Death is a strange thing. It's inevitable, yet no one wants to dwell on it-- that'd be morose. You aren't supposed to mention it in casual conversation, or talk about it lightly-- especially in the presence of children.
Ryan learned this on Christmas Day when he was trying to get his little niece to go see her granddad in the hospital. "He might not be around much longer," he added. Everyone in the room grew silent. His sister quietly reprimanded, "That's not the way to talk."
Ryan was right-- his father didn't live much longer. But so was his sister-- death is a grave matter, not to be flung around flippantly.
Here's why it's such a sacred time. When confronted with death:
a) one revisits their history
b) one takes stock of their relationships
c) one comes to grips with their existential situation
d) one even exercises their will, hopefully in abandonment to His
We have to respect this process, both for the one who is dying, and those who love him. It is a process of making sense out of suffering, death, and life.
THE BEREAVEMENT PROCESS
Last weekend Ryan and I were listening to audio lectures on St. Augustine's Confessions. The presenters came to the part in the text where Augustine recalls the death of his friend. Augustine's reaction of grief was very dramatic, but he says it was more about him than it was his friend. In fact, the commentators found it noteworthy that Augustine doesn't even mention the name of the deceased-- only that it was his friend.
This led me to reflect on the distinction between one's external, visible, reactions and their internal disposition. One cannot tell the latter from the former. We consider a person cold and aloof should they not shed a tear at the death of a loved one. But as Augustine shows us, sadness is not necessarily nobler.
Each person will grieve differently. God alone knows the heart.
THE DYING PROCESS
Ryan's father, John, had heart problems. He we was going to have surgery, but changed his mind. "I thought [surgery] was my only option if I wanted to live" he told me. "Well," I reluctantly replied, "I think it kind of is."
John wanted to live. He also wanted to live without unnecessary complications and hardships. I think, somehow, over the course of those next two weeks, he came to terms with what his decision not to have surgery meant for him.
Last night, surrounded by all five of his daughters, John took his last breath. It was the day the Church celebrates the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
OBEDIENCE TO THE FATHER’S WILL
Yesterday I read an Angelus address for this feast in which Pope Benedict asked: "What is the meaning of this act that Jesus wishes to fulfill - overcoming the Baptist's resistance - in order to obey the Father's will (cf. Mt 3: 14-15)?" He continues:
The profound sense emerges only at the end of Christ's earthly existence, in his death and Resurrection. Being baptized by John together with sinners, Jesus began to take upon himself the weight of all of humanity's sin, like the Lamb of God who "takes away" the sin of the world (cf. Jn 1: 29): an act which he brought to fulfillment on the Cross when he also received his "baptism" (cf. Lk 12: 50). In fact, by dying he is "immersed" in the Father's love and the Holy Spirit comes forth, so that those who believe in him could be reborn by that inexhaustible font of new and eternal life. Christ's entire mission is summed up in this: to baptize us in the Holy Spirit, to free us from the slavery of death and "to open heaven to us", that is, access to the true and full life that will be "a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy" (Spe Salvi, n. 12).
The baptism of the Lord is about obedience to God's will. I find it fitting that my father-in-law went to God on this feast day, in obedience to the Father's will.
Our Lord took on John Brady's sins, and died for him, so as to open heaven for him. John gave his assent, coaxed by his daughters who encouraged him in his final moments to "go to God," in fulfillment of God's plan. This is a victory of humility: accepting even death, that God may grant eternal life.
THE CHURCH & HER LITURGY
And so I rejoice today in John's participation in the victory of Christ over sin and death.
And we pray for the repose of his soul, for that is what Scripture asks of us.
We will pray in trusting supplication: "Out of the depths, I cry to you, O LORD."
We will remember in what consists John's viaticum, his food for the journey, as we celebrate the Eucharist. "Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day."
And we'll follow John's example of humble and persevering faith, with thanksgiving for his life, prayers for his salvation, and hope for the resurrection- when "we will all be changed."
In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.
"May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your arrival and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem. May choirs of angels receive you and with Lazarus, once (a) poor (man), may you have eternal rest."
 Cf Philippians 2:8
 1 Corinthians 15:51