When Death Comes...
When death comes, everything changes. It seems the world you have known no longer exists. Now it is a strange, empty place. A comforting voice is silent never to be heard again, and the door will never open to his or her presence. John O'Donohue writes in Anam Cara, "Something breaks within you that will never come together again". Over and over the sense of "never again" overwhelms you like waves washing over your being. Yet somehow, all your senses are heightened, alert, and you find yourself fully engulfed in grief. Worries, anxieties...all the "small stuff" melt away. When death comes, you are living in God’s time, Kairos, a sacred time where only the present moment exists.
When someone dies, we believe the veil between this earthly reality and the Divine realm is very thin. Understanding this, you, your loved ones, and the faith community offer respect, and great reverence for the body. All the rituals of the Church aim to express the unspeakable solemnity of our beloved's passage into eternity. In faith we believe the mystical community of saints are present to guide your dear one through this passage.
When I was a child, my mother described the death of my grandmother, Anna. She was a simple holy woman who knew her death was quickly approaching. She stopped taking her medicines and called her children to gather around her sickbed. My mother related that all the children had gathered with the exception of Uncle Steve. When he belatedly arrived and entered the room, Grandma said "Steve, take off your hat, "Jesus Christ is here in the room." Grandma never spoke another word and died peacefully shortly afterward. Hearing this as a child, I was left with a lifelong memory that affected my own journey.
The veil is indeed very thin. The universes of time and the timeless intersect. Fr. Demetrius Dumm OSB, a beloved Scripture scholar, used to teach the novices this is a time for everyone to be silent, and to be in awe of the mystery taking place before them. A time to be aware that one is standing among the angels and saints preparing our loved one to pass into the fulness of the Kingdom of God. At birth we came from the unknown and each of us will return to the unknown. At birth we did not have the capacity, nor could we have imagined the sights, sounds, and beauty to come. As women and men walking this earth in a fragile body, we again are simply not equipped to grasp nor imagine the splendor of what existence will be in the eternal realm of the Almighty One.
Death, as with any crisis, places our deepest self in a quite fragile place. An overwhelming feeling of helplessness, and a concern whether you can continue on with life may exist. Knowing life is changed forever calls for being gentle with yourself, for walking each moment in faith, and for accepting the support of family and faith community. Go deep within yourself and find that faith in Jesus Christ that will carry you through this desert journey, even, if only one step at a time. Our Lord Jesus walked from village to village, preaching, performing miracles, enduring weariness, ridicule, disdain and disbelief. He walked carrying His cross to His death and final glorious resurrection. In times of a personal painful loss, we ask, “What will I do?" "How can I go on?”
The answer is simple, yet difficult: “Take one step, one moment at a time.” “Do the next necessary thing.” The Holy One Himself will show you the direction. Be still...Listen. You will be led, one step at a time.