Scarcely two weeks have passed since I assisted a dying woman. This was not the first time, but each time the experience is new and personal.
I watched her as she lay there, unable to open her eyes or to speak, her breathing labored. I gazed on her face, attentive for signs of what she might be experiencing. My heart ached each time she moaned in pain. Family and friends surrounded her; I was glad that she would not make this journey alone.
She had been lonely much of her 85 years: the first child, an only girl, rejected by her father, raised in the Great Depression, disowned as she entered a relationship her parents did not approve. A child came of that relationship: a girl… also rejected. Four sons followed. A military wife, she had to constantly uproot herself and her family, following her husband from one country to another. Moving was hard for her. Relationships suffered. She vacillated between anger and depression, turning to alcohol for relief – all the while trying to raise a family. Faith never really took root in her life. The one support she did have was a loving husband and her children; they all loved her. Her husband had died 16 years earlier, but her children were all here.
Before going to the hospital, she confided to Pamela, her caregiver, “I’m so afraid.” “Nothing to be afraid of, Miss Leo,” Pamela replied. “Jesus is right there with you. He is mercy and forgiveness; he is going to lead you through the dark valley and take you home. He loves all sinners and he loves you. You just trust him.” I watched her now. Would she hold on to that message of hope? “Jesus, be with her.” I prayed, half aloud. “Don’t let her lose hope.” Quietly I prayed the chaplet to Divine Mercy and the prayers for the dying. Her face was troubled and she was restless; I prayed she would find peace.
It’s so hard for me to imagine what it’s like facing death without faith. Faith in the love and presence of Jesus has seen me through every trial, fear, and period of darkness.
Her son caressed her on one side and her daughter on the other. A moment later a seizure overtook her. Both lovingly calmed her as her daughter repeated, “Mom, we’re all here and we love you. Jesus loves you. He is with you. He will take care of you. You’re not alone.” Her face relaxed and she was calm.
How important it is to know in every circumstance of our lives that God is with us. No one else can actually walk with us through the valley of death – only HE who said to the sinful woman, “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you,” and to the good thief, “This day you shall be with me in paradise.” His judgment is a judgment of mercy. Love for our Redeemer welled up within me and loving compassion for this woman before me.
Later that evening she turned to look at an unseen Presence. She nodded and peace settled over her. She laid her head to the side, smiled and silently passed to eternal life.
This woman was my mother.
“Do not be afraid! He has been raised and goes before you…” (cf. Mt 28: 6.7). His is the promise: “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (Jn 11:25).
When you or a loved one walks through a dark valley, it is the sudden appearance of this unseen Presence that makes it possible to find peace and mercy. Unseen, perhaps, but not unreal. The intervention of God in our lives is the most real thing there is, as real as the manifestation of Jesus’ presence to the apostles after the resurrection, as real as Jesus appearing to St. Paul on the road to Damascus, as real as his mysterious manifestation of mercy to my mother.
I invite you to share the way in which Jesus has shown you his face and brought light in the midst of a situation marked by confusion, sadness, or uncertainty. The way we witness that Jesus is risen is the way we support each other on the road to joy, to the eternal Day of resurrected, eternal life.
Sr. Mary Leonora Wilson, FSP