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On the amazing threshold

2015-11-09 08:07


“I am dying. You do know that, don’t you?” Well, yes. That was why I was visiting a Sister in my community. Although understanding that when somebody is very ill, they do not always want visitors, when I popped my head around her open door, she was awake. “Could you please give me my rosary, as I might have dropped it. It is very comforting just to hold my rosary at this time.” We chatted briefly about death in a very peaceful, cheerful and comfortable conversation. “Jesus is just over there”, she said, looking towards a spot just behind me. Although I could not see him, she could and he felt very, very close to both of us. As I stood, gently stroking her hand, she clutched her rosary – and it was clear that this was a moment of communion and communication between herself and her Lord, a moment in which I was a privileged and silent observer. After a couple of minutes, she asked me to leave her alone with him: Jesus was simply “there”, supporting her in her last hours, waiting for the moment to take her home.

At a time when media headlines so frequently support assisted dying, many of its protagonists, I suspect, have not experienced death when, not only is somebody surrounded by love, but is also sustained by the deep belief that death is the doorway to life.

Strange as it may seem to some, death can be a very beautiful experience, convincing onlookers that when somebody breathes their last on this earth, their life really has not come to an end. In many ways, dying and death itself can be real proofs of the existence of a loving God. I have absolutely no doubt that my Sister really could see Jesus and wished afterwards that I had thought to ask her what he looked like. That question remained unasked but only because I was standing at the edge of a miracle and could only respond in silent wonder.

Death does not need to be frightening: another Sister in my community actually requested that she be left alone during her last couple of days. “I just want to spend my time praying”, she explained. “I hope that people will understand: it is not because I don’t want to see them but because I just want to spend these final few hours alone with him in prayer.” I knew what she was saying. My own near-death experience in 1979 left me with a sense of mission: to tell others that they have no need to fear their final moments. They are on the amazing threshold of something indescribably beautiful.

During November, as we remember, in a special way, those who have gone before us, we can not only pray for them, but also pray to them: they already know the indescribable beauty of God for which our lives are a preparation. We can ask our loved ones to accompany us on our journey towards them.

For anybody struggling to come to terms with the death of a loved one, you might find it useful to read Living with Grief: Walking the Spiral by Bairbre Cahill and The Gift of Grief by Andrew Stringfellow. Both are newly published books by Redemptorist Publications. 

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