Death's Small Gift



    My dad died on the Fourth of July. Tired of his losing battle against congestive heart failure and kidney failure, he had decided on July 2 to stop his thrice weekly dialysis treatments. The hospice people came to the house and set him up with a hospital bed, a sweet and caring nurse, and a prescription for morphine.  My five siblings and our families began to gather, believing my dad had a week or so to live.  My parents' home was full of kids and noise again.

    On the morning of the Fourth, however, only a few of us were in the house when Father Mac, a family friend, appeared at the door. My dad had been in a deep sleep from about midnight the night before. Father Mac had come to give my dad the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, which turned out to be the more aptly named Last Rites. My sister and her husband, my mom, my youngest daughter, and I were the only ones in the house. At Father Mac's invitation, we formed a circle around my dad's bed and prayed together. Father Mac anointed my dad's forehead and gave him absolution.

    My youngest daughter, at 17, had recently followed in the footsteps of her three older sisters and had stopped going to Mass regularly after being confirmed. But participating in the last rites for her grandpa resonated deeply with her. "Isn't it weird, Mom," she said later, "that when Father Mac got here, only the practicing Catholics were in the house?" She meant that the family atheists were not in the other room,  making the usual disparaging comments about weak people who needed to lean on the crutch of religion. It seemed that as soon as Father Mac left, the house again filled with people who would not have wanted to join in prayer. We'd been given a moment in God's pure presence.

    My dad never regained consciousness. We took turns sitting with him, talking to him, telling him about the kids splashing in the pool and the schedule for fireworks. The hospice nurse had told us that even if he wasn't responsive, he might still hear us. So we talked. He seemed to be resting peacefully, without the groans and grimaces and strange syllables that had punctuated his sleep for the last few months. Around 6 p.m., he stopped breathing. He exhaled, and just never inhaled.

    On the following Sunday, my daughter said, "I kind of want to go to Mass with you." Just like that. And it occurred to me that, in the midst of crippling sadness and mourning, a small light was shining, in my daughter's gentle conversion of heart. My dad had gone home. And maybe she has, too.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
8 years 2 months ago
God bless you Valerie for your writing - and for seeing grace amid all the grief.   May you in days to come experience many more moments of grace.
I'll not describe my story here but suffice to say, it struck a chord.  
8 years 2 months ago
My condolences to you and your family.   I hope there will be many consolations from God in the days ahead.  Seeing your daughter express a desire for Holy Mass surely was one consolation, which by the grace of God will continue.
8 years 2 months ago
May God be with you and your family in your loss.
8 years 2 months ago
Here is why I, more than ever, believe in God, heaven, and the existence of angels. Susie, my wife of 39 years, suffered terribly of lung cancer for 8 months.  That last morning I called our 4 children to her bedside begging her to "Let go, Let God" as she always told us, and I prayed the rosary for her til she left us.  With her last words "I love you too", her breaths weakened, and I knew her heart had stopped.  AND SUDDENLY THE ROOM WAS FILLED WITH THE PRESENCE OF ANGELS!  No longer breathing, the room began to empty.  They had taken her home with them.  I no longer have to wonder if angels, or heaven, or God truely exist.  They clearly do!

Advertisement
Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

It is astonishing to think that God would choose to enter the world this way: as a fragile newborn who could not even hold up his own head without help.
Ginny Kubitz MoyerOctober 20, 2017
Protestors rally to support Temporary Protected Status near the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
Around 200,000 Salvadorans and 57,000 Hondurans have been residing in the United States for more than 15 years under Temporary Protected Status. But that status is set to expire in early 2018.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 20, 2017
At the heart of Anne Frank’s life and witness is a hopeful faith in humanity.
Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J.October 20, 2017
Forensic police work on the main road in Bidnija, Malta, which leads to Daphne Caruana Galizias house, looking for evidence on the blast that killed the journalist as she was leaving her home, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. Caruana Galizia, a harsh critic of Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat, and who reported extensively on corruption on Malta, was killed by a car bomb on Monday. (AP Photo/Rene Rossignaud)
Rarely does the death of a private citizen elicit a formal letter of condolence from the Pope.