Holy Thursday: Nana's message
Updated: Apr 20, 2019
by Kalo Uechtritz Fainu
It was Holy Thursday (also known as Maundy Thursday) last year in 2018 that my beloved grandmother took her last breaths, surrounded by some of her children and grandchildren.
My grandmother, Mary Lou, was a devout Catholic all of her life, serving God, her children, her extended family and friends and her community. For me, religion has never been something I have subscribed to or followed well, however I am a deeply spiritual person and have strong feelings about the connections that remain between us Earth bound mortals and our departed ancestors.
When Nana left our world, I searched for clues. Why now I asked? Nana had fallen sick before, but had always pulled through. She was small in stature, but boy was she large in life. She was a fighter. She was resilient and she was strong. "So why did you leave today Nana" I called out to the heavens. I had a strong feeling that her departure was not a mere coincidence or accident, but that there was some deeper meaning, that it was divine timing. Perhaps a time negotiated between Nana and her God.
It was the Thursday before Easter, which to me had no previous meaning to it. I knew of Good Friday and Easter Sunday and that the Monday was a public holiday too, but Thursday.... was it significant? So I asked one of the sisters that had come to pay their respects at my Nana's bedside if there was anything special about the Thursday before Easter, "Yes, it's Maundy Thursday". Maundy Thursday? Hmm... I pondered... and off I went to find out more.
The Maundy in Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin root mandatum, or commandment, taken from Jesus' words in John 13:34:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Just prior to speaking these words, Jesus knelt down to wash the disciples' feet, a model of love for the disciples. But Maundy Thursday celebrates more than a new mandate of sacrificial love, it points to a sacrifice of eternal significance.
After washing their feet, Jesus said, “I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” Loving by serving is meant to define the Christian life.
For me, the message was clear. Nana had set an example of servitude and love and her message to all of us (her disciples), as a teacher, leader and matriarch of our family, was to do as she had done. "Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."
I kept Nana's message with me and wondered if perhaps I was just trying to find something for my own comfort, that maybe there are no meanings at all. I doubted myself.
All the members of my large extended family began to arrive in Sydney ahead of Nana's funeral. Most days and nights we gathered together for lunches and dinners and to find comfort in those closest to us. On one particular night, I decided not to join the family gathering, which was unusual for me. I stayed home and spent some time alone. Unable to sleep, I turned to my laptop to try and stream some online TV. The connection in my room was poor and so I searched my computer for any offline movies I might have filed on there. There were 3 or 4, and I had seen all except one, Hacksaw Ridge. I actually wasn't really up for watching a war film, but being the only one I hadn't seen and because I couldn't stream online, I loaded the film and hit play. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Hacksaw Ridge is the true story of Desmond Doss who, in Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWII, saved 75 men without firing or carrying a gun. He was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon, as he believed that while the war was justified, killing was nevertheless wrong. Then there was a scene I'll never forget. Desmond and a fellow soldier are sitting in the trenches amongst gunfire and bombs, dead and wounded bodies surround them and the soldier, worn down by the battle, turns to Desmond and asks, "Why won't you use a weapon"? Desmond responds by saying that the reason he joined the army was to save lives, not take them, and as he ends his explanation he begins to quote a bible verse I have just learnt myself,
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
I sat up, bright as day and I looked to the sky above and nodded my head and told Nana that I understood the message she was leaving with us. Her only wish for us, in her absence, was that we loved each other, as she loved us all.
Today is Maundy Thursday 2019 and I find myself sitting and writing this blog post from East New Britain in Papua New Guinea, the spiritual home of my Grandparents. This is where they met and fell in love, where they raised their children and where we will bring both of their ashes home to the family mat mat (cemetery) in September this year.
I am here because of her. I am here to serve the memory of my grandparents, to serve my family as best that I am able to, and to serve the East New Britain community who will be welcoming all of us to Kuradui when we bring Alf and Mary Lou home to rest.
Love One Another (John 13:33-35)
33Little children, I am with you only a little while longer. You will look for Me, and as I said to the Jews, so now I say to you: ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’