“I miss her so much, I want to be with Carrie.”
Debbie Reynolds’ last words are a heartbreaking testament to her love for her daughter, Carrie Fisher, who had died the day before after suffering a massive heart attack. In the natural order of things, children should outlive their parents, and a disruption of this order brings about grief that can literally be more than a body can bear. But if Reynolds’ body was not able to endure the ache of her heart, her words demonstrate to us that her mind and soul were still strong in hope — hope that death was not the end; that she could see her daughter again in the life to come. It was also, then, a testament of faith.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb. 11-1)
Debbie Reynolds’ hope — her desire to be with her departed daughter — is an expressed measure of faith that there is more to life than our limited years, that we creatures of an eternal Creator have truck with eternity, too. Life, therefore is not, cannot be, meaningless.
Atheists like Richard Dawkins have expressed the view that there is no afterlife, and this belief is used as grounds for making the best of this life, doing whatever seems “right.” It’s a belief that can be comforting; one needn’t worry about accounting for your choices at the end of your time on earth. However, when the chips are down and the end is near, those words are not nearly as consoling. The thought of entering into an abyss of nothingness does not tantalize the hearts of most people. The thought of never seeing beloved family members and friends leaves us longing for something more, something we instinctively hope for.
This is why Christianity is such good news. We believe that death does not have the final say and that there is the possibility of seeing our loved ones again.
Reynolds, having been raised in a Protestant family, might not have had the thought to turn to Mary — a mother who also lost her child — for consolation, but she knew deep down of the existence of eternity and her daughter’s death only made her heart long to join Carrie, in the hope of Heaven.
Pope Francis might have endorsed that hope. As he said in a General Audience earlier this year, “Jesus’ words encourage us never to despair. I think of the worried moms and dads watching their children move away, taking dangerous paths. I think of the parish priests and catechists who wonder at times if their work is in vain. But I also think of the person in prison, who feels his life is over. I think of those who have made mistakes and cannot manage to envision the future, of those who hunger for mercy and forgiveness and believe they don’t deserve it…. In any situation of life, I must not forget that I will never cease to be a child of God, to be a son of the Father who loves me and awaits my return. Even in the worst situation of life, God waits for me, God wants to embrace me, God expects me.”
This does not mean we are free to do as we please, banking on the fact that God is merciful — Hell is real; it exists, and the Holy Father has also reminded us of that reality — but we are invited to trust in the love of God, not running away, but doing all that we can in this life to ensure that we will rest in the loving embrace of a Father who offers mercy even unto those infinitesimal moments of our culmination, and “weighs everything in the balance,” with a wisdom beyond our own understanding.
In the end, the Gospel is truly good news and the promise of eternal life something to look forward to. Just think of all the family and friends we could embrace once again in Heaven. Doesn’t that thought correspond to the deepest corners of our hearts? What Reynolds said before she died simply reflects what we all desire, and the good news is that it can be realized through the mercy and loving care of our Father in Heaven, who bestows upon us all manner of graces.