To be honest I never really paid attention to All Souls Day or the Church’s dedication of November to those who have gone before us.
I was more focused on November’s finer attributes, such as beautiful leaves capped off by a full-fledged no-calorie-counting foodie fest. No one close to me had ever died before. As I headed into my 30s, I still had all of my grandparents.
When it came to All Souls Day, why show up for the event if I didn’t have a horse in the race?
All that changed when my father was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease in his late 50s. Terminal. The word should have been enough to prepare me for what was coming, but instead, we all lived in a cloud of denial. It was easier that way. And my dad was seemingly unaffected. He went to work every day and joined, as he always had, in each family dinner. Death for him just wasn’t possible, we all thought. And besides, when it came to facing death, we felt the odds were in our favor. Mine were on the world’s strongest man, the bearded Puerto Rican, the Eagle Scout and fearless father of nine.
But on a cold January morning death came anyway. I joined my mom and my siblings as we gathered around my dad’s bedside and watched as his breathing became more and more labored. When we realized he was dying, we called a priest for his Last Rites. As the prayers concluded, the priest advised us to take a moment and quietly give the gift of forgiveness to my unconscious father. Instead, I heard my baby brother whisper, “Thank you, Dad.” One by one each one of us joined in in a litany of thanks to this man who had cared for us so deeply. Who had sacrificed so much to give us worldly possessions and heavenly aspirations. The room filled as our voices mingled together with praise and gratitude.
It was almost five years later that my siblings and I again took vigil. This time I had discovered my mom unresponsive. We were told when she arrived at the emergency room that she had suffered from a brain hemorrhage and there was nothing to be done. We huddled around our beloved mother—this holy woman who had showered each of us with unconditional love and saw Jesus in everything, every detail, and every person. Knowing how important that gift of time was, we used every precious moment we were given. We said prayers, welcomed several priests, sang the Salve Regina and took turns holding her hand. When her breath became slow and deep, a familiar sound to all of us present, we once again joined our voices in thanksgiving.
It sounds funny, but I count my parents’ deaths as one of the biggest blessings of my life. Not that they died, but the manner in which they did so. In both instances God gave us the gift of time. We were blessed to be able to wait and watch with them as they began their journey from this world to the hereafter. We had no idea that this time given to us would become our biggest asset in facing the long and treacherous journey of grief. Our gift to our parents was sending them on their way with unrestrained sentiments of love. Our kiss from Christ was knowing the last words that we had said to this man and woman, who we loved so dearly. And this became our greatest consolation.
This month, as I join the Church to pray for my parents and all the faithfully departed, I will also remember to pray for those who are dying. That they, and their loved ones, may be given the gift of holding vigil. And if not, that those dying, and those who mourn them, may feel the presence and love of our Father in a deep and profound way. And Holy Mary, Mother of God, please pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
Maria Garabis Davisholds a Juris Doctor degree and a BA in theology. A former youth minister and now practicing attorney, she resides in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and four children.