Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dying Alone

From The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, in the section about Abba Bessarion, as told by his disciple:

...[W]e walked on and came to a cave where, on entering we found a brother seated, engaged in plaiting a rope. He did not raise his eyes to us, nor greet us, since he did not want to enter into conversation with us. So the old man said to me, "Let us go; no doubt the old man is not sure if he ought to speak with us." We continued our journey...

On our return, we came again to the cave where we had seen the brother. The old man said to me, "Let us go in and see him; perhaps God has told him to speak to us." When we had entered, we found him dead. The old man said to me, "Come, brother, let us take the body; it is for this reason God has sent us here."

When we took the body to bury it, we perceived that it was a woman. Filled with astonishment, the old man said, "See how the women triumph over Satan, while we still behave badly in the towns." Having given thanks to God, who protects those who love him, we went away.

Well, somehow there is something very attractive about that scenario to me: living all alone, have people stop in occasionally, and then finally having someone find me dead, and bury me – and of course, having that triumph over Satan!

I don’t have a desire or feel a need to have anyone around me when I die. Of course, it would be good to die with the sacraments, so it would be necessary to have a priest there for that. But it has always seemed to me that most people who are at the moment of death really are not too concerned about who is there with them…but who knows?

I was with my mother at the moment of her death. Did she know I was there holding her hand as I listened to the “death rattle” of her labored semi-breathing? I don’t know. But I do know that I couldn’t continue to hold that icy hand after a while; it seemed like she was not there. My mom was the type who probably would have been saying, “Sure, hold my hand if it makes you feel any better”, but would not have cared one way or the other for herself.

I was with my sister at the moment of her death, too. I wasn’t holding her hand. I had entered her hospital room hours before, and she had acknowledged my presence with a vocalization that held not clue as to her state of mind; she was busy dying, I think. Anyway, as the time of her death approached, I was just sitting there in the darkness of 5am, listening to her struggle to take a breath and then remain silent as I counted the seconds between those breaths. Her husband was there too, and we didn’t speak; neither of us really knew if the other was awake. Finally, he arose and stood beside her. She hadn’t made a sound in a couple of minutes…I’d lost track of the seconds I’d been counting. He said, “I think she’s gone.”

That’s the extent of my experience with the dying. The thought of dying alone doesn’t bother me; it’s the meeting with God, my own personal judgement, that has me worried! And there is no one on earth who will be able to help me at that moment.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

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