The Gift of: A Happy Death

O Blessed Joseph, who died in the arms of Jesus and Mary, obtain for me, I beseech you, the grace of a happy death. In that hour of dread and anguish, assist me by your presence, and protect me by your power against the enemies of my salvation. Into your hands, living and dying, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I commend my soul. Amen

March 10th 2016 will mark three years since my Mom passed away.

I’ve written about Mom in the past – this one is the fan favorite.

I wanted to write about so many things today in an effort to celebrate this most blessed anniversary of hers.

But after several drafts and re-writes, it seems I’m supposed to write about those 3 days. A Friday, Saturday and a Sunday 3 years ago.

Clearly, this will be a brief version with just the highlights.

There were many of us in the family that were there those 3 days but in an effort to protect their privacy, I’d like to just share my own views of those final days of my Mom’s life.


 

She requested hospice on a Friday and was gone by Sunday. 3 days…just like someone else we know.

“I hope I’m making the right decision.” She just kept repeating that…over and over. How do you even respond to that?

She was incredibly lucid in those first hours, especially that first day, to the point where we were in disbelief that the hospice nurse said she wouldn’t last more than 2 more days.

“But it’s Friday! What do you mean she won’t make it the weekend? This IS the weekend!”

It’s incredibly surreal – The hospice nurses instruct you when and how to administer the morphine and it’s like watching a movie, almost like it’s happening to someone else’s family.

“Will she tell us when she needs the morphine? How do we know if it’s too much? Or not enough?”

But then it becomes too real and you just want it to be over. But you can’t wish for that because this isn’t your battle. This is hers and you just have to be there.

We were told that she is going to go through a “life review” which at first you don’t quite believe but then you actually witness it. And it’s heartbreaking and mesmerizing and awesome and awful all at once.

By Saturday we had to laugh at certain points because if we didn’t we’d go nuts.

“She’s going to be so mad when she sees what she’s wearing and that we let the hospice nurses see her like this.”

The worst moment for me – I sat at her feet when she was in the recliner (before she had to move to the hospital bed) and just looked up at her and realized this was it. I cried at her feet and I can still hear her saying and repeating, “It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”

She eventually she had to be moved to the hospital bed. She just kept looking at it. She knew her own mother died shortly after being moved from the recliner to the hospital bed. I’m sure that’s what she was thinking. I know she was trying to prolong her stay here as long as she could. Not for herself, but for us. To spare us the pain of seeing her die.

She said goodbye to my nephews who recorded a beautiful voicemail for her that we played on speaker so everyone could hear. The look on her face as she listened was pure joy. I had never seen her smile like that in weeks. It was probably the most heartbreaking moment of all as we realized this was the last time she’d hear their young voices. Her grandsons were her source of joy. Hands down, they were her world. Especially Sean since he was so young and so oblivious to what was happening to “G.”

Time for a sidenote/side story:

Just two weeks prior to her death, she had ended up in the hospital again to drain fluid from her lungs. I was having a particularly bad time dealing with this and went over to my sisters to see the boys. Sean (the younger of the two) was hanging out with my brother-in-law. Out of the blue he pointed out that “Daddy has a cut on his head from shaving.” I glanced and saw, yes indeed he had a tiny cut on his head. Sean was asking me to look at it. I said I saw it but was clearly preoccupied with my Mom’s illness to not particularly care all that much.  Sean looked me in the eye and said in his sweet little 4 year old voice: “I’m going to pray that my Dad is healed from that cut. Because you know what auntie? God hears my prayers. Did you know that? He hears my prayers.”

Twice. My nephew said this twice and looked at me in the eye as if he was channeling someone.  I just looked at him and almost started crying. I wanted to tell him, “God DOES hear your prayers. And right now can you please pray that G is healed? Please?! I don’t want to lose my Mom!”

But I didn’t. I just remember that moment as being so surreal. How innocent a child prays. It wasn’t even a question – “Do you think God hears my prayers??” It was a STATEMENT. “God hears my prayers Auntie.” I will never forget that.

Sunday – I remember that morning as the one that my Mom saw her Dad. She spoke to him and said things like “Daddy, I’m afraid.”

