Today is the 12th anniversary of my maternal Grandfather's death. It’s a special day for me because I had the privilege of being with him when he died. Growing up, I didn’t have much time to spend with my paternal grandparents, both having died by the time that I was in 2nd grade. I was fortunate to have most of my childhood with my maternal grandparents. My mom's dad died when I was in 8th grade and my mom's mother died when I was in college, but developed dementia starting shortly after my grandfather had died. I really looked up to, and still do, my mom's parents. I treasure the memories that we made together. In fact, many of the crafts that I made with my grandparents can be found in Benedict’s room.
I’m very grateful to have had a positive experience with my grandfather's death. He became sick very quickly and was hospitalized on life support for a few days. While life support generally indicates that a person’s life is close to the end, it does lend the benefit of allowing family to better anticipate when someone will die. So, when the decision was made to withdraw life support, all of our family had time to fly in and say our final goodbyes. A priest from the local parish came that evening and administered the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and we all prayed together. Afterwards, my parents let me stay at the hospital with 3 other family members and we prayed with him through the night, though he was heavily sedated. I was honored to be with him in his last moments in a very beautiful testament to life.
All of my maternal ancestors are buried in the same cemetery plot in our ancestral hometown. I think it’s kind of fun to walk amongst the graves and learn about each person. In fact, I have a plot there myself. Each Spring, a contingent of my family goes to the cemetery to plant flowers on our family's graves. Although the local parish handles all of the lawn maintenance, planting flowers is a nice tradition that honors the memory of our family who has gone before us. This past year was particularly special because we were all in town for my great aunt's birthday. As a part of the festivities, all of my mom’s siblings went to the cemetery to carry on the tradition.
We’re constantly confronted with the reality of death. While the absence of a loved one is indeed very difficult to cope with, it speaks volumes of the strength of our human relationships. We’re so connected to one another that the absence of someone in our lives is deeply impactful. It's difficult to cope with the loss of a loved one. No longer having their presence is felt for a very long time, sometimes even every day for the rest of our own lives.
It's important to be constantly praying to and for those who have died. Since I'm not the Pope, I'm unable to declare that any of my grandparents are in Heaven. They certainly lived virtuous lives and were models of holiness for me, but I do not know the mind of God and so I'm unable to know with certainty where they are. God is outside of time, so there's no way of knowing if someone is in Purgatory, or how long they'd be there in terms of our sense of time.
In the days and weeks after someone dies, it's our human nature to use phrases such as, "They're in a better place" or "They're in Heaven now" as ways of both coping or comforting. Though difficult to say, saying things like that are dangerous. I know that when I die, the last thing I want is for people to think that they don't have to pray for me! Prayers can shorten one's stay in Purgatory and, if I'm there, I'd be looking for a quick exit and any and all prayers would be greatly appreciated.
The great beauty of our Church is the connectedness of souls through the Communion of Saints. It's a beautiful thing that they are able to intercede for us, and that we're able to intercede for them. Let's be diligent in praying for our loved ones both here in this life and those who have passed from it.