Tuesday, November 20, 2018

My Parents' Greatest Gift

"Like Jesus, we too are meant to give our lives away in generosity and selflessness, but we are also meant to give our deaths away, not just at the moment of our deaths, but in a whole process of leaving this planet in such a way that our diminishment and death is our final, and perhaps greatest, gift to the world. Needless to say, this is not easy. Walking in discipleship behind the master will require that we too sweat blood and feel 'a stone's throw' from everybody. This struggle, to give our deaths away, constitutes Radical Discipleship."
— Ronald Rolheiser, Sacred Fire: A Vision for A Deeper Human and Christian Maturity
I came across this quote by Ronald Rolheiser as I was doing research for a retreat. I was struck by his words and began reflecting on my own experience of being with another in their final hours of life.
My Mother died twenty years ago. It is difficult to image that much time has passed, but I remember my last conversation with her as if it was yesterday.

My Mom
Suffering from cancer and weakened by her struggle, she could barely hold a conversation in her final days. Late one night after I had left the hospital, the phone rang. I was afraid to answer, fearing it would be my Dad, telling me that Mom had died. Instead it was her faint voice I heard. She was so weak I have no clue how she dialed the phone, let alone held it to her head to speak, yet she called.

“Judith” she said, “I just want to tell you, I love you. I have always loved you and I always will.”

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I told her I loved her too. Those last words are so dear to me, because they speak of eternal love—and the hope of being reunited.

My Father died just this past year.

My last photo with Dad
Sitting next to his bed after having been put on a ventilator to give his heart and lungs a rest, the medical staff called the family together to tell us there was nothing more they could do for him. My Dad, who I had always looked to as my source of strength would not pull through this last battle. I would never hear his voice again and I said a silent prayer to God that I might, just one more time, get to see his dancing blue eyes that were always full of life.

Before they pulled the ventilator, the family said their final good-byes, not knowing how long he may survive without medical assistance. I was one of the last to leave the room before the medical team entered the room. Laying my head down on his pillow next to his head, I whispered into his ear how much I loved him. I looked at my sweet Father and thought of my prayer. With that his eyes opened, and he looked at me with a gaze filled with incredible love. A tear rolled down his cheek and we were held, suspended, in a sacred moment between father and daughter that was graced with eternal love.

My Mother and Father’s parting gave me incredible gifts: a depth of love that goes beyond the grave and the hope of reunion with God for all eternity. They were people of faith who through their dying moments shared the opening of new life, not lost life; eternal love, love that is not confined to this world.

Every time I receive the Eucharist at Mass, I am united in that love. I am surrounded by all those Radical Disciples who through their death gave me a glimpse of eternity. We are gathered together in the Celebration of Unity and Love. Christ has claimed the victory; death cannot destroy love.
This was my parents’ greatest gift and I thank Fr. Rolheiser for reminding me of this.

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