Rest in Peace, Sergeant Johnson

As the funeral procession crept along East Ft. Lowell Road toward Evergreen Cemetery, Tucson Police waved the priest by.  He had presided over the Requiem Mass and ignored speed limits as he hurried to beat the procession to the cemetery.  The priest had officiated many funerals and didn’t care for all of them.  “Some of the Mexicans get carried away,” he told me, “hysterical and screaming.  I even saw one of them jump onto the coffin.”  I was an altar boy at the time and remember the conversation after more than half a century.  I respected the priest, but his comments troubled me, and not because of my Mexican-American background.  I thought it inappropriate, even for a man of the cloth, to criticize the expression of grief.  There is no handbook; not everybody does it well.  I once was asked to represent an elderly couple in a minor dispute with their neighbor, who turned out to be an acquaintance from my broadcasting days.  When I called him, he told me his 90-year-old Mother had just passed away.  That caught me by surprise and I paused, thinking about what to say.  After a few seconds, he said, “Well, I guess it’s not important.”  If he could have seen my expression of shock and sorrow, he would have understood why I groped for words.  Over the phone, I was just a silent jerk.

I thought about that interaction and the priest’s comments after President Trump’s clumsy attempt to place a condolence call to the widow of Sgt. LaDavid Johnson, who had been killed in Niger. 


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