Catholic teaching on death and dying helped me understand and navigate a series of moral hazards.
Canon 844.4, which covers giving the Sacrament of the Sick to non-Catholics, I even asked my pastor to come and anoint her, which he did. Throughout the week we kept close tabs on the hospice staff to make sure they complied with our wishes and hers.
Finally, just moments after my mother died, I raised my hands above my head, looked up and imagined her spirit rising from the room, observing me there. “I hope I made you proud,” I whispered. “I’ll see you in Heaven.” A great peace came over me that confirmed I had given her a departure that was worthy of her baptism, her confession of faith and her final destination. I have the Church to thank for that.
The days that followed were filled with the sundry tasks required for a funeral, burial, notifications, and so on. As always, I took refuge at morning Mass, where the haunting, familiar words of the liturgy took on new meaning: “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face.”
My mother had specified a small, private service at a funeral home, followed by the burial. My brothers and I didn’t enlist Protestant clergy since without the Eucharist there really isn’t any need. Instead, we read a psalm and a passage from I Thessalonians. We sang a hymn and offered our eulogies to the small gathering of close family members. Later, at graveside, I felt we needed more, and so I turned again to the Church and prayed the Rite of Committal with Final Commendation, which is authorized for use by the laity.
“Into your hands, Father of mercies, we commend our sister Barbara in the sure and certain hope that, together with all who have died in Christ, she will rise with him on the last day. Merciful Lord, turn toward us and listen to our prayers: open the gates of paradise to your servant and help us who remain to comfort one another with assurances of faith, until we all meet in Christ and are with you and our sister for ever. We ask this through Christ our Lord.”
Once again, the wisdom of the Church revealed itself. The formal, poetic language of the Rite communicated more than my words ever could have, and provided everyone present – Catholic and non-Catholic – with the fitting send-off Barbara Gordon would have wanted. And so, my earthly mother is gone but Holy Mother Church remains, to comfort and console, to teach and to feed, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Mark Gordon is a partner at PathTree, a consulting firm focused on organizational resilience and strategy. He also serves as president of both the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Diocese of Providence, and a local homeless shelter and soup kitchen. Mark is the author of Forty Days, Forty Graces: Essays By a Grateful Pilgrim. He and his wife Camila have been married for 31 years and they have two adult children.