When I posted Part One about the utter urgency of praying for the faithful departed and the efficacy of the Mass in helping these holy souls, my own mother was two days away from death. Hence, this post will be a slight twist on the topic of praying for dead. Indeed, it can be even more crucial to pray for them while they are dying.
My 82-year-old mother passed into eternity last Thursday, January 27. We knew her time was approaching; she had been suffering for the past ten years or more from the disease that would ravage and then kill her. We thought—and the hospice nurses speculated—that she would not make it through the Christmas holidays, but this remarkably strong woman kept rallying. In January, she was able to sit on her sun porch and enjoy our visits without doubling over in pain. We wondered if she might not live many more months this way.
At least a year ago, I started planting the seeds for Mom to receive Last Rites. A divorced and remarried Catholic, she had not received any Sacraments for several decades. In her mind, she was in good standing with God, and both her Protestant acquaintances and the hospice chaplain helped validate those feelings during the final months of her illness. I persisted, and Mom agreed to see a Catholic priest a couple of months ago. When he arrived, she declined the Sacrament of Penance, and Father was able to give her only a general blessing. Mistakenly, she felt this was adequate.
I felt I could not broach the subject again unless she brought it up. Instead, I prayed the Christmas Novena to St. Andrew for Mom’s conversion and peaceful death for the third year in a row, along with the Surrender Novena and daily Rosaries and Divine Mercy Chaplets. I also enlisted my good Catholic friends to pray for Mom.
I know our prayers worked, and here’s the proof . . .
During one of my visits just a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a beautiful crystal Rosary on Mom’s coffee table. It was blessed by Pope Pius XII, she said, and given to her in high school. Next to it were Rosaries that had belonged to my grandparents. Long ago packed away and forgotten, she now wanted these items close to her, although she declined praying the Rosary with me and my husband. Meanwhile, the Protestant book left behind by the hospice chaplain enjoyed equal status, placed next to the Rosaries.
That night, I had a fitful sleep. I believe the Holy Ghost and the Blessed Mother were shaking me from my slumber, urging me to ask Mom one more time to receive the Last Rites. What could be more important, after all? More than anything, I wanted Mom to die in a state of grace. How could I stand by idly and watch her continue down the wide path to perdition? I remember telling my husband the next morning, “I have to ask her when we visit today.” It was Friday, January 21.
“Yes, I do.”
That was Mom’s response when I nervously, hemming and hawing, asked if she might, well, want to, uh, reconsider getting, well, you know, the Last Rites. “Are you sure, Mom?” I asked. “This is something you have to sincerely want,” She repeated, “Yes, I do.”
I wasn’t convinced. She would probably back out, like last time. My husband suggested taking Mom an examination of conscience guide to help her prepare for confession. On Sunday, January 23, I gave Mom the small leaflet I like to review when standing in the confessional line. I read a few example questions and told her not to worry, that the priest would prompt her if she became confused or overwhelmed. Her husband seemed a bit skeptical. “Please, review this with her?” I asked, and he assured me he would.
On Tuesday, January 25, I called to see how Mom was doing. Did she still want the priest to come? I was shocked when her husband said “they” were ready. In what can only be seen as God’s hand at work, our priest friend was available that afternoon. We met at Mom’s house a few minutes before Father would arrive. She was sitting on the sofa, dressed in a clean robe and pajamas, and looking for all the world like a small child, eager for Santa to come.
Father’s visit was fruitful, indeed. After administering the Last Rites to Mom, he invited us back into the room. Happy tears flowed from Mom’s eyes as I hugged her. “Welcome back!” was all I could manage to say. To our great surprise, her husband said, “Now it’s my turn.” He retreated to another room with Father to make his confession, and soon he and my Mom received Holy Communion together for the first time in their marriage. It was joyful and tearful . . . and the most beautiful expression of faith I have ever witnessed.
Fittingly, it was the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. And I know there was much rejoicing in Heaven that afternoon, as not one but two souls found their way home.
Just a few hours later, Mom’s pain grew worse than ever before. The hospice nurses were called to administer narcotics that would render Mom uncommunicative until her death on January 27. My sister and I, along with our spouses, Mom’s husband, and other family members were by her side as she slipped into eternity.
I have great faith that Mom died in the state of grace. But this story is not over. Recall what I wrote in Part One about the need for purgatory to cleanse us from the effects of sin—even sins that have been confessed and absolved. So we continue to pray for the repose of Mom’s soul. If you would be so kind as to offer an Ave Maria for her, we would be most grateful. Next week, I'll explain how your prayers for the dead will benefit you.