On November second, the Church celebrates All Souls Day when we remember the holy souls who have departed this life to journey towards union with Our Lord. In our family, we have had a devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory as part of our celebration of the liturgical year. We save memorial cards and display them on the family altar during November to remind us to pray for our own dear departed. This fall, I was very grateful that our understanding of the Communion of Saints prepared us for the addition of a new card, with the image of the Divine Mercy of Jesus. It is for my mother, Eleanor.
Last spring we would never have dreamed that Mom, actively working for a crisis pregnancy center at 74 would, in four short months, be taken from us and drawn up into the mercy of God. The words “stage four inoperable cancer” made my heart seize in fear, when my father spoke them over the phone, and I stumbled outside, numbly searching for the words to talk to God. That my seven year old found the words for me is a story I told here. For weeks, in the first drowsy moments as I awoke each day, the knowledge that Mom was dying hit my stomach like a sucker punch, and preoccupation with her condition robbed my attention all day long. I was functioning on autopilot; much of my emotional energy was focused in praying for a miracle for Mom. Just as all medical efforts to save her life were exhausted, a dear friend told me that she felt that God wanted us to know He was calling Mom home, and to let her go gently, wrapped in our love. Those words brought to mind the ironic sense of joy the Little Flower felt the first time she coughed blood into a handkerchief and felt the Jesus calling her to Him. She was 24. We began to understand that God calls each soul at the right time to attain their eternal salvation, and vowed to accept His timing no matter how abrupt it seemed.
I brought the girls to see Mom as often as possible, flinching inwardly each time I noticed signs of her diminishing health, yet she seemed to grow spiritually even as her physical strength waned. On weekends, there were rows of seats around her hospital bed, full of friends and family eager to be in her company, as Mom would make each visitor feel loved. Nurses and fellow patients were drawn to her gentle spirit and she was visited by half a dozen priests, who anointed her, heard her confessions, gave her Holy Communion, and asked for her prayers. She would offer her suffering for those she loved and took time to see all those who wanted to visit her, no matter how tired she was. She struggled to eat to keep up her waning strength, though each swallow was painful. Her left arm, bruised by the IV’s had indentations from her wooden rosary beads, which she kept, wrapped around her arm. Dad was constantly at her side, sleeping in a chair in the hospital and on a bed next to her at home, tending to her needs round the clock, and keeping her company when fear gripped her in the dark of night. Soon it became necessary to call my brother, a nurse, to help Dad care for Mom at home, and he spent her last months patiently nursing the one who cradled him for his first years.
Living four hours away could have filled me with anxiety that somehow I would miss being with Mom in her final moments, however, my experience of God’s mercy told me that I would know when it was time to say goodbye. During the final days when her celestine blue eyes could no longer see, my family took turns stroking her hair and caressing her. We told her we loved her, and we were trusting her to God’s mercy as we prayed the rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet. On the morning of her last day on earth, a married couple, her longtime friends, brought her Holy Communion with a reading on not being afraid to return to the Heavenly Father. Mom received a tiny fragment of the Host, which contained the entire body and blood, soul and divinity of her Lord Jesus.
When her last breath was upon her, Mom reached up to Dad, to caress his face and say farewell, then her beautiful blue eyes closed to this world to open in the next. It was just before three o’clock on Friday afternoon. Though we could barely speak the words through our emotion, we prayed with the Divine Mercy Chaplet as we sent Mom into the Mercy of God.
Walking your children through the rituals of a wake and burial can be a daunting task, yet the dozens of mourners who embraced us reminded us of the beautiful life Mom had lived, and we were comforted by the stories we heard from those who remembered Mom reaching out with love to them. However, the best was yet to come. A family member, who had been estranged from his faith, had his two children baptized two days after Mom’s death. We knew that as part of the Communion of Saints, Mom was looking down with joy as three children entered God’s family, because of her prayers. Her funeral Mass was an embrace of love. Our tearstained eyes were astonished to see a full church; family and friends had come from 14 states to pray with us, and rejoice in the gift she had been to our family.
At her graveside service, my daughters huddled together and sang the Salve Regina to entrust the soul of their grandmother to the sweet embrace of Our Lady and the tender mercy of her Son.
Copyright 2009 Leticia Velasquez