An encounter with death shook me to my core last year. One of my husband’s athletic younger brothers, Mark, lay dying of cancer. The day before his death, he had been semi-conscious but unable to speak as a priest administered the Last Rites. While the priest led the family in prayer, Mark looked extremely self-conscious, hard, and even angry. It seemed like he was still rejecting grace. Unbeknownst to me, the grace of that last Sacrament was working in my brother-in-law as the priest prayed over him:
Go forth, Christian soul, from this world
in the name of God the almighty Father,
who created you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God,
who suffered for you,
in the name of the Holy Spirit,
who was poured out upon you.
Go forth, faithful Christian! May you live in peace this day,
may your home be with God in Zion,
. . . .May you return to [your Creator]. – CCC, n. 1020
The next day, I was finally alone with Mark, sitting beside his narrow bed with the sound of ragged breathing filling the hospital room. It felt eerie, unnerving even, because he was now in a cancer-induced coma. Hours before death, his tanned, chiseled face was propped up by white pillows, a dramatic testament to the rough life he had embraced as the self-proclaimed black sheep of his religious family. Since he was unconscious and he could not interact in the normal manner, I decided to pray right into his inner spirit:
Mark, I call your spirit to attention and invite you to turn to your Heavenly Father because He created you, called you by name, and now welcomes you home again with outstretched arms. His Mercy is boundless. God sees you exactly as you are; He knows all your sins yet still loves you. The moment you turn to God in repentance, He will embrace you as His son.
I opened my eyes and my heart started pounding because Mark’s eyes were wide open. Even though brain cancer had left him comatose, he was looking right at me with intelligence. His gaze was not that of a jaded adult but like a child who was vulnerable and afraid of the unknown. His eyes seemed to plead with me. This brief glimpse into that man’s inner spirit is seared in my mind.
Flustered, I did not know how to respond, so I simply closed my eyes and continued praying. When I dared open my eyes again, my brother-in-law had slipped back into a coma, but this time I was filled with joy. There was a tangible presence of peace in the room. I knew he had turned his face towards God and his spirit was forever connected to mine in the Mystical Body of Christ.
Copyright 2017 Melanie Jean Juneau