“Afraid?  This wasn’t in the brochure! She’s not supposed to be scared!”

She also said things that were incomprehensible as she flowed in and out of lucidity. Sometimes her eyes were opened and she spoke but you could tell she wasn’t talking to us. I don’t recall responding too often so as not to confuse her. But I also felt like if I spoke or responded to her, that would be…rude. 🙂  She was clearly having a private conversation with someone and I was not about to interfere with that.

It was a sunny day and I thought “What a beautiful day to leave and go home!”  However, things didn’t progress that well. In fact, we called the hospice nurse on call to tell us what to do. We were concerned she was in pain! After all, she kept saying she was afraid. So that must mean she’s in pain, right?

“She’s in spiritual pain. Have you prayed with her?” – the hospice nurse asked.

The look on my face was complete embarrassment.

Had I prayed with my mother on her deathbed?  NO! Duh!!! What the heck was wrong with me?

I prayed with her as best I knew. I think many of us said the Our Father because that seemed to be the only prayer we all knew.

“How do you pray with someone who can’t hear you and can’t speak?”

I was clueless.

Sunday evening – We called her priest to come and give her last rites. He also managed to ask a question I was all too embarrassed to NOT know the answer to –

“What’s your mother’s favorite prayer?”

I went from feeling like a decent daughter to being the worlds worst. I had never even bothered to ask my Mother’s favorite prayer.

We ended up praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at her bedside which I think she would have approved.

Shortly before she passed, I ran out of “prayers” and instead took all the cards anyone had ever sent her and read them all out loud to her. I took her hand, told her it was okay for her to go and said I would see her in the morning.

My dad took over the “shift” change.

I went up to bed and prayed and cried to God to please ease my Mom’s sickness.

An hour later she passed away with my Dad at her side.

I don’t even recall crying. I immediately thought God heard my prayer just an hour before.  (Thanks to Sean for restoring my faith in prayer).


 

My Mom was always happy and forever smiling during her life and in countless pictures.

As her body lay there, I stared at her. She looked so….GOOD! As if she would just sit up and say, “What are you looking at? Be happy for me! I’m home!”

I couldn’t help but think …

…that’s how you die a happy death.

 

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The Truth Does Not Change

I wish I knew where this reflection on this Sunday’s gospel came from in order to give credit to whomever wrote it. I’m going to assume, since I found it in my church’s bulletin, that it came from the USCCB. I felt compelled to share it, particularly because of this line: “Our world is growing more and more hostile to the message of the Gospel.” 

Was it always this hostile or is it just me? Maybe it’s an age thing. Maybe I’m feeling the hostility because I’m interacting with more people? No idea. Perhaps the world was always this angry but because we are all communicating and sharing more than ever, it’s just becoming more and more apparent that the hostility was always there – we just didn’t see it.

For reference, the reading is Luke 4:21-30

“When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.” Why were these folks furious? Because they didn’t like what Jesus told them. They took offense at his teaching that “no prophet is accepted in his own native place.” Jesus was implying that his fellow Nazarenes in the synagogue were blind to who he really was. And this made them mad. They didn’t like being told that they were wrong. But Jesus told them anyway. He knew that these people needed to hear the truth, even if it mean that he would be unpopular. In fact, he spoke the truth even at risk of his own life. “They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.”

It can be tempting to confuse Jesus’ kindness and goodness with passivity, mistakenly imagining him as a person who would never ruffle any feathers because he was so concerned about being “nice.” This one-sided image of Jesus can lead us to excuse our own passivity about the falsehood and evil that surrounds us.

We can justify our silence or inaction by convincing ourselves that we shouldn’t upset anyone. But the fact is that Jesus upset people on a regular basis. That wasn’t his goal, of course, but he was willing to deal with resistance for the sake of truth and justice. And we should be willing to do the same.

Our world is growing more and more hostile to the message of the Gospel. When we simply live our faith authentically, it makes some people angry. But we should not recoil from this reality. Jesus’ witness made people furious too. But when they got mad, he didn’t cave in.

Whether people like it or not, the truth does not change.

