Elizabeth Heath and family


UPDATED November 14th, 2017

Yesterday, (my husband) Paolo and I attended the funeral of a 32-year-old woman who died after a long struggle with ovarian cancer.

I didn’t know the woman, but Paolo is friends with her husband; he works where Paolo, a stonemason, buys a lot of his construction supplies. We knew his wife had been sick for some time, and when Paolo’s friend was no longer at work— he was staying in Rome to be near his wife, who was installed at a cancer clinic there—we suspected the worst. Still, when news of her death came, it was a sad semi-shock.

At some point in the last couple of years, Paolo must have told his friend that we were trying to get pregnant. His friend confided that he and his wife could not have children; cancer had already taken care of that. So when I did finally become pregnant, I always felt like a bit of a heel whenever I’d walk into the warehouse where his friend worked—like I was somehow flaunting our good fortune and my growing belly in the face of their sad, terrible luck.

Paolo’s friend was always kind and enthusiastic about my pregnancy and afterwards, when we brought Naomi into the warehouse. He was no less kind when I saw him yesterday, as I gave him the customary kiss on both cheeks and muttered some words of condolence, all of my Italian suddenly escaping me. In fact, he seemed to be consoling me as my words fell flat and my eyes welled up.

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The church was filled to capacity, so we waited outside with several hundred other people who’d come to pay their respects. Listening to the priest’s eulogy and then her brother’s tearful goodbye to his little sister, it was the first time I wished that I didn’t understand Italian as well as I do. I’ve attended other funerals here, but I’ve always been able to zone out as the words and repeated prayers drifted over my head, just unintelligible enough for me to not have to tune in.

Elizabeth Heath and family

Elizabeth Heath, her husband Paolo and daughter Naomi

But not this time. The priest delivered a touching tribute to this woman who was obviously well-loved in her community, and adored by her family and young husband. He spoke of her loved ones’ confusion and frustration that God did not answer their prayers, and save their daughter, sister, wife and friend. He spoke of how she would join her mother, who died when she was just a teenager. I don’t think he had a good answer for why God ignored their pleas—to this day, I’ve not heard a satisfactory explanation for why God allows so much pain and suffering in life.

When the mass was finished, the mourners began to file out, and make way for the casket and immediate family to exit.

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