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Preparing for a death, not a birth this Advent

I spent the past two days at my grandmother’s bedside, watching her die. We don’t know how long she has — minutes, hours, days, weeks? For anyone who’s been there, you know what I mean when I say it is both horrible and awe-inspiring to experience the dying process up close. When I said goodbye, I knew it was likely the last time I would see my grandmother alive since I don’t live close enough to pop in for regular visits. I whispered, “I love you,” as I hugged her, not expecting a response, but she whispered it right back to me. And so, as sad as it was, I will have that with me forever, that final exchange of love.

As I drove the two hours home, intermittently singing along with the radio and crying into my Dunkin Donuts coffee, I began thinking of what needed to happen in the days ahead, and I realized that as the rest of the world prepares to celebrate a birth at Christmas, my family is preparing to celebrate a death. And somehow it seemed fitting. Our Scripture readings this season focus not only on the coming of Christ in a manger but on his coming again. We are reminded to be ever watchful, to understand that our hour could come when we least expect it. I briefly thought about the very real possibility that I could die in a car crash on the way home before my almost-101-year-old grandmother takes her last breath. And isn’t that exactly what Advent is meant to stir up in us?

It’s not — despite what the world would like us to think — simply a time to hang decorations and fill stockings. It is a time to take stock. Where have we been, where are we going, what do we need to do to prepare the way of the Lord in the manger at Christmas and in our hearts each day?

Driving up the highway, I found myself overcome with a sadness tinged with an odd joy every time some spectacular scene came into view. As I looked ahead at the beautiful snow-covered Adirondack Mountains, I marveled at the way their bluish-white color was the same as the sky, the same as the clouds, and yet every peak and every cloud was distinct and magnificent. And I cried because I think I was overtaken by the reality of God’s awesome hand in all of this, a force that could set this world and this life into motion and then pull pieces of it back, sometimes without warning and sometimes so slowly we beg for mercy.

When I was only a couple of miles from home, I rounded a bend to face a sky streaked with orange and pink and steely winter grays as the sun sank to the horizon line, leaving a bright glow in its wake, and I thought of my grandmother, about how she will never see another sunset, which made me sad, and about how she is facing the sunset of her life, which made me sadder.  How do we prepare for that? We want only joy and blessings and possibility, but this life demands that we accept sorrow and sacrifice and an eternity that never seems to arrive at a good time. Are we ready? Not yet, as least not here in this heart. But these days, these hours of watching and waiting give us the chance to prepare, to come to an understanding, however painful, of who we are and where we are headed and to look forward with hope anyway.


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13 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’ve been holding you in prayer Mary, you and your grandmother. What a gift she gave you in her whisper, the whisper of God.

    December 13, 2013
  2. It is a heart-rending personal story, but beautifully said. Thank you.
    Blessings and prayers.

    December 13, 2013
  3. I remember when my own grandmother passed away. Other than the births of my children, it was the most awe inspiring event of my life. Such a blessing. My perspective on death completely turned around and I found myself so grateful to be able to serve her in some small way – in return for all of the love she showed me for my whole life.

    I’m keeping you both in my prayers. St. Joseph, pray for us!

    December 13, 2013
  4. I’m so sorry for the loss of your grandmother, Mary.

    December 13, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      She’s still with us, but barely. We are just watching and waiting and praying now. Thank you for all the kind thoughts and prayers!

      December 13, 2013
  5. Robin Gerrow #

    Mary, I’m so sorry. I know this sounds weird, but maybe it will make you smile a bit as well. I think of your grandmother almost every time I have a glass of red wine, because she said it OK for me to add an ice cube in the summer!

    December 13, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      I think that’s great. 🙂

      I also remember you wanting to “fix” the salad the way my grandmother does — with her hands instead of utensils. I remember you went to serve it to some St. David’s folks (I think) and couldn’t bring yourself to stick your hands in their salad. At least I think I remember you telling me that.

      December 13, 2013
      • Robin #

        I’ve gotten over that–it’s Tom’s favorite way for me to make the salad!

        December 15, 2013
        • Mary DeTurris Poust #

          I love that!

          December 17, 2013
  6. Shelly #

    Thinking of you and your family as you prepare to say goodbye and thank you to a grandmother who so touched/enriched your life both in her living and in her dying. No greater shared words than I love you:).

    December 13, 2013
  7. Thinking of you and your family, Mary. Sending prayers of strength.

    December 14, 2013
  8. Walt Chura, O.F.S. #

    Dear Mary, In the midst of tears, imagine spending Christmastide with the Holy Family.

    December 14, 2013
  9. Grace Deasy #

    Some say that death is the “birth” to new life; so may that be the path your grandmother will be taking. She is getting ready for a new home, the one from where she came from. Think of the joy that she will encounter at that reunion. Although she will miss the things of this world, she will have many new things to delight in … and they will be heavenly.

    December 14, 2013

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