Remaining Silent…When You Really Want to Scream

No one is so good and devout as not to encounter some worries and troubles in life. When you face tribulation and are sorrowful in heart, you are with Jesus on the Cross. And again, when through the grace of the Holy Spirit you enjoy consolation in prayer, you rise, as it were, with Christ from the dead and the tomb, and with a jubilant heart you celebrate Easter with Jesus in the newness of life.

 

When someone directs harsh and unkind words against you, you are given to drink of the chalice of the Lord as medicine for your soul. Remain silent and drink of the cup of salvation without complaint, for the Lord will be your protection in nothing more admirable than to remain silent and patient, for in this way you curb the mouth of him who utters evil against you, and at the same time, you follow the example of Christ, who remained silent before Pilate, though much false testimony had been brought against Him. You are no better than God, who, for your sake, endured scourging, ridicule, and death at the hands of the wicked.

Thomas à Kempis, Bountiful Goodness, pp 36-37

God’s timing is always perfect, isn’t it?  I read this passage a couple days ago, just when I was seeking some answers about a recent encounter with someone who had some harsh words for me. This person said some pretty nasty things to me that aren’t worth repeating, but it was made clear to me, they had no idea just how rude they were being.

My initial response was silence, mainly due to shock that someone would disrespect me so much, but also because I have never felt it beneficial to respond to hate with hate (or in this case, disrespect with disrespect, as her comments weren’t really hateful as much as they were just downright rude and nasty).

Only one thought went thru my mind as she lashed out at me, and that was “Hurt people hurt people.” So I stayed silent, said little, and finished up my work with her. She is no longer in my life (she was a client) and this was her final session with me. My mind was racing after she walked out thinking, “Why would she say such awful things to someone she barely knows? What did I do to deserve such a beating? Where was this anger coming from?”

I even went so far as to reverse the situation and ask myself, “When was I this nasty to someone? When have I lashed out at someone trying to help me?” I was seeking the lesson here, and I admit, I struggled to find it. I am by no means perfect but I don’t recall in recent memory reacting in a similar way this woman did with me.  I got an answer though, and that was: “This isn’t about you. She’s struggling with someone/something that has nothing to do with you.”

Still, I was feeling conflicted and completely out of sorts.

These questions were still on my mind as I went on a retreat for the entire weekend. I felt bad because this woman was still on my mind as I was trying to enjoy myself and get into the “spirit” of the weekend. It’s a retreat, for crying out loud! You’d think of all places this was my best medicine.

In the end, I eventually got the bad taste of this client out of my mouth and my mind. I was inspired by the young ones I spoke to and their fire for the Lord. The answer to my questions maybe didn’t come directly to me that weekend but I did find comfort and a welcome distraction in the many people I encountered. Many of them had some amazing witness stories which definitely put my problems into perspective.

I came home Sunday evening to find this book, Bountiful Goodness, at my doorstep, almost forgetting that I had ordered it.

And this reflection on “Divine Consolation and Tribulations” was one of the first ones I read.

Remain silent and drink of the cup of salvation without complaint…

So for those who have been hurt by the unkind and harsh words of another person, I’m right there with you. As much as we want to react and fight back, sometimes it’s best to just remain silent and let that person go. I think that’s showing mercy, isn’t it? Pope Francis would probably agree in this Jubilee Year of Mercy that this is the right thing to do.

A prayer for them will probably serve them better than our own spiteful remarks and reactions.

And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a prayer for EVERYTHING out there! I found one specifically for our “Enemies” although I don’t consider her a true enemy. She’s probably not a friend though…maybe one day though!

Almighty God, have mercy on N. and on all that bear me evil will and would do me harm, and on their faults and mine together, by such easy, tender, merciful means, as Thine infinite wisdom best can devise; vouchsafe to amend and redress and make us saved souls in heaven together, where we may ever live and love together with thee and they blessed saints. O glorious Trinity, for the bitter passion of our sweet Savior, Christ. Amen.

– St. Thomas More

 

 

Help Me To See

I’m not blind, but I’ve experienced “sight” twice in my life that I feel compelled to share.

The first was when I was taken to the doctor for an eye exam in the 4th grade. I had no idea I couldn’t see the chalkboard; it was my teacher who told my Mom that I was squinting to see it. When it was clear that I could barely read the eye chart at the doctor’s office, we went to get a pair of glasses.

