“My Lord and my God, from this moment I accept at Thy hands, with resignation and cheerfulness, the kind of death it may please Thee to send me, with all its pains and anguish.”
Recently, it occurred to me that my daydreams have never been exactly what they ought to be. As any girl who senses the vocation of marriage in her soul might do, I’ve often let my chin fall to my fist while I daydreamed up the perfect wedding day (and these daydreams are punctuated by the minutest liturgical details, such as the floating chant of the Introit of the Nuptial Mass: “Deus Israël conjungat vos: et ipse sit vobiscum . . .”), or of future children being born and baptized (complete with things such as the Exsufflation and with their little mouths squirming from the intrusion of blessed salt), and receiving their First Communions (at the altar rail) and Confirmations (slapped on the cheek, naturally).
I’ve daydreamed of attending imaginary FSSP priestly ordinations of friends (“Oh, raptures, I can hear him softly praying the Canon for the first time with his newly ordained fellow priests!”), and I’ve nurtured countless smaller daydreams of future domestic life as its potential Keeper of the Hearth. Being largely sanguine, I’m capable of galloping a thousand (imaginary) miles per minute . . . if I’m not actively engaged in combating distraction for my own mental and spiritual good, that is.
But it struck me a few days ago that I have never purposefully daydreamed about my death.
Which is odd, because of all potential subjects with which I could daydream up a storm, my death is the one thing in life (or almost out of it) I can count upon, with all certainty, to actually happen to me. As befits the beautiful sign of contradiction that is the Catholic Faith, my death will be the most important moment, the defining moment, of my life: its summation, its crowning note, for better or for worse—salvation or damnation, forever. Yet, curiously, it naturally ranks rather low on my “let’s daydream about this today” list.
And so the premise intrigued me: to daydream about my death.
Of course, to frequently meditate on the reality of one’s death is rather imperative for the Christian, by all traditional (and just plain sensible) accounts. I am going to die, after all. My soul will one day separate from my body; immutably sealed in its then-current state, it will be summoned immediately to my Particular Judgment (God help me).
Just like everyone else, I’ve been left clueless as to the day of my death; to the age, weight, hair color (if my hair remains by then . . .) and mental faculties I’ll possess at the time of my death; to what, precisely, I’ll be dying from and how long it will take. I pray fervently I’ll be spared a sudden death, that I’ll be blessed with the assistance of the last Sacraments, and so forth. But I really know nothing at all about my impending death; no details, no hints, except that it will happen . . . and, in the grand scheme of things, it will happen soon. If I hope to be spiritually prepared for it in any way, then meditate on its awesome reality I must.
To my mind, daydreaming about death differs from meditating on death because daydreaming involves mental storytelling, the fabrication and weaving of intricate details based on the whims of your desires and experiences (or lack thereof). In meditation, you quiet and discipline your mind so as to contemplate a truth; in daydreaming, you let loose and narrate a story to yourself. Although it’s inferior to meditation, I think the possibility remains that a good daydream, of the right sort, might lead to a wholesome meditation. And so I propose that if I spend the next half-hour concocting one decent daydream of my own death, it might cultivate a propensity in me to think about my death—and, consequently, begin to meditate on it—more often.
Echoing the traditional prayer, I wholeheartedly embrace whatever death Our Lord has destined for me, down to the tiniest details. With that kept always in respect, I think I can safely proceed to weave my first daydream of my death . . .
* * *
Peering towards the end, I would first like to imagine I’m not dying in a hospital.
Hospitals are for the preservation of earthly life, after all; and so attempting to die in a controlled environment, one nobly dedicated to saving life, feels similar to making a date with one’s friend at a Krispy Kreme in order to solemnly disclose you’re never eating sugar again. I’m afraid it wouldn’t put me in the best frame of mind for total surrender.
So in this daydream of death, in which I may pick and choose the details, I’m dying wherever my home would be — or, at least, in a place that would feel like a home to me, such as the home of a friend or family member.
I’m lying in a small room, a quiet room, with no electronics but perhaps a window; and I’m surrounded by a simple arrangement of the holy images I’ve come to hold dear across my life. The Sacred Heart of Jesus; the Sorrowful Heart of Mary; St. Joseph; St. Anthony; St. Raphael; a Madonna and Child, especially “The Song of the Angels”; St. Faustina. Perhaps most important of all, Our Lady of the Rosary, since it was on her feast that I first Totally Consecrated, and it will be on my Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary–perhaps more than anything else–that my frightened soul will be leaning during my last hours.
I don’t know what my sufferings will be, but without wanting to sound too morbid, I really do hope there will be significant pain at the end, and so there is pain in this daydream. I want there to be suffering that can be offered up for others; but most of all, suffering to be offered up in reparation for a lifetime’s worth of sins. What a staggering thought as I lay there, dying–my life is stretched out behind me, irrevocable. Clarity envelopes me; an awing clarity I wholly lacked back then. I will want to suffer, to offer reparation as much as I can!
