Mary’s “Dormition” helps us believe that death is falling asleep in the Lord. Two weeks ago Mariella Zevallos, our parish Director of Communications, saw this with her own eyes when her mother, Maria Casavilca, died. Diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer, Maria was given only a few weeks to live. Mariella asked me to hear her mother’s confession and administer the Last Rites, which Maria received with joy. Within a few days she entered her final agony, a struggle with death that no palliative drugs can eliminate. Three days before she died, Maria was no longer able to assimilate food and became non-responsive. I gave her the Last Rites again five hours before the end, and the war between life and death was terrible to behold. Her unseeing eyes had rolled slightly up in her head with lids half closed. The skin of her face had sunken into her skull, her breathing had become the body’s intense attempt to force a little air into her collapsing lungs. A violent death rattle was upon her. She labored on through the darkness. But at midnight, Life arrived.
Mariella describes how death was overcome: “A few minutes before she died, my mother suddenly turned her face with energy and looked up (as when someone calls you and you turn your face to see who it is). She fixed her eyes on something above our heads with eyes wide open, as if in admiration. After three days of unconsciousness, she was wide awake! She kept her eyes fixed on that point above us for some moments and then began turning her face to look at us with direct eye contact. First she gazed at my dad and held his hand with a strong grasp. Then she gripped my hand too. Next we realized that her face was changing, beginning to regain the glow of health. It seemed as if a hand were gently uncovering the face of her youth. My mom looked healthy and young; her skin was flawless. Her cheeks, which had been sunken in, filled out and she was breathing normally again, with no signs of pain. Her face looked peaceful as she turned younger right in front of our eyes. We thought that she had been completely healed and would get up and begin walking around the room. Then she closed her eyes and fell asleep...she had died.” She had not, in fact, “died,” but she had been taken back to God. Let us not fear death, but only separation from the good God.