I’ll never forget sitting in the chair at the optometrist. Before he came in, I looked into the holes of the giant machine that he would use to ask #1 or #2, #1,  or #2. (Anyone who’s been to the eye doctor knows all too well this process, it’s kind of comical).

Anyways, I took a peek and I remember telling my mom, “Wow!!! There’s a dog on that wall over there!”  I think she said something like, “Yes, that’s a picture of a dog, what’s the big deal?”  And I replied something like, “But…but…it’s DIFFERENT when I look through this thing. It’s like it’s magic! I can see the dog! I can see him!”

Having never had a need for glasses, she couldn’t understand what I was trying to say. I was trying to tell her that I could see every DETAIL of this dog. I will NEVER forget that dog. The picture is ingrained in my memory forever and the first image I saw clearly.  I recall thinking this machine that I was looking through must have been magic. I honestly didn’t understand the concept of SEEING CLEARLY.

After the appointment we went to LensCrafters to get my glasses. I remember picking out pink frames, thinking they were the “cutest” looking glasses, although I was dreading wearing them. Glasses, at age 9, were not “cool.”

“Do you see what I see?”

I will never forget walking out of LensCrafters to the car. I recall it was fall and the leaves were starting to change color.

Imagine seeing leaves for the first time. I know it’s hard to picture seeing something that you see every day but just imagine never having seen the leaves on a tree.

I could SEE! I could see every single leaf on the trees that we were walking past! And the concrete – I could see that too!

I was literally looking down at my feet walking on the sidewalk and noting to my mother, “I can see!! I can see the sidewalk!! I can see the leaves!!! Do you see them? Do you see that?”

I wish I could remember her reaction. I wish I could ask her if she remembers that day that I got my sight.

But most of all, I WISH I could have every person I know experience this newfound sight. It’s like being born again. It’s like realizing you are alive when this whole time before, you had been dead.

I recently came across a video from a popular speaker named Nicky Gumbel, and he discusses how he got glasses as an adult and HIS reaction is very similar to mine.  (Fast forward to 12:30 to SEE what I mean.)

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

I mentioned I gained sight twice in my life. The most recent time I found sight had nothing to do with a new pair of glasses. It has everything to do with looking at life through a different lens, a different perspective.

This “secondary” sight occurred when I read Theology of the Body for Beginners just 8 months ago. I knew something was happening to me as I read this book and took notes on it, which I have NEVER done while reading any book as an adult. I felt compelled to reflect on these words this man Christopher West, was writing. It was another experience of saying to myself, and sometimes to others, “Wow, NOW, I can see! I see things the way they REALLY are! THIS, this is what is truth!”

It was a few months later in June that “the scales fell off my eyes.” I had heard this expression before but never truly understood it until it actually happened to me. This experience took place during a week-long course through Theology of the Body Institute.. I recall telling myself and others, “I cannot un-see what I just saw. I can’t un-hear what I just heard. I will never be the same person I once was. I can see again!”

Where I once thought I saw love, I see lust.

Where I once saw truth, I now see the lies.

Where I once saw friendship, I now see possession.

Where I once saw harmless entertainment, I now see abuse.

Where I once saw freedom, I now see impurity.

But don’t get depressed and discouraged! There’s Good News to share:

Where I once saw rules, I now see freedom.

Where I once saw archaic teaching, I now see beautiful meaning.

Where I once saw restriction, I see chastity.

Where I once saw punishment, I now see blessings.

Where I saw an aged, celibate, old-fashioned man in Rome, I now see a Saint that I want to embrace in heaven and thank him for helping me to see.

Thank you God for my sight. I never want to be blind again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the words of Mother Angelica…

From the book “Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality:”

Called by God

You are called by God at this time in history to be so holy that this whole world will be sanctified. And you’re going to do that only by being yourself and changing that self into Jesus – cooperating with the Spirit to be transformed into the object of your love.

 

That last part is my favorite – transformed into the object of your love. YES!!!

How often I pray to be transformed. How often all of us should be praying this same thing. Imagine the possibilities if we all aimed for this. To change ourselves into Jesus. I don’t know how often we think in those terms but after reading Mother’s words, I think it might be time we start.

