The End of Life: A Reflection

The End of Life: A Reflection

Bless me bloggers for I’ve not penned.  It has been two weeks since my last contribution…

My maternal grandmother passed away two weeks ago Tuesday, and I had the opportunity to visit her the day before, and was with her at the conclusion of her earthly life.  I think I spent nearly 12 hours in the presence of my dying grandmother in the day before she passed.  I stayed much of the time to provide comfort and conversation to my mother and her three sisters who devoted every waking moment.

During my visit, my mind was consumed with various spiritual thoughts, where I was given the opportunity to practice many of my Catholic beliefs which I had only experienced on an intellectual basis, among them being a handful of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  I had never visited anyone on their deathbed, nor been with them when they died; even the thought of being with a loved one during that time was almost too much to bear.  God granted me several revelations during my time with Mammaw.

1. Death has two faces:  In the final two days of Mammaw’s life, she was generally unconscious from the pain medication she received.  Her body slowly shut down, which was not altogether pleasant to watch.  Death, after all, is the punishment for our sinfulnessTherefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. -Romans 5:12, which is not pretty.  The body, like any other machine, which sometimes jerks, pitches, and convulses before giving up and letting go.  Unlike the body, the soul continues to thrive.  The most peaceful moments of her last days were in prayer.  Late in the evening, on the night before her death, one of my aunts and I prayed a rosary together in Mammaw’s room.  I held Mammaw’s hand in mine, her rosary in her other hand.  We prayed the Glorious Mysteries, during which I periodically sung the Pater Noster, Ave Maria, and Viri Galilaei, my favorite chant as well as the Introit for the feast (or 2nd Glorious mystery) of the Ascension.  Each time I sang, her breathing calmed and her face relaxed, evidence to me that her soul was still alive and well.

2.  God turns darkness into light:  In my short 32 years, I have never seen as much love with as much intensity as was given in those last days.  My mom and aunts thought nothing of themselves, but of their mother and each other, banding together in their darkest hours when so many others would tear apart.  They comforted each other, stayed overnight with Mammaw, even staying up most of the night to comfort her and turn her in her bed.  Mammaw’s caregiver refused to leave at the end of her shift and stayed up all night to help.  I marveled at the acts of selflessness, and great sense of peace which pervaded the house.  Even though death is our punishment for sin, God does not force us to walk it alone.  He was present in that room through every step, and covered us all with a blanket of his peace.

Finally, we buried my grandmother two days later, carrying her casket out to In Paradisum sung by two of the finest Gregorian chant voices in Louisiana who are also two good friends of mine.  Most funeral masses consist of On Eagle’s Wings and Amazing Grace, but this one was different.  Mammaw was born in 1929, and sang in the choir as a young woman at the very church where her own funeral Mass was celebrated. I like to think she sang at a funeral or two, the very same chants which were sung at her own.

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

May the Angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs receive you and lead you into the holy city of Jerusalem.  May the choir of Angels receive you and, with Lazarus, who was once poor,may you enjoy eternal rest.

Lallah Cunningham Methvin - "Mammaw"

4 Comments

  1. Matt, May the soul of your Mammaw rest in piece and may Light perpetual shine upon her.
    I want In Paradisium and Benedictus played at my funeral and the regular readings of the day. I hope somebody prays with me and sees me off, too.

  2. I recently watched my father go through the final stages of lung cancer. It had spread to his brain. He went to work everyday after his diagnosis. Then one day, while at work, he collapsed and began speaking gibberish. His final six weeks were spent mumbling and in various states of seizure. He did not recognize me, and in my selfishness that was hard to bear. This happened in June and I still have the occasional disturbing dream. These things change you. I like to think I am being reminded to pray for his soul.

    Don’t forget that you can get an indulgence for a soul in Purgatory November 1-8 for praying a Rosary in a cemetery.

  3. Thank you for such a special post. I never thought of the fact that when my maternal grandma passed away 2 1/2 years ago that I was doing a corporal act of mercy (I came back into The Church later that year) as I got to stay with her until she died. I will never forget my grandfather telling her how much he loved her and that it was okay for her to go~ even when she was unconscious, she seemed to hear him.
    I agree with AnneG about the music and prayers. Please know I will be offering my prayers tomorrow for your much loved and beautiful Mammaw.

  4. What a lovely reflection. I was present for my father’s death in 2009. I had never been at anyone’s deathbed before. It was both a heartbreaking and beautifully peaceful experience. Your Mammaw’s photo is gorgeous! May you continue to cherish her memory and to be a source of comfort for your family.

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