This suffering is, most likely, the worst pain of my life, the last agony, but it is also a consolation because I know Our Lord is bestowing on me the gift of suffering purifying my love for Him. It isn’t a pain that robs me of peace, but rather, it is a channel of grace and final charity to my soul.
The room in which I’m lying is very still. However, through the walls, I can hear the muffled sounds of children playing and of dishes clattering; footsteps, maybe a slightly stumbling piano practice. These beloved household sounds remind me that while my approaching death is the most intense and perilous moment of my life, I am just a grain of sand in God’s universe, and that time and the people within it will carry on without my physical presence, for as long as He sees fit.
I am passing out of time; I am not the center of it, nor ever was.
This thought is utterly overwhelming; a mystery I can’t even begin to touch, and one that frightens me more than a little but is nevertheless true and unavoidable. I am leaving time and entering eternity. I am on the brink.
And, in this daydream, I know I am on the brink. I know, quite clearly, that I’m dying—and I’ve known for at least a little while. Through the infinite mercy of God, I’ve had time to pray, to receive the Sacraments frequently (my illness permitting), to contemplate death, to weep, to confess, to anticipate. I’ve been given time to be afraid and yet to renew within myself the sentiments of faith, hope and charity; to learn to be even joyful.
As I lay dying, surrounding me in the room are a handful of people softly murmuring the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary (in Latin; because I will die a stickler for Latin, and they will lovingly accommodate my wishes in hora mortis). As I daydream about this, I’m not sure who they are, precisely, though I see them as my family, either by blood or because we are members of the same Church Militant. Are they my future husband, future children, future grandchildren? Parish friends? Sisters in Christ whose babies I’ve held, tears I’ve dried, and with whom I’ve traded many a phone call over the hectic cacophany and quiet stillness of the unfolded tale of my life?
Or are they strangers?
Naturally, the presence my future husband enters immediately into my daydream’s consideration. But I’m not sure. Is he here, praying for and with me, holding my hand with the unwavering softness and steadiness that comes from a lifetime of knowing, loving and forgiving me in the Sacrament of Marriage . . . or am I without his physical presence? Have I already helped him in his own death, and am now suffering mine alone?
In building up this daydream, both options are their own mixture of wine and gall. If he is here with me physically as I die, then I know I’m aching over his own grief and over the thought of leaving him alone, and yet rejoicing because, God’s mercy permitting, I’ll be able to pray for him and his salvation far more efficaciously than on earth (even if it’s from Purgatory for a time). However, if he’s already gone, then I know I’m longing for the immediate consolation of his physical presence, but yet finding a deeper consolation in hoping he’s praying (either from Purgatory or Heaven) for my salvation in my final hour—again, far more efficaciously than he could on earth.
Since I feel I should choose this detail for my daydream, I would ultimately choose for my future husband to already be gone (although this is one of the countless reasons I am so very thankful Our Lord is in control, and not me–I won’t have to decide!); firstly, for the reason mentioned above (his, hopefully, praying for me with a power he could not have possessed on earth)–secondly, that I could offer up my loneliness without him as another sacrifice to God for reparation–and thirdly, because his physical absence would remind me all the more sharply that my approaching death is fully and utterly between God and myself, alone.
But regardless of anything else—of anyone else in the room—of whether they’re my children and I’ve lived decades of my life with them, or if I’ve never seen them until these last moments — . . . regardless of all these things, there is the priest.
Out of all the possible components of my daydream of death, the priest is the one that cannot be removed. He is there. With all absoluteness, I have to have him at my side . . . because he is Christ for me now.
In my daydream, I don’t need to know the priest’s name, to recognize his face or the modulations of his voice. I have been blessed to know, or hear of, so many wonderful priests, I now feel spoiled for choice. If, at this unknown time of my death, my age or location doesn’t accommodate my wonderful parish priest, then the priest in question might either belong to the FSSP (because I dote on them and long for the day I can meet one in person) or at least has a knowledge and pure, wholehearted love of the traditional rites.
This faithful priest sits beside me in a kitchen chair (relocated to the bedroom), his head bowed slightly, his body perhaps only a shadow in my sight, but he is there. He is accompanied by a Crucifix, a burning candle, the fragrant scent of holy oils, the book containing the Last Rites . . . he is a powerful warrior, armed to defend and aid me in my last combat. He is focused wholly on me and on protecting me and ushering me in to eternity. This is consoling beyond all words!
