Here we are finally to Holy Week, approaching the Sacred Triduum and now just days away from the great celebration of Easter. I cannot help but think of my mother in-law who passed away just ten days ago. The heavy cross of dementia she carried during the last months of her life and the suffering she endured in her final days. My heart mourns her loss as I think of her strength, her constant support and the unending outpouring of prayers she had for her family. I grieve the time my children will never have with her and the loss of truly knowing Grandma.
If you read her obituary you will not see a title, degree or any long list of accomplishments after her name. You will read that she had great faith and a heart of service. The mother of eleven children and 36 grandchildren. By worldly standards, perhaps it may seem her life was wasted, consumed with the mundane task of rearing and caring for her children. Failing to leave a great mark on this world. But what the world is blinded by eyes of faith can see.
It was as if she almost knew her time was drawing near. About five months before her passing she would ask to have pictures taken with whoever was visiting. On one occasion when saying goodbye to some of the grandchildren, she took the time to tell each one how important they were, affirming each one and encouraging them in their walk with Christ.
The last months of her life were robbed by dementia, never knowing if she actually knew who you were or who was talking to her. How difficult it was to see her decline so quickly and have her memory taken from her. Still I brought the children to see her, to sing to her, to pray with her and to tell her that they loved her. Even when she couldn’t respond, she would sometimes get a small grin on her face as I told her a story about the kids.
As I think back I can remember the last times. The last time she held Briella in her lap and said how beautiful she was. The last time she told me how proud she was of me for sharing my story, although it caused her much pain to try to formulate the sentence. The last time she spoke to me, as I knelt by her bedside and thanked her for all of the prayers, sacrifices and love she had given to our family. Not having spoken to me the entire visit, she smiled and said, “you’re welcome.”
Society would say her final weeks were a waste and a burden. But in those moments when her memory failed her, when her words didn’t make sense and when she was unable to feed herself, she gave a beautiful gift to the family. To allow each one of us to serve her, to feed her, to meet her needs and to pray with her. A gift in which no value can be placed on it. To give back in some small way after all of the years she had given to us. To be present in her suffering. To be like Simon, accompanying her on the way.
I have been trying to find words to explain death to my young children. The passing, the permanency and the pain. All of it is empty, meaningless and morbid without the hope of the Resurrection. Without belief in the salvific act of Christ, death defeated and the hope of eternal life, our suffering is in vain and none of it makes sense. But because of faith and saving grace we know how the story ends. We know what follows the suffering, what comes after Good Friday.
1 Corinthians 15:55
Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?