I am no expert on dying nor on the dying process, but I have been blessed to witness what I know is a ‘Catholic’ death.
In the 89 years my Mother spent on Earth, she totally practiced her Catholic faith.
Until sickness prevented her, this woman went to Mass every Sunday, every Holy Day of Obligation, every First Friday in devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and First Saturday in devotion to our Lady of Fatima. She kept every Lenten fast (even fasting from cigarettes during her smoking years!) and abstained from meat every First Friday of the month. She prayed the Rosary each morning, the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day at 3pm and offered intercessory prayers daily placing the needs of her family and the world at the throne of God. She spoke often to anyone who would listen of her deep love of our Blessed Mother and her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Mom totally lived the Catholic faith.
Along with my Dad, she loved and sacrificed for their five daughters and the fruits of their witness to life is nineteen grandchildren and coming up to eighteen great-grandchildren. She was always generous with us and had several charities that she made sure she kept up with, even as her health declined. Mom insisted ‘my charities’ get paid asking me to write checks that she would slowly and painfully sign each month. As her unexplained dizziness and nausea increased, she vocally offered her suffering to the Cross and I heard repeatedly, “Jesus, You suffered so much. Help me to suffer for You.”
Not that my Mom was perfect. She could be very unforgiving of those she believed hurt her family or her country. She was extremely stubborn and proud. It was this part of her that made me fear for her salvation.
As my sisters and I tried to coax her unsuccessfully to move in with one of us, she stubbornly refused hanging on tightly to her control and independence. When I mentioned it was difficult for us to come to her all the time she said, “Too bad. You girls just have to deal with it!” Frustrated with her obstinacy, I once told her, “Mom, you better do something about that pride of yours. You are not getting into Heaven with that!”
One day, my sister and I were visiting Mom and she collapsed. We called EMS and my Mom went to the hospital. In a matter of hours, she went from a woman who was able to live alone (though admittedly not well) to a woman who could not even sit up without help, gasping for breath despite the oxygen flowing into her. No diagnosis could explain her drastic condition and no treatments or medicine was able to return her to independence. In the remaining nineteen days of Mom’s life, she was forced to surrender her independence and I was blessed to witness God’s mercy at work. It was a gentle tug-of-war between God and Mom. I saw grace guide reality from Mom’s intellect to her heart and knew it had found its destination when she asked, “Will I ever get to live by myself again?” I responded, “No, Mom, you won’t.” Her eyes showed sorrow then resignation and if they could talk, they would have said, “Not my will Father, but Your will be done. ”
That very day, I stopped by her apartment. In Mom’s kitchen is her refrigerator covered with pictures of her family. Looking at years of birthdays, vacations, births, special events captured on film, I began to weep when I heard the Lord speak to my heart, “You see, I take care of the pride. This is what matters . . . Life! Your mother has spent a lifetime saying yes to Me, saying yes to life.”
Our Catholic faith teaches that “by Baptism all sins are forgiven, original and personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God . . . ]” (CCC 1263)
On Mom’s last day, she received the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick also known as Last Rites. Before the priest arrived, I heard her whisper, “Lord, please forgive me!” After Father Rudy gave her the Sacrament, Mom asked if she needed to go to confession. Father said this Sacrament takes care of that. He told Mom, “You are as clean as the day of your Baptism. Your daughter and I are looking at a saint!”
My worries of Mom’s salvation due to pride and lack of forgiveness vanished. I stood in that little apartment in awe of the greatness of God.
Thanks to what I was blessed to witness with my Mom, I am convinced our Lord stops at nothing to bring every single soul home to Him. He is very personal, using our personalities, life circumstances and the graces we receive at Baptism to achieve this. She hated medicine and when the hospice nurse offered her a pill for pain Mom said, “Not another pill.” Those were the last words Mom spoke, but I believe in her soul she also said, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk 23:46) because at that moment Mom left us to go to Him who paved the way.
I am also convinced of the graces we receive in living as a faithful Catholic. All who came into contact with Mom from doctors, nurses, friends and family received an outpouring of grace thanks to what I believe are her years of prayers and obedience in devoted practice of the Catholic faith.
What I now understand is that one of the joys of faithfully living and practicing the Catholic faith is that God uses the buckets full of merited grace from our devotions, prayers and sacrifices to pour down grace when we most need it. As our Lord promised in Luke 6:38, “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
We so benefited from Mom’s gifts given. They flowed from her lap into all of ours.
I know it was this outpouring of grace that gave me the eyes to see our Lord at work so that I could put away my own needs for Mom. Feeling so inadequate to the many tasks of caring for her, I nevertheless found myself doing and saying exactly what Mom needed. I sensed in each and every circumstance, our Lord working not only in what was best for my Mom but for each one of us. My sisters and I grew closer to Mom and to each other. Our extended family and even the doctors and nurses all worked together for the good of Mom and were inspired in the process.
The day after her funeral, exhausted from the past four weeks, my son asked me to sew a shirt he would need for work. I wanted to say no, but to my delight found a little bit more grace left in my lap to say yes instead.
As I sewed, I praised God and thanked Mom for showing me the way to fill my own buckets full of grace for the days my family and I will need them most.
The Pilgrim Center of Hope offers beautiful ways for seniors to know the hope in Christ and to bring that hope to others. Please consider joining us on March 5, 2016 for our annual Catholic Seniors Conference and/or becoming a Pilgrim Center of Hope Prayer Intercessor. Go to pilgrimcenterofhope.org to learn more.