Story of a Happy Death: Crossing the Bar

 By Lourdes R. Policarpio

Have you found yourself beside a dying person and witnessed her agonizing last moments? Have you considered yourself being on that deathbed one of these days? And are you now preparing for it?
Unsettling, cruel questions, you may say! True. The topic of dying has never been a pleasant conversation piece.

In 1983, I came across the 15 Prayers Revealed by Our Lord to St. Bridget (found in the Pieta Prayer Booklet), also called "The Secret of Happiness". My daughter was then sick with an incurable brain ailment. In a time of extreme distress, the idea of finding the "secret of happiness'' fascinated me. After a while, I realized the prayers were actually meditations on the Passion of the Lord Jesus, usually ending with a request for spiritual graces preparatory to dying, like a true contrition for sins.

I passed on the 15 Prayers to my mother-in-law, Mommy as my husband and I called her. She said she faithfully recited the prayers everyday for several years to the point that she could already memorize certain portions of the 20-minute-long prayers.

On May 25, 2004, Mommy died at the age of 92. Let me narrate how she died in the hope that it will inspire us all to prepare spiritually the dying and sick persons around us. Considering the scarcity of priests, what we did is within the reach of simple laymen.

My Mother-in-Law

Mommy was a quiet person, an exemplary cook and housewife. She had such a beautiful, well- prepared, happy death that I guess one reason must be the 15 Prayers of St. Bridget which she said everyday.

Her trial started on May 15, the first day of the Novena to Mary Help of Christians, when she had a stroke. We immediately sought out a priest for the anointing of the Sick. Starting that day, my husband and I, with our two children, said our daily Rosary with her. Mommy lived fifteen minutes away from us, and going back and forth entailed sacrifices on our part. 

Our nightly ritual consisted of the Rosary primarily, interspersed with songs. We gradually added other prayers, like the Novena to Mary Help of Christians. We also prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy which is strongly recommended for the dying and a short prayer I had been saying for my elderly relatives, "Consecrating the Two Last Hours of Our Life to the Blessed Virgin" (also found in the Pieta Prayer Booklet).

Mommy's relatives, one by one, came to visit her and say goodbye. The pious ones prayed with her and this added to her spiritual preparation.

Despite her painful condition, Mommy was oftentimes still lucid and conscious, and managed to receive Holy Communion. In praying we would stay close to her ear as it is said that it is the sense of hearing which is the last to go. We prayed the Act of Contrition frequently and often reminded her of her many grandchildren for whom she should offer her prayers and sufferings.

It so happened that a friend who is preparing to be a nun came to visit me. I mentioned to her how we were helping Mommy to die and she said that in the convent, when a nun is grievously ill, the sisters take turns in praying continuously by her bedside, two by two. In an ordinary home, this would be difficult.

There would not be enough "prayer warriors'' to last 24 hours. I also mentioned to her how difficult it was to pray sometimes when visitors come who are not spiritually inclined to pray. She told me to pray "silently", even alone - an advice I most appreciated.

The Moment of Death

I wondered when Mommy's final moment would come. Would God take her on the 24th, the feast of Mary Help of Christians? That would be a beautiful date on which to die, amused.

On May 25, the day after the Feast day of Mary Help of Christians, at 6:30 am. We were told we had to rush because Mommy's breathing was slowing down and becoming more shallow.

A practical question - how did we manage to pray despite all the medical tasks being done? We positioned ourselves at the foot of her bed and prayed in a subdued manner while those who had medical tasks to do stayed close to her.

At 7:00 a.m., we started with the prayer consecrating The Two Last Hours of Our Life to the Most Holy Virgin''. At around 8:45 a.m., as we were in the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, we were told that Mommy's blood pressure was going down. At 9:00 a.m., she died. From 7:00 am. to 9:00 a.m., the last two hours of her life, the prayers were non-stop.

We could only conclude that it was an answer to the prayer "Consecrating the Two Last Hours of Our Life to the Most Holy Virgin".

I am aware that still much can be done for the dying. For example, the best thing that could be done (which we were not able to do) would be to arrange for a Mass. However, Mommy's case is, I believe, a good example of what people, especially families, can do for their loved ones who are grievously sick. With the shortage of priests, it is important that people know what to do when a loved one is in critical condition.

Holy Mary...Pray for us... at the Hour of our Death

Mass media is partly to blame for why people think of death as a frightening event. Don't we associate death with a hooded black figure? Thinking positively, shouldn't we look forward to death since it is a time focus to be with God in Heaven? Aye, there's the rub. If you are prepared to die, of course. Most invest in life plans and medical insurance but not in prayers for a happy death.

The Catholic Church has so many aids for a happy death - if people care to find out. For example, pray to St. Joseph who is the patron of a happy death since he died in the arms of Jesus and Mary. Or practice the First Friday devotion.

In a vision, Don Bosco was able to talk to his young ward, St. Dominic Savio, who died at a young age. Don Bosco asked St. Dominic what gave him the most consolation at the time of his death: was it the virtue of purity which Dominic so zealously safeguarded, a conscience at peace, the treasure of good deeds he had built up, or the hope of paradise? Dominic’s answer was something even the holy Don Bosco did no anticipate:
The one thing that consoled me most at the hour of my death was the assistance of the mighty and lovely Mother of the Savior. Tell your sons never to forget to pray to her as long as they live.

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