Starting Point
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Issue Date:  March 3, 2006

Starting Point


I never really knew her first name. She was always just called “Grandma.”

She lived with my childhood friend’s family as an honored guest. When I went over there we always had to play quietly because “Grandma was sick and very tired.” As a child I waited years for her to get better and feel rested. I didn’t understand the reason Grandma lived with her eldest son was because she wasn’t going to get better.

The family accommodated her declining health with determination and grace. She was never left alone, she was given the best bedroom on the first floor of the house, the family TV was moved into her room. My friend’s family didn’t have much, but whatever they had they sacrificed for this woman.

I don’t remember her funeral. What I do remember is the lesson playing quietly in her near presence taught me: We all need to prepare to die and we need the help of others to do it. I’ve watched friends prepare for a birth with eagerness and much activity. I’ve also watched friends die. Very few have done it deliberately. I suppose that’s natural and yet, maybe it is not so much natural as the way we’ve begun to do things recently.

Could it be as obvious and common as this: For all of our sophistication, we avoid ultimate questions, especially questions about our own demise and destiny? We avoid facing our own death with a fear our ancestors didn’t know. Postmodern enlightenment has not freed us but has locked us in a smaller, secular world of immediacy.

I remember Grandma praying incessantly. Even with the TV going, she fingered her beads and moved her lips. She practiced living in one world with her eyes fixing ever more clearly on another. I was told she didn’t die in her sleep, but quietly with her eyes wide open. It seemed scary to me as a child, but as an adult I am less afraid and more envious of her preparation to go into that dark night looking for the Lord.

Fr. George R. Szews is pastor of the Newman Parish in Eau Claire, Wis.

National Catholic Reporter, March 3, 2006

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