Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

A reflection on the word “DEATH”

By Paula Huston

It seems that I have reached the dying age.
Not that I myself am facing imminent death, or at least, not to the best of my knowledge.  But a whole generation, the generation that gave birth to mine, is rapidly going the way of all flesh, and these days, I am finding myself on the front-lines in this losing battle against nature.
A few years ago, it was my petite and elegant mother-in-law, reduced, at the end, to a child-sized wraith in a white nightgown. Then it was Father Bernard, my first confessor and monk friend, who succumbed to Parkinson’s a day after our last visit.

Right now, I am helping Margaret Joy, who has never smoked, navigate the final stages of lung cancer.  During my weekly visits, I read to her from C.S. Lewis.  Meanwhile, my stalwart father-in-law, a 90-year-old World War II veteran, has begun sleeping up to eighteen hours at a time, a sure sign, says the Hospice nurse, that he is “dwindling.”

I remember when my own mother went through this time of life: the loss of both her parents within a few years of one another, and the strange sense that at sixty years old, she’d become an orphan. Yet compared to the disorienting grief she experienced when one of her grandchildren was killed, the sadness of losing her parents felt like indulgence in sentimentality.
But it shouldn’t have. The human problem with death is age-irrelevant: as the poet John Donne says, “Any man’s death diminishes me.”  Made in the image of God, our purpose in life is to love.  We spend our years weaving relationships, webs of silken thread that unite our souls to the souls of others.  When these threads are snapped in death, we lose not only a person but–at least for awhile–our conviction that the effort we’ve put into loving and living means anything at all. Death cannot help but bring doubt.
And so I am grateful for the final words of the Rosary:  “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death.”  In Mary, we claim the parent who will never leave us orphans, who will comfort us when we are bereaved, who will intercede for us when we are too shaken by despairing grief to ask for what we need, and who will strengthen and sustain us when, tremulous and uncertain, we ourselves arrive at the great portal to the next world.
None of us escapes death, neither the death of those we love nor our own. The irony is that no matter how we abhor it, how it offends at the most primitive level of our being, we must go through it if we are ever to meet God face to face. To enter the future, we must relinquish the present. Here is where Mary can be of such help–the mother who stands close by as, like trusting little children, we fling ourselves forward into mystery.

Paula Huston is a Camaldolese Benedictine oblate. She is married, has four grown children plus small grandchildren, and lives in rural Arroyo Grande, California. Her most recent book was a fabulous read, and I’m honored that she joined us for this series on the Hail Mary!

image credit: MorgueFile