He is murmuring along with the Rosary, helping me to pray, and I am holding his hand as the intensity escalates, both of my pain and of the knowledge that I am about to die and to be judged. I have known for a long time that the moments leading up to death are the moments of unparalleled spiritual attack, and now I feel temptations to terror and despair sweeping over me. My countless sins and failures, distended and even grotesque, flicker sharply through my memory. I pray in fragments, in final battle. This good priest at my side has heard my Confession and absolved me; now, he urges me to have childlike trust in God and to surrender my soul entirely to the Blessed Virgin’s care, reminding me that I made myself entirely hers, and she will not forget me now. Repeatedly, I ask him to pray for me; in response, he nods each time and continues the Aves.
The Rosary is soon finished, and as the tempest thickens within me, I begin to hear the names of the saints.
Holy Mary, pray for her.
All ye holy Angels and Archangels, pray for her.
Holy Abel, pray for her.
All ye Choirs of the Just, pray for her.
Holy Abraham, pray for her.
St. John the Baptist, pray for her.
St. Joseph, pray for her . . .
My soul warms at the name of the Blessed Mother; my patron, St. John the Baptist; and good St. Joseph, my consolation. My eyes are closed now; I pray along with this last litany with increasing physical feebleness. The pain is, perhaps, at its highest point–but at the same time, I sense it is my rope to Heaven and I cling to it, struggling as mightily as I can to embrace and not reject it.
The priest’s voice finds me again.
“Go forth, O Christian soul, out of this world, in the name of God the Father almighty, Who created thee; in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, Who suffered for thee; in the name of the Holy Ghost, Who sanctified thee; in the name of the holy and glorious Mary, Virgin and Mother of God; in the name of the Angels, Archangels, Thrones, and Dominations, Cherubim and Seraphim; in the name of the Patriarchs and Prophets, of the holy Apostles and Evangelists, of the holy Martyrs, Confessors, Monks and Hermits, of the holy Virgins, and of all the Saints of God; may thy place be this day in peace, and thine abode in holy Sion. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
His prayers continue, guiding me like a small ship through a mighty storm while I, wearily but with hope, look for the first sign of stars.
Beyond this, I can’t formulate much more for this daydream. The precise moment of death is too shrouded to even daydream about. I do wish for one last thing, though: that this good priest, in my last minutes, would be able to assist me in making a final renewal of my Total Consecration.
” . . . I, Mary, a faithless sinner, renew and ratify today in thy hands the vows of my Baptism; I renounce forever Satan, his pomps and works; and I give myself entirely to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, to carry my cross after Him all the days of my life, and to be more faithful to Him than I have ever been before. In the presence of all the heavenly court I choose thee this day for my Mother and Mistress. I deliver and consecrate to thee, as thy slave, my body and soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, and even the value of all my good actions, past, present and future; leaving to thee the entire and full right of disposing of me, and all that belongs to me, without exception, according to thy good pleasure, for the greater glory of God in time and in eternity . . .
“O faithful Virgin, make me in all things so perfect a disciple, imitator and slave of the Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus Christ thy Son, that I may attain, by thine intercession and by thine example, to the fullness of His age on earth and of His glory in Heaven. Amen.”
And even as I am praying this to the best of my ability, clinging to the priest’s hand, still hearing snatches of children’s voices from behind the walls, I imagine the storm fading away; the tempest calming in my soul; the pain, even, ebbing; and, too wonderful almost to hope for, I imagine at last witnessing the mysterious fulfillment of Our Lady’s promise to those who honored her Seven Sorrows:
I will visibly help them at the moment of their death; they will see the face of their Mother.
And, in my daydream, I close my eyes for the last time; or, am I opening them?
* * *
It’s a strange feeling, to have just written a daydream of your own last agony. And yet, there’s a sense of peace hovering about it, as well.
In ruminating about what my death might be like, in hoping fervently for a holy one, and in having to depart from the daydream just before the actual moment of my death, I can’t resist a final glance at Screwtape’s last letter of ranting failure to Wormwood, which can now stand for an eloquent description of what I chose to leave unsaid:
He saw Him. This animal, this thing begotten in a bed, could look on Him. What is blinding, suffocating fire to you, is now cool light to him, is clarity itself, and wears the form of a Man. You would like, if you could, to interpret the patient’s prostration in the Presence, his self-abhorrence and utter knowledge of his sins (yes, Wormwood, a clearer knowledge even than yours) on the analogy of your own choking and paralysing sensations when you encounter the deadly air that breathes from the heart of Heaven. But it’s all nonsense. Pains he may still have to encounter, but they embrace those pains. They would not barter them for any earthly pleasure. All the delights of sense, or heart, or intellect, with which you could once have tempted him, even the delights of virtue itself, now seem to him in comparison but as the half nauseous attractions of a raddled harlot would seem to a man who hears that his true beloved whom he has loved all his life and whom he had believed to be dead is alive and even now at his door. He is caught up into that world where pain and pleasure take on transfinite values and all our arithmetic is dismayed.