“My Lord and my God, from this moment I accept at Thy hands, with resignation and cheerfulness, the kind of death it may please Thee to send me, with all its pains and anguish.”
Despite the countless daydreams I’ve indulged in throughout my sanguine life, it struck me a few days ago that I have never purposefully daydreamed about my death.
This is odd, because of all potential subjects with which I could daydream up a storm, my death is the one thing in life I can count upon to actually happen to me. As befits the sign of contradiction that is the Catholic Faith, my death will be the defining moment of my life: its summation, its crowning note, for better or for worse – salvation or damnation, forever. Yet, curiously, it has ranked low on my “let’s daydream about this today” list.
And so the premise intrigued me: to daydream about my death.
Echoing the traditional prayer, I embrace whatever death Our Lord has destined for me, down to the tiniest details. With that kept in mind, I recently sat down and wove my first daydream of my death.
* * *
Peering toward the end, I would first like to imagine I’m not dying in a hospital. Rather, I’m dying wherever my home is.
I’m lying in a small room, a quiet room, with no electronics but certainly a window. There’s a hand-crocheted blanket at the foot of my bed, and I’m surrounded by a simple arrangement of the holy images I’ve come to hold dear: the Sacred Heart of Jesus; the Sorrowful Heart of Mary; St. Joseph; St. Anthony; St. Raphael; a Madonna and Child, especially “The Song of the Angels”; St. Faustina. Perhaps most important of all, Our Lady of the Rosary, since it was on her feast that I first totally consecrated myself in St. Louis de Montfort’s method.
I don’t know exactly what my sufferings will be, but, reflexively, I include pain in this daydream. Most likely, it is the worst pain of my life, but it is also a consolation, because I know that Our Lord is bestowing on me the gift of suffering that purifies my love for Him. It isn’t a pain that robs me of peace, but rather, it is a channel of grace and final charity to my soul.
The room in which I’m lying is very still. However, through the walls, I can catch the muffled sounds of children playing and of dishes clattering; footsteps, maybe a slightly stumbling piano practice. These familiar household sounds remind me that while my approaching death is the most intense and perilous moment of my life, I’m just a grain of sand in God’s universe, and that time and the people within it will carry on without my physical presence for as long as He sees fit. I’m passing out of time; I am not the center of it, nor ever was.
This thought is overwhelming – a mystery I can’t even begin to touch, and one that frightens me more than a little but is nevertheless true and unavoidable. I am leaving time and entering eternity. I am on the brink.
As I lie dying, surrounding me in the room are a handful of persons softly murmuring the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary in Latin (because I will die a stickler for Latin, and they will lovingly accommodate my wishes in hora mortis). In the present moment of daydreaming about this, I’m not sure who they are, though I see them as my family, either by blood or because we are members of the same Church Militant. Are they my future husband, future children, future grandchildren? Parish friends? Sisters in Christ whose babies I’ve held, tears I’ve dried, and with whom I’ve traded many a phone call over the hectic cacophony and quiet stillness of the unfolded tale of my life?
Or are they strangers?
Naturally, the presence of my future husband enters my consideration here. But I’m not sure. Is he here, praying for and with me, holding my hand with the unwavering softness and steadiness that comes from a lifetime of knowing, loving, and forgiving me in the Sacrament of Marriage…or am I without his physical presence? Have I already helped him in his own death, and am I now suffering mine alone?
If I must choose this detail, I would choose for my future husband already to be gone (although this is one of the countless reasons I am so very thankful Our Lord is in control, and not me – I won’t have to actually decide!) – first, because he is, hopefully, praying for me with a power he could not have possessed on earth; second, that I could offer up my loneliness without him as another sacrifice to God for reparation; and third, because his physical absence would remind me all the more sharply that my approaching death is completely between God and myself alone.
But regardless of anything else – of anyone else in the room – of whether they’re my children and I’ve lived decades of my life with them or if I’ve never seen them until these last moments…notwithstanding all these things, there is the priest.
In my daydream, I don’t need to know this priest’s name, to recognize his face or the modulations of his voice. I simple need to know he is there. This faithful priest sits beside me in a kitchen chair (relocated to the bedroom), his head bowed slightly. He is accompanied by a Crucifix, a burning candle, the fragrant scent of holy oils, the book containing the traditional Last Rites. He is a powerful warrior, armed to defend and aid me in my last combat. Wholly, he is focused on protecting me and ushering me in to eternity. This is consoling beyond all words.
