazes at the person he created — the real us.
To him, Matto is infinitely precious, and so are we.
So, rather than leaving his farewell services in despair, I felt uplifted, hopeful and so very grateful for God’s presence in my life.
I was reminded that though addiction and depression can be the most sinister of companions, they cannot take away God’s love for us, our love for God, nor our love for each other.
Those who’ve claimed the gift of faith aren’t perfect. Most don’t gloat in the gift. We hold it close and do our best with it, seeing what a treasure it is and wishing it for others.
And when we’ve done all we can but still find ourselves with empty, aching arms, one thing remains: love. For as Matto’s family reminded me, the love of family and God transcends the veil that separates this world from the next. Love is eternal.
Best of all, we don’t have to wait until death to apply this love as much as possible to everyone whose path we cross. Because, after all, we never really know who might be desperate for it.
Rest in peace, dear Matto, child of God.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on June 18, 2016.]