Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Dying with dignity

At the end of March, I asked for your prayers for my Aunt Ellen (the sister of my mother) who was battling cancer. After a long battle, she went home to God last Friday. My family and I are very grateful for your powerful prayers. I wholeheartedly believe that they were extremely efficacious because Aunt Ellen showed extraordinary strength and courage in the last few months of her life. It was a remarkable and profound experience of someone dying with great dignity.

Aunt Ellen had a great love for Pope John Paul II. She used to go out of her way to talk with my Mom about things he had said or done and how moved she was by his life. It now appears that she was also moved by the way he died because she imitated the dignity in which he approached death. From what my Mom has told me, she didn’t complain in her final days and showed more concern for those around her than for herself. She accepted her suffering in faith and love which is a sign of great holiness.

She said on occasion that she did not live a holy life (the holy ones usually do!) and there was no real way to convince her otherwise. Well, having gone before the Judgement Seat of Christ and seen her life through God’s eyes, I think she has now been convinced otherwise. Holiness is living for others and she lived this, especially in her suffering. She suffered tremendously. We are reminded of what Mother Teresa said that the best way to imitate Christ is through suffering and that those who are closest to Jesus on Earth are those who suffer the most. There was great holiness and grace in her suffering.

That showed up the most during the final days: she died a holy death. She accepted her extreme suffering and grave situation with humility and faith. More than that, though, she expressed a deep desire to be with God. It really was an incredible thing that at the climax of her suffering, she reached out to God in an extraordinary way. When many people would have been too spent physically and personally because of all the pain, she actually showed great spiritual strength. It has been a source of tremendous inspiration to hear of the deep conversations about faith that she and my Mom had in her final days.

Again, thank you for your prayers – you see how fruitful they have been. Because of your prayers, God’s grace, and her openness to His grace, Aunt Ellen died with great dignity and faith. While it’s very difficult for our whole family, we find much consolation and comfort with the way that she left us. Because of her heroic strength and faith amid great suffering, we are very confident that she is with Almighty God and all the saints and angels in the peace and joy of His kingdom.

Eternal rest, grant unto her, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


At 2:44 PM, Anonymous Maryann said...

May our prayers continue for your Aunt Ellen and her family.

stepping onto a shore
and finding it heaven.

taking hold of a hand
and finding it God’s hand.

breathing new air
and finding it celestial air.

feeling invigorated
and finding it immortality.

passing from storm and tempest
to an unknown calm.

and finding it home.

-author "unknown"

At 12:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the time I was very small, I remember my grandmother saying that she wasn’t afraid to die- she knew there was a heaven. She talked about it often. She talked about it with me in ways that made sense to the child, teenager and adult that I then was. As the years past, I heard my kids asking Grandma the same questions I once did, and hearing Grandma respond with all the same answers. At her funeral last week, my young nephew told me that, “It was okay to be sad, but Grandma is going to heaven. She told me she wasn’t afraid, and she’s going to see Granddad.” When my cousin later eulogized her, he said a more mature version of the same thing. When we were all gathered around her bedside before she died, it was HER strength- the strength of this 4’ nothing wisp of a woman who, at that time, wasn’t any longer conscious, that allowed everyone to let go. She, too, died with dignity. I never before really understood when someone said that another died a beautiful death, but now I do. I was truly fitting for someone who lived such a beautiful life.

FG, I’m sorry for your loss and will keep your family in my prayers.

At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was with my mother when she died at the age of 83. She was a lifetime Catholic but I always suspected, without ever talking to her about it, that she did not believe and really had no faith. Since her death, I have become friends with her longtime best friend with whom my mom shared very personal things, and the friend confirmed for me that my mom did not believe at all, that she lacked any religious faith, and that it caused her great distress. Her death was peaceful and beautiful much like the ones described here but I am left to wonder every single day whether she would ever see God in light of her nonbelief. It causes me to fear for myself too because I am her clone in many ways and cannot embrace faith just as she couldn't

At 8:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Father Greg, for this beautiful tribute to your Aunt Ellen's life and legacy. One is sorry for your family's loss, yet uplifted by your account of this lady's faith and courage. May God bless her and you, and your entire family.

All the best,
Marion (Mael Muire)

At 10:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to the 11:19 Anon-

Last weekend at this mtg, this man shared with the group about how he couldn’t believe he actually went to church that morning. He explained that he was raised Catholic and went to parochial school at St. Peter’s, but hadn’t gone to Mass on a “normal” Sunday since. I asked what brought him back (not thinking too much about the fact that I asked a pretty personal question of a man I didn’t know- in front of a whole bunch of people I didn’t know). I don’t know how it happened, but the conversation evolved into a rather long one about church and faith. Later, a younger woman walked me to my car to talk some more. She said she wanted to believe in a lot of things, wished that she did, but she just didn’t. She had recently gotten married and was looking toward starting a family, and she wanted faith to be a part of that. I told her that I didn’t think having any specific belief was a prerequisite to coming church; God wants us all there, maybe especially the “non-believers.”

I asked her about her husband. I asked her if she fell in love with him instantly, and as it turned out, she didn’t even like him when she first met him. Eventually they became friends and then dated for three years before they married. After she talked about her new hubby, she looked at me and said, “I get what you’re saying.” Fr. Greg has talked at length about developing- actually developing, a relationship with Christ, and that idea has stuck with me for a while now- what exactly that means to me. It’s evident that a relationship with Him, for me, is like any other; it takes time to develop and requires love and attention to grow. If you don’t give to the relationship, it won’t grow (God will still love me, but I won’t know Him). I can’t believe in something/someone I don’t know, and for me, it takes more than going to Sunday Mass (the hallmark of many practicing Catholics). For me, it requires thought and action in prayer, reading about the saints (for understanding their faith helps me cultivate my own), and talking to people who are willing to share openly with me. Adoration helps too- for quiet, focused time with Christ has helped enormously. I still have HUGE stumbling blocks, but now I know that after I stumble I can get back up.

I have a friend who says she's not sure if she believes, and that scares her. It baffles me how one can be afraid of something in which they do not believe. In my heart, I really think she's believes in a lot more than she acknowledges, but, perhaps, lacks the commitment to action acknowledging her belief will require- but that's just my thought.

At 6:37 PM, Blogger fran said...

Some reasons to believe:

- You have witnessed His glorious creations in a morning sunrise or an evening sunset, a rainbow after a storm, the starscape of the night sky.

- You have experienced His presence in the comforting words, healing touch, or love of another.

- You have gazed upon His beauty in the face of newborn baby, and heard is voice in the laugh of a child.

- You are reading this. He has blessed you with the gift of another day.


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