He murmurs along with the Rosary, helping me to pray, and I am holding his hand as the intensity escalates, both of my physical pain and also of the knowledge that my soul is separating from my body and I’ll soon be judged. Even as I whisper the Aves, I feel temptations to terror and despair sweep over me. My sins and failures, distended and grotesque, flicker sharply through my mind. I pray in fragments, terrified in final battle.
This good priest at my side, having already heard my Confession and absolved me, senses this: he urges me to have childlike trust in God and to surrender my soul entirely to the Blessed Virgin’s care, reminding me that I made myself entirely hers, and she will not forget me now. Repeatedly, I beg him to pray for me; in response, he nods and continues the Aves.
The Rosary is soon finished, and my surroundings become a haze of fading time. As the tempest of fear thickens within me, I begin to hear the names of the saints.
Holy Mary, pray for her.
All ye holy Angels and Archangels, pray for her.
Holy Abel, pray for her.
All ye Choirs of the Just, pray for her.
Holy Abraham, pray for her.
St. John the Baptist, pray for her.
St. Joseph, pray for her…
My soul warms at the name of the Blessed Mother; my patron, St. John the Baptist; and good St. Joseph. My eyes are closed now; I pray along with this last litany with increasing physical feebleness. The pain is at its highest point – but at the same time, I foggily sense that it is my rope to Heaven and I cling to it.
The priest’s voice finds me again.
“Go forth, O Christian soul, out of this world, in the name of God the Father almighty, Who created thee; in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, Who suffered for thee; in the name of the Holy Ghost, Who sanctified thee; in the name of the holy and glorious Mary, Virgin and Mother of God; in the name of the Angels, Archangels, Thrones, and Dominations, Cherubim and Seraphim; in the name of the Patriarchs and Prophets, of the holy Apostles and Evangelists, of the holy Martyrs, Confessors, Monks and Hermits, of the holy Virgins, and of all the Saints of God; may thy place be this day in peace, and thine abode in holy Sion. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
His prayers continue, guiding me like a small ship through a mighty storm while I, wearily but with hope, look for the first sign of stars as the last pieces of time fade around me.
Beyond this point, I can’t formulate much more. The precise moment of death is, perhaps, too shrouded even to daydream about. I do wish for one last thing, though: that this good priest, in my last minutes, be able to assist me in making a final renewal of my Total Consecration.
In the presence of all the heavenly court I choose thee this day for my Mother and Mistress. I deliver and consecrate to thee, as thy slave, my body and soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, and even the value of all my good actions, past, present and future; leaving to thee the entire and full right of disposing of me, and all that belongs to me, without exception, according to thy good pleasure, for the greater glory of God in time and in eternity…
And even as I am praying this to the best of my ability, clinging to the priest’s hand, still hearing snatches of children’s voices and dishes clinking from behind the walls, I imagine the storm fading away; the tempest calming in my soul; the pain, even, ebbing; and, too wonderful almost to hope for, I imagine at last witnessing the mysterious fulfillment of Our Lady’s promise to those who honored her Seven Sorrows:
I will visibly help them at the moment of their death; they will see the face of their Mother.
And I exhale and close my eyes for the last time; and yet it feels as though I’m opening them.
* * *
It’s a strange feeling, to have woven a daydream of my own death. And yet there’s a sense of peace hovering about the completion.
In contemplating what it might be like, in hoping fervently for a holy one, and in having to depart from the daydream just before the actual moment of my death, I can’t resist a glance at Screwtape’s last letter of ranting failure to Wormwood, which can now stand in the place of what I chose to leave unsaid:
He saw Him. This animal, this thing begotten in a bed, could look on Him. What is blinding, suffocating fire to you, is now cool light to him, is clarity itself, and wears the form of a Man. You would like, if you could, to interpret the patient’s prostration in the Presence, his self-abhorrence and utter knowledge of his sins (yes, Wormwood, a clearer knowledge even than yours) on the analogy of your own choking and paralysing sensations when you encounter the deadly air that breathes from the heart of Heaven. But it’s all nonsense. Pains he may still have to encounter, but they embrace those pains. They would not barter them for any earthly pleasure. All the delights of sense, or heart, or intellect, with which you could once have tempted him, even the delights of virtue itself, now seem to him in comparison but as the half nauseous attractions of a raddled harlot would seem to a man who hears that his true beloved whom he has loved all his life and whom he had believed to be dead is alive and even now at his door. He is caught up into that world where pain and pleasure take on transfinite values and all our arithmetic is dismayed.