As an adult child of aging parents, we know that the day will come where we will have to process the loss of our parents. I am in that process right now. My mother passed away on Tuesday, June 13 - peacefully and comfortably with my sister, my wife, and I by her side. I have had moments in the days since her passing where I have been overcome with emotions, as I mourn the loss of my mother. However, I am very much at peace with her passing.
My priest visited her the night before her death and administered the sacrament of Extreme Unction (what is now referred to as the Anointing of the Sick) and offered her the Apostolic Pardon - an indulgence given for the remission of temporal punishment due to sin. She had barely been awake all day, yet when my priest began the administration of the sacrament she woke up - I mean wide awake. She opened her eyes real wide and sat up. She couldn’t speak, but was able to follow his instructions and respond to him through gestures. She even mustered up enough energy to whisper “Thank you” to my priest when he was done. I have read about this happening during the administration of Extreme Unction. I am comforted by having witnessed it for myself. It is further proof that the sacraments are real and not just some kind of religious superstition. Shortly after, she fell asleep and never regained consciousness.
My mother had been sick for years. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013, beat the cancer, and had been cancer free since 2014. However, she had a laundry list of other medical complications which made many activities of daily life - including going to Mass - very difficult. She was diagnosed with Leukemia on Thursday, June 8 - the Feast of Corpus Christi. It was so far advanced that all doctors could do was keep her comfortable.
Over the last ten years, she would come to Mass with my family on occasion. She never quit praying. I was in her home the other day and found a Bible that she had gifted to her mother for Christmas in 1965 sitting prominently on a bookshelf. It had a fairly recent piece of paper inside the front cover that had notes and Bible verses written in my mother’s handwriting. I opened her wallet and found an image of the Sacred Heart. How fitting that she would pass during the Octave of Corpus Christi - in the week leading up to the Feast of the Sacred Heart.
While she had not been able to fully practice her faith for some time, with regard to going to Mass and receiving the sacraments, she had remained active in her faith through prayer, Scripture, and devotionals. She and I spoke frequently about the faith. The last two months my mother was either in the hospital, a rehabilitation center, or my home. Between her second and final hospital visits, she spent two weeks at my house. My wife, my children, and I were blessed with the opportunity to care for her, prepare her meals, and even bathe her and help her to the restroom. Several times she apologized for being such a burden. I reminded her that she had been taking care of me for forty four years, and it was the least I could do to care for her now. Perhaps, having that time with her in my home is making this easier for me as well. I am not sure.
I am fortunate to have a strong sense of faith. Something I can thank my mother for. As a teenager and young adult, I left the faith. My mother told me when I returned to the Church that she prayed for my return to the faith on a daily basis. I was her Saint Augustine. She was my Saint Monica - always praying for me and never ceasing.
As I continue to write this article, I don’t know if it is so much about how to deal with death as a faithful Catholic, or if it is more of a part of my own grieving process to communicate these thoughts with others. As Catholics, we have many beliefs that can help us process the death of a loved one. We believe in Purgatory. Revelation 21:27 tells us that, “nothing unclean shall enter Heaven.” We are all sinners. None of us are clean. Purgatory is an opportunity for our souls to be cleansed so we can enter Heaven. In 2 Maccabees 12:40-42, fallen Jewish soldiers were found to be wearing idols of Jam’nia, which were forbidden. The soldiers prayed that God would “blot out” the sins of the fallen soldiers. When we pray the Requiem Prayer for eternal rest, we are praying that God will blot out the sins of the faithful departed. We believe in the resurrection of the body. We believe that one day, we will be joined with a glorified body in Heaven - we pray it everytime we pray the Rosary - in the Apostles Creed: “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.” That belief alone, should make it a little easier for all of us to deal with death. Yes, I miss my mother. I will always miss my mother. But I believe, I hope, and I pray that she is home. All of us are pilgrims on this earth, the length of our journey is unknown to us - but our destination is the same.
As Catholics, we must have faith in God’s infinite mercy, and we must have faith in His plan and His will. We can take comfort in knowing that God will give us the strength and the grace we need to handle even our most difficult situations. That does not mean it will always be easy. It also does not mean that we may not find ourselves nearing our breaking point. But we can faithfully navigate the loss of a loved one without jeopardizing our health, our sanity, or our faith. In order to do this, we must turn to Jesus. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Dealing with the death of a loved one is very labor-intensive. Ask Jesus to take some of your burden off your shoulders. The last few days, I have been reminded of the famous poem “Footprints in the Sand” - a man dreams that he is walking along the beach with Jesus and he sees two pairs of footprints in the sand - except during his most challenging times. He asks Jesus why he left him alone during those times and Jesus tells him that the reason he only sees one set of footprints is because, in those moments, Jesus carried him. Like the person in the poem, allow Jesus to carry you through the rough times.
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You'd walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me."
He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you."
I pray that everyone else dealing with the death of a loved one is blessed with the amount of grace and peace that I have been blessed with so far. I will admit, I do not know if the finality of my mother’s death has fully hit me yet. Perhaps as we get closer to her funeral Mass, it will hit me and this will become more difficult. In the meantime, I will continue to thank God for the grace and peace I have received so far, and I will continue to ask for the strength and grace to continue to handle this experience as peacefully as I have.
Eternal rest, grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.