This has been a painful week for my family. We buried our youngest sister after a few months of indescribable pain. Our Lenten journey was folded into watching the intrepid advance of a lacerating, insufferable cancer which ultimately took her from us as we felt her breath drawn into the ether of Somewhere.
As most of you know and have experienced, one has no control over death. It does its work as you pray and sometimes plead for peace or healing at this dreadful time. You soothe the brow, moisten the lips, and whisper encouragement to the person dying and all-the-while you feel you are dying a little yourself. Little-by-little something of you is leaving with your loved one.
The room becomes eerily silent as death takes over. You can have a crowd of persons there at the moment of death and yet the room is silent except for the gurgling of the tubing and the pulse of the pump laboring to give and take air from failing lungs. And then it is complete! The life. The death process. Death has won the confrontation.
Or, has it? Death in this life, yes. But birth into a new life that will never die now takes over. As my sister neared her end, I felt a presence I can’t explain. Like so many others I have seen die, she reached out, opened her eyes a little, and fell, I believe, into the arms of her Creator.
The very thoughtful theologian, Karl Rahner, SJ., has left us wonderful writing on what death means for persons of faith. Here are some ‘Truths,’ as he suggests, that might make your Lenten prayer more meaningful and your meditation more fruitful. They help me now in my prayer.
- “Death is incomprehensible.” Do not try to figure it out though you can learn from credible theologians some of its theology. It is more important to let your faith guide you.
- “The closer one approaches to God, the more one’s individuality is liberated and fortified.”
- “Christian death is an act of faith.”
- “Death is the end of death itself.” The person who dies will never die again.
- “We shall see one another again…human relationships in this world continue in heaven.”
The Content of Faith by Karl Rahner, 1992, Crossroad Publishing.
All our deceased loved ones have been liberated and fortified as Rahner says. Those left behind now need healing. As you wander deeper into the spirituality of Lent, try to reflect on the meaning of your life as a witness of joy serving others and loving the Jesus of Accompaniment who is walking with you. Make it a point to pray and meditate every day on the gift of life that you possess. Take sections of Luke’s Gospel, which is the Gospel for this year’s Lenten liturgies, and let it permeate your reflections and thus move you to action with Jesus on behalf of others.
What were you able to do when you suffered loss? What helped you spiritually that might help others as well?
Do you happily search for meaning as you reflect on life and the reality of death, your death?
Are there any joys that came to you following the death of someone – even years after their departure? Do you believe the departed had any hand in the good you have experienced?
I hope some of you will share your inspiring thoughts…
Dear Sister, your experience with your sister brought back the memories of the death of our youngest sister Margaret 12+ years ago.
Brain cancer that tormented her . She never complained and even though she knew she wouldn’t survive she never lost faith that there was a chance.
In her last conscious episode while she was convulsing, I was holding her in place and trying to calm her and she suddenly stopped, looked right at me with those beautiful blue eyes and said “I love you” then went into a coma.
When I get worried about someone close to me or I’m having family worries I talk to her and feel her presence helping me through those times. She was a “driving force” on earth and I take comfort knowing she’s praying for all of us. No one could ever say No to her.
Peace be with you my friend. Thank you for always reaching out to us your Anonymous Angels.
Thank you Frances. You know what. it is like to lose a dear sister. Thank you for your prayerful support. Those we lose are truly with us. God bless you.
Like Frances, I lost my brother +Rev. Mr. Mike Flanagan to cancer – his was leukemia and lymphoma in 2000, directly related to being exposed to Agent Orange when he served in Vietnam (and Cambodia – 30 years earlier). I was one of the people in the room as he passed, and my experience was similar to what you describe, Mary Ann. His wife’s minister, who was also in the room, spoke at his funeral eloquently describing his call to service – he was the one who recognized Mike’s call to ordination, but since he was married and a Catholic, Mike chose to be ordained a deacon. There were so many people at his funeral, my brother Brian remarked that he couldn’t get that many to his own funeral, even if he offered free beer! Mike’s wife Linda remarked that she could almost see the angels coming for him, as he kept looking up at the ceiling, very intently. His daughters were 16 and 20 at the time, and we all have felt his help from heaven many times.
Oh Margaret: What a beautiful reflection of your brother’s life and death. I did not know he was a deacon. Agent Orange–oh my–this was such a terrible consequence to the Vietnamese and the Americans in that useless and fierce war of which we never became victorious but of which we, with the Vietnamese, bear the wounds. God bless his memory.
Your eulogy for your sister was so touching. It reminded me to appreciate the role my sisters have in my life. I am so sorry for your loss.
Thelma: Thank you so much for your thoughts. Sisters are the best!! They understand what you are going through and they empathize. I’m glad you will appreciate your sisters more.
Offering prayers for your healing and sending you a big hug I believe that when people die, they take all the love they have received and all the love they have to give and bestow it upon the aching world. May you continue to feel this gift of your sister’s love (as I do that of Stuart’s) , especially in those moments when loss afflicts Love, Diane j
Your prayers and words are so comforting Diane. I believe the same as you. Our loved ones bestow all their love from There and from within us..They flood the universe with love–if only we are open to accepting it.