Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.
First frost approaches now at the end of September here in Virginia. In the next several weeks, my garden in the Shenandoah Valley will transform. The summer vegetables—tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers—will die from the frost. Dead plants will be removed; the soil will be amended with compost; seeds for a cover crop will go in the ground to prepare for next year. The fall vegetables—kale, beets, chard, sweet peas, carrots—tolerate frost. They will actually become sweeter as a result. Garlic bulbs need to be planted now to be harvested next June. After three years in the garden, there is now a familiar rhythm to the close of September.
The last week of September also marks the birthdays of my parents. Today is my mother’s birthday. My father’s birthday was several days ago.
My father Paul passed away in 2006 after a six-year battle with colon cancer. Those years turned into an opportunity for reconciliation and healing of relationships for him. He was a model of patient endurance through rounds of experimental cancer treatments, continuing to practice law until close to the end. He wanted to die with his boots on, so to speak. As death approached, he cooperated with grace, worked through a long-standing issue and received spiritual healing.1 By the grace of God, I was able to travel to Minnesota and be present for his last day. His passing was a moment of peace and grace. Even the hospice nurse, a fallen-away Catholic, cried at the presence of God in that moment.
My mother Phyllis passed away ten years later, in 2016, after a nine-week battle with lung cancer. As long as my father’s battle with cancer had been, my mother’s was brief. She did not want to go through what he had endured. She had remarried and moved to the wine country in Northern California in the intervening years. Our relationship had been up and down as a result (family is complicated). With the cancer diagnosis, we were able to re-establish a closer relationship over several brief visits out to California.
As she began hospice care, updates came from her husband periodically. I had a trip scheduled to Southern California for a deposition. That morning, feeling spiritually low, I went to a nearby church and went to confession. I left feeling better and ready to focus on preparing for the deposition. Late afternoon, the phone rang. It was my mother’s husband calling to tell me that she was not doing well. The hospice nurse thought that she would be passing away today.
I called home. A decision had to be made quickly. Should I try and get to Northern California tonight? We found a flight leaving Orange County in an hour. My hotel was across the street. I packed and rushed over. I returned the rental car; took the shuttle bus; went through security; hurried to the gate; walked on the plane. A few minutes later, the door closed and we pushed back and departed to San Jose. On the flight, I found a rental car and mapped out the drive. I would be arriving in San Jose around 9 pm. It was a two-and-a-half hour drive from there to her home in Healdsburg. I would be lucky to get there by midnight if there was no traffic in the Bay Area. It was already late at night when I picked up the rental car (a familiar experience to a road warrior) and began the drive around the Bay.
Close to midnight, I pulled up to the house. I had been praying continually since I received the call from her husband, and now I wondered—did I make it? What would I find when I came into the house? God’s will be done.
I entered the house and climbed the stairs. It was immediately apparent to me that my mother was still alive, but was in a panic. Her eyes were closed, the hospital bed they had brought in was propped up, she was breathing rapidly, and she appeared to be in a state of panic. I knew that the one thing she feared most from an episode my father had in the hospital one time was suffocating to death. I approached the bed, and said, “Mom, it’s Eric. I’m here.” She immediately sat up in the bed and cried out.
I brought a chair next to the bed and began to pray out loud. As the prayers started, her body started to relax. Her breathing began to become calm. I prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet. I pulled out my breviary and began to pray Compline (Night Prayer). Near the end of Compline is the Nunc dimíttis.
“Nunc dimíttis ✠ servum tuum, Dómine, * secúndum verbum tuum in pace: Quia vidérunt óculi mei * salutáre tuum, Quod parásti * ante fáciem ómnium populórum, Lumen ad revelatiónem géntium, * et glóriam plebis tuæ Israël.”
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”
In God’s providence, He put together what seemed to be an extremely improbable chain of events to allow me to be physically and spiritually present for my mother’s passing. I happened to already be in California; I had spiritually prepared myself that morning with the sacrament of confession; I caught the last flight north on an hour’s notice; I drove around the Bay Area without hitting construction or traffic; I arrived in the middle of the night while my mother was still alive. After this long and improbable journey, we spent a brief hour together there in prayer. Peace had entered the room. My mother was then able to pass away peacefully to be with God.
Two parents. Two deaths. Two different situations. But the never-changing God that they loved and tried to serve during their lives, each in their own way, was there at the end. God is faithful. He is with you in your suffering. He does not abandon his children. Know that God will show up, even at the eleventh hour, because He loves you. You have His Word on it.
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.2
Eric A. Welter is an employment lawyer and trial attorney with a long-time devotion to intercessory prayer. He is a Catholic Christian who has been involved with intercessory and healing prayer ministry for over twenty years. The Abound in Hope Ministry website is https://www.aboundinhope.org/ministry.
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