Last Sunday at our parish Mass, it being the first Sunday of Advent, I preached about death. I explained that there were essentially three ways to die: suddenly and without warning, slowly through a long, humiliating and painful illness and happily with a short illness, time to prepare and with family there to say good bye. I was not to know that very afternoon I was to witness the very happy death of my own mother.
She was taken ill a few days before Thanksgiving and was not able to join any of the family members for Thanksgiving Dinner. On Friday my sister in law called on her and was concerned about her health and on Saturday she called my sister asking if she could come to stay the night as she was feeling unwell. My sister Donna went to be with her and was concerned–especially as Mom had shortness of breath and then when she collapsed Donna called the ambulance.
At the hospital they diagnosed kidney failure and the next morning discerned a blood clot in her heart. By the time Mass was concluded I was headed to the hospital and by 3:00 that afternoon she was gone.
I will share with you, my readers, the events at her deathbed because it is an inspiration and a comfort to all who face death. But first I will say my Mom was a good, generous, faithful Bible believing Christian woman–a Protestant of the best kind. She lived to see four of her five children become Catholic and one of her sons be ordained as a Catholic priest right on her doorstep. She never flinched, but said in her prim way, “I believe you are doing what you believe the Holy Spirit has led you to do so I love you and support you even though I cannot agree with you.”
And she did too. She came to my ordination as a Catholic priest. She prayed for me and was there as a loving mother and grandmother to our children.
Through the years she and my Dad were generous and faithful supporters of their church, but most of all they were sincere and devoted disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Mom was open minded about Catholicism even though she did not, herself, come into full communion. She would sometimes ask me about Catholic beliefs like Marian dogmas and when I would explain she would say, “Well, now that you explain it that way I don’t see that it is such a problem”
Last Sunday afternoon as she lay dying I was there with my sister and brother. Our other surviving sibling was on his way, but caught up in traffic. I began to read psalms from the liturgy of ministry to the dying: Psalm 23 and 91…”He shall give his angels charge over thee to guard you in all your ways…” I read from the King James Version–the beautiful version she knew so well and in which we were brought up.
Then in a firm, but fragile voice she said, “John 14: 1-6” She was alert enough to request a Bible passage by chapter and verse. So I read,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered,
at that point I said, “What’s the rest Mom?”
She answered very clearly, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, and No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Those were her final words. They were a great witness to her faith, the Faith of our Fathers and the core faith that unified us despite our separation into Protestant and Catholic visions.
The Fourth Commandment is that we “honour our Father and our Mother”. So now I honor her for bringing up five children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”. She considered that her vocation, and I reckon she fulfilled her calling with honors. “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter now into the joy of your Lord.”
We’ll have a Presbyterian funeral for Mom on Tuesday, but after Christmas we’ll travel back to Pennsylvania and I will lead the family in the internment of her ashes and she asked that I conduct that ceremony. I will do so using the Catholic ritual, and I’m sure she won’t mind.