 

 

 

For Your Own Good

“God is offended by us only when we act against our own good.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

 

“I was a master deceiver. I became very good at avoiding the truth. I didn’t necessarily lie, I just avoided conversations about the truth.”

I wrote the above statement in my journal less than two weeks ago while I was on a retreat for a Catholic Sexual Ethics course.  I have been reflecting on that quote lately and I see my entire young adult and early 30’s life summarized perfectly in those 3 sentences.

Avoiding the truth is extremely easy to do when you’ve been this way most of your life. Especially when the truth is unpleasant to admit to.

I can look at what I believed in as being my own personal religion.  I made up my own rules as I went along, thinking the rules of the church were archaic and silly and didn’t apply to me. So I avoided any discussion of those “rules” and pretended like I knew better. After all, who knows what’s best for me better than me?

But we all do this…don’t we? We avoid the truth. Deep down we KNOW we have to acknowledge the GOOD. Sometimes the GOOD can be skewed and twisted to suit our own desires. Sometimes we go along with what we THINK is GOOD and TRUE but it ends up being the complete opposite.

When that happens, that’s when we know we have been deceived.

One particular issue that I avoided conversations about for decades was abortion. I was heavily deceived on that issue. How? I always thought and assumed that it wasn’t a problem that affected me. And since, I was all about ME, I avoided any discussion or debate about anything that didn’t concern me.

I grew up Catholic but I went to a public university. There, the topic of abortion or religion or anything “controversial” wasn’t really discussed among my friends and I. I wasn’t a party girl but let’s just say I didn’t feel very passionate about any particular hot topic. I never joined any protests or marches, I never signed any petitions, I never got involved. Getting involved was something for “other people,” not me.

The ignorance and avoidance continued.

If abortion was being protested on campus, I avoided looking at the pictures of the aborted fetuses held up on signs from those who were protesting. I remember  literally shielding my eyes as I tried to walk as quickly as possible to the student hall for lunch. I should have looked. But I didn’t. I completely avoided the entire discussion around this topic saying, “This doesn’t concern me. This is not my problem. This is someone else’s problem.”

Ignorance. Avoidance. Silence.

Now, with the recent videos put out by the Center for Medical Progress on Planned Parenthood, the abortion debate and discussion cannot be avoided.

It’s easy to despair and blind ourselves to the truth. It’s easier to avoid the unpleasantness of dead fetuses and babies ripped apart and just think, “This is not my problem.” But in light of my recent discovery of TOB and having just taken a course on Catholic Sexual Ethics, I am feeling called to speak up about this hot topic. Whereas before I happily stayed in the shadows, I cannot do that anymore.

The Ethic of the Good

So how does good prevail over the evil in the case of abortion?

Besides prayer, I find it very helpful and encouraging to hear from those who have had a change of heart.

Former abortion workers and women who regret their abortions through campaigns like Silent No More and And Then There Were None. This is the spirit of God at work. I truly believe that.

We can’t ignore all these stories of regret. We need to learn from these women and men! They are here to teach us that what they did, although ruled LEGAL, was not MORAL. They were not desiring that which is good. They were not pursuing happiness, they admitted they were pursuing selfishness. And thank God they are speaking up now so we have a chance to make this wrong right.

Anyone can look at Roe vs Wade and think, “This is a legal activity, therefore I don’t have any right to challenge it or protest it. I must agree with it.”  Or “Even if I don’t think it’s right, I am just one person and I can’t change anyone’s minds.”  I would answer that with a hearty NO. The Supreme Court does not reign supreme in our hearts. In our hearts we know that this is not a good. This is not moral. Destroying a human life is immoral and more people who feel this way need to speak up about it. We can respectfully admit that the Supreme Court made the wrong decision. Even Jane Roe herself has had a change of heart.

Even if there is no sympathy in your heart for those who regret having abortions or working at a clinic, how can any human being see the number 55,000,000 lives lost and not think “There’s something wrong here.”

