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 “THE”

By Susie Lloyd

I have agreed to write an essay about the word “the.” What was I smoking?

Actually, it’s the right word for me because I think about THE hour of my death every single day.

Most people who meet me or who know me through my humor books think I’ve got a sanguine temperament. If you’re not up on temperament terminology, this is Tigger, happy go lucky, party animal tending to leap upon people and knock them down.

Tigger: I recognize you. You’re the one that’s stuffed with fluff.

Pooh: Yeah. And you’re sitting on it.

Tigger: Yeah. And it’s comfy too!

But did you know that most comics are melancholic? Not, however, like Eeyore: Nobody cares…

More like Rabbit: Why did I ever invite that bear to lunch? Why, oh, why, oh, why?

Able to see all the little details that make up the big picture. And fret about them.

Well, is there a bigger picture than our salvation and is there a more important detail than THE hour of our death?

THE hour of our death is not an isolated hour. It depends on all THE other hours of our life. Not to say that we should fret and worry over our past sins, though these details seem so richly to deserve it. The devil may be in the details but God’s in the big picture.

I used to spend a fair bit of time worrying over my past sins. So on retreat once I made a General Confession. This is an exercise where you repeat all your big ugly sins, even though you’ve confessed them, for the purposes of – I’m not really sure – because that’s what you do on a retreat? Anyway, for a solid half hour at least, I recited a tearful and humiliating list of my sins to an ancient missionary Jesuit. He listened kindly and patiently and when I was through (through a box of tissues, that is) he finally spoke up.

“Thank God,” he said slowly, “that through all of that you never lost your Faith.”

The big picture.

After that I have been developing a more positive relationship with THE hour of my own death.

My kids are jealous. I try to include them but they resist.

When our choir learns an exquisite new Palestrina piece, I turn to them and say, “Please sing this at my funeral.”

When we visit the cemeteries where my mom or mother in law are buried, I remind them that I want the kind of tombstone you can sit on so they can get comfortable and stay awhile.

The way I think about my mother’s death twenty-one years ago has changed too. For years I felt like I was an train going in a straight line and she was left on the platform. Every day took me, against my will, further and further away from her. Now that my life is very likely at least half over, I feel as if the train has rounded a bend and every day brings me closer and closer to her.

“Mom’s being morbid again!”

Not at all. Nothing I say will make it come any sooner. Nor delay it – no, not even by an hour.

Here and Now is here and now. I love my life and I will be here for them as long as God permits (though can someone up there tell Him that I really don’t wanna look old).

Meanwhile, can I help it if I think of heaven? I have a fantasy that someday we will all stand around and compare death stories the way we now compare birth stories:

“Can you believe it? I had just put the deposit on our new house. How about you?”

“I was flayed alive.”

“You win.”

Don’t get me wrong. I dread THE hour of my death. For one thing, I’m no angel and for another, I can’t think of an easy way to handle it. As my mother in law would say, “I’m a devout coward.”

But there is a part of me that looks forward to… Something.

That mysterious hidden Something outside of time or anything I’ve experienced and yet… fully human. A moment. And in that moment I am with my mother again and I am introducing her to her grandchildren. And there is no more fear. No more dread. No more why, oh, why, oh, why?

There is an hour. It is my hour. It is THE hour.

I pray to Mary, my Mother in heaven to be with me during that hour and during all the hours on which that hour depends.

Susie Lloyd is the author of Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water and Bless Me Father, for I Have Kids. Her next book is under contract with Ave Maria Press and is due out in October, 2013.

image credit: MorgueFile