My greatest fear—and I confess I was afraid, which is always a lack of faith—was that Mom would die alone. My brother took her to the hospital a few days ago for a chest x-ray and they found pneumonia in her lungs, in addition to her chronic congestive heart failure. The doctor gave her a few days to live, but mercifully did not restrict visitors. So on Friday the whole tribe was able to spend time with Mom in her hospital room: Dad (at age 95) led the charge, followed by my siblings and their wives from near and far. With luminous energy, she sang happy birthday to my brother-in-law and welcomed all with shining eyes.
Still, I was worried that she would gasp her last breath on earth alone in a hospital room. It was during the 9:30 Mass yesterday morning, being celebrated by another priest, that I had a moment to call my brother, who had just texted that he was going in to see Mom. He answered the phone in a quiet voice and said the Mom had just died five minutes ago. He and his wife were reading Psalm 23 to her, and had begun one of Mom’s favorite songs, In the Garden, when she took a deep breath, and exhaled one last time. She expired during the morning Mass, just after the lector was reading her name in the prayers of the faithful. An hour later, I offered the next Mass for her soul and realized that for this she had prepared me for the priesthood.
Yesterday a dear friend, whose mother also died on a Sunday just five weeks before my mother, invited me to her Mom’s house with some close friends “to celebrate the successful completion of our mothers’ earthly course.” At the end of the meal I said grace and prayed the usual prayer for the “souls of the faithful departed.” Like a flash of lightning it struck me that my mother was now one of those souls, now passed beyond the thin veil separating time from eternity. I have shed a few tears, but the same conviction comes to me when I learned of Mother Teresa’s death in 1997: she is closer to me know than she could ever have been on earth. She is closer to God now, filled with an understanding love not possible on our side of the grave. Thanks be to God.