I, of all people, understand the hesitation to speak up about this.  As little as 5 years ago, if I would have gotten pregnant, I cannot honestly tell you that I would have kept it. I have been pro-choice most of my life and for what reasons I cannot even tell you. I must have thought, “My body, my choice,” made sense to me.

But now, I know that I don’t HAVE a body.

I AM a body.

And that means I don’t destroy who I am. I don’t mutilate who I am. I don’t kill who I am.

There’s my little pro-life argument in a few sentences. No mention of conception timing, no mention of rights or choices. No mention of God. Not even a mention of a heartbeat. No, my pro-life stance is quite simple. I AM a body.

I began this blog post with a quote from St. Thomas Aquinas that I heard on the course for the Catholic Sexual Ethics class last week. Here it is again:

“God is offended by us only when we act against our own good.”

Most people think God would be offended by us when we act against HIM. But no…St. Thomas tells us God is offended when we do something that contradicts the good. Our own good.

So I’m going to try to live my life by not offending God. And I try to help people understand that their actions and their decisions should always be geared toward that which is good.

If we all steer our hearts towards that which is good, how can that which is evil hold us back?

There is hope that good will overcome. But it starts with you.

Thanks for reading!

-michelle

 

Bound by Lust, Liberated by the Ethos of Redemption

I just found this passage recently from  Theology of the Body Explained – A Commentary on John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them by Christopher West

The subject matter is Celibacy and Solitude:

Christopher West and Pope John Paull II talk about remaining in the “ache” of man’s original solitudethe “ache” to which the Lord himself refers when he said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen 2:18). The conscious choice to refrain from marriage “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” becomes a powerful testimony to the fact that God and God alone can ultimately fulfill that “ache” of solitude. Men and women who vow to a life of celibacy devote their yearning for communion directly toward God.

I look at the “ache” and I am deeply attracted to it. And I recently figured out why I am so attracted to it:

“For those whose hearts are bound by lust, the idea of choosing a life of total continence is absurd. But for those who are being liberated from lust by the ethos of redemption, the idea of sacrificing the genital expression of their sexuality “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” not only becomes a real possibility – it also becomes quite attractive, even desirable.

This was me – I was the one who was bound by lust. But I experienced that liberation from lust by the ethos of redemption and let me tell you, it was an amazing experience that I wish EVERYONE could encounter. Because I now recognize that my life has been dominated by lust, I am now extremely excited about living the rest of my life as a celibate. I am welcoming the “ache” with open arms.

I don’t expect anyone to really understand this except maybe for fellow…celibates? 🙂 But for those who are single by choice, those who know that being married and having children is not the path you have been put on, I would propose to you, fellow singles, this life of celibacy for the kingdom. This is NOT a person’s way of saying that “marriage is too hard” or “dating is so tiresome” so therefore, “I’m just going to be single and celibate forever.” No, this is not that at all. This is choosing to live for something greater. For me, I am choosing to go down this path because I feel God calling me to it. For others, they might feel God guiding them to marriage and children. For others they might feel the pull to religious life. I have never felt a desire or yearning to have a family of my own. This feeling has never faded over time and I have never changed my mind even as I enter my late 30’s. This is how I have always felt and now I can finally put a name to it. Now I finally know WHY I never felt the pull to the other vocations – My singleness IS my vocation.

There’s another nugget of wisdom from TOB:

“Celibacy is not only a matter of formation but of transformation.

The Holy Father recognizes that a proper examination of the way in which the celibate vocation is formed, or rather “transformed” in a person would require an extensive study beyond the scope of his analysis (see TOB 81:5)”

And this is why I cannot explain my feelings adequately. How someone becomes or chooses celibacy is so transformative, that a deeper explanation is needed.

I’m actually excited and thrilled to live out the rest of my life as a celibate. And I couldn’t possibly feel this way and this wouldn’t be happening at all if it weren’t for the grace I received after finally attending confession at the TOB retreat last month. After 15 years of living a lust-driven life, I finally have that weight lifted off my shoulders and now I can focus on living an authentic life. The life I was called to live, to be the person I was called to be.

Ahhh, the joy of freedom!

Bonus material: I came across this video from Jackie Francois about the Ache of Singlehood – Worth watching for those who are single AND married. Pretty sure she and I share the same brain. 🙂