Tag Archives: death

‘Til death do us part

October 2, 2013

1 Comment

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us! (1 John 3:1)

kirsch2

Marriage isn’t merely about the husband and wife, it’s also about the people around the couple as they live this holy sacrament.  Eugene and Mary Kirsch’s 58-year-marriage was a source of blessing to many others because of the beautiful witness they gave.

And they continued to teach about married love–until the very end.

“Family and faith is what’s important!”

Eugene (Gene) and Mary met on a blind date. Since both were very active, they went bowling for this first outing together. Their love seemed a perfect strike from the beginning, and they married in 1955. Five years later, they moved to a home in Roseville and joined Maternity of Mary Church in St. Paul. They raised four daughters–Vicki, Lori, Kathy and Karen. All of the girls went to grade school at Maternity of Mary, and got married there.

Gene and Mary had a home business together–Gene was an accountant and mainly worked out of their basement, while Mary typed forms for him upstairs. Mary was also a part-time sales associate at the JCPenney store in Roseville for 13 years. Their daughter, Vicki Flannigan, said, “Gaining wealth was never important to our parents, but family and faith was important.”

The Kirschs were devout Catholics. In fact, Mary attended daily Mass until she married at age 21, and resumed doing so when she retired from JCPenney. They were active parishioners for 53 years at Maternity of Mary. They were extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, went to Eucharistic Adoration together each week, and helped plan the Cana dinners. “We teased Dad because his pants always had holes in the knees from praying all the Rosaries,” their daughter, Karen Cossack, wrote.

“They always struck me as a couple very much in love,” the Kirschs’ pastor, Father Peter Williams, said. “They were faithful, devoted, and possessed a good sense of humor. I appreciated how they lived their vows, and the manner in which they raised their daughters.”

What’s the secret to a long marriage?

Their daughter Vicki said, “Our parents had a beautiful, married life. The perfect marriage, really. I cannot recall any disrespect or quarreling among those two.”

What was their secret to marital bliss?

Their children think it was a combination of a many things. They only had one plain TV set and seemed to somehow agree on the channel. Perhaps the simple life of one TV and two recliners aided in their success? As they aged, they continued to be active–in their faith, and with other things.  They took walks around the block together all year round, never walking without the other.  They played tennis and golf almost daily and went on 38 cruises together. Yep, 38! Gene would often get up on the ship’s stage and play the piano for people. He liked to sing, too–real loudly; at church, and at other places as well. Once, during a relative’s wedding reception, Gene took the microphone from the DJ and serenaded Mary with the song It had to be you.  Their daughter, Karen, wrote: “When the DJ asked them to reveal the secret of their long marriage, Mom just responded, “Love.”

Vicki wrote in an email:

“The key word for their successful marriage is ‘compliment.’ In my entire childhood and adult life, I can vividly recall both of them complimenting each other all the time! Dad complimented on every meal, nearly every bite! I believe that sometimes the food wasn’t all that delicious but dad still found the part of the meal that he would compliment her on — maybe just the fact that the food was served warm! She would compliment him on all his talents — piano playing, singing, being such a great conversationalist, speaking German, etc.”

In sickness and in health

Five years ago, Mary was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and it progressed fairly quickly, especially the type of dementia which is linked with this disease. Gene had a pace maker, but was still doing well. When their parents’ health first started this decline, their daughters turned their childhood home into a care facility. They organized meals for them and brought them to Mass at Maternity of Mary each week. Every day, the daughters made sure that one of them was there to check on their parents and visit with them. They had an excellent system in place.

All eight of the Kirsch grandchildren helped take care of Grandma and Grandpa, too. For example, Bridget Flannigan (age 29), a professional stylist, did Grandma’s hair and nails regularly. Katie King, age 23, a nurse at the Amplatz Children’s Hospital, checked her grandparents’ blood pressure and monitored their other medical needs–she also prayed with them.

On March 14 of this year, Mary fell in her home and fractured her tail bone. She was brought to the hospital and it was decided that she needed transitional care just long enough to recuperate. She was there for two weeks, and each morning the daughters brought their dad to the facility to visit and recite the Rosary. But Mary failed to thrive, and was not eating much.

Easter was on March 31st of this year (2013). While Mary was at the healthcare facility, twenty or so members from the Kirsch family accompanied Gene to Mass at Maternity of Mary. After Masses at their church, it is a tradition that the congregation prays an Our Father, a Hail Mary and a Glory Be for the next parishioner to pass away. Little did the Kirsch family know that they were all praying for Eugene–he was to meet his heavenly reward later that week.

However, before he passed on, Gene continued to visit his wife. In fact, the whole family piled into their cars after Easter Mass and paid Mary a joyful visit. “My mom and dad kissed on Easter and had a wonderful day surrounded by children and grandchildren,” wrote Karen. But Gene wasn’t quite himself while his bride was in the facility. It was so sad for him to see the love of his life suffering. Two days after Easter–while Gene was sitting beside his wife–she slumped forward into his lap, unresponsive. His beloved wife never spoke or opened her eyes again. The family was called together to pray the Rosary at Mary’s bedside. They knew the end was near, and prayed that it would be peaceful.

The next day, the family made the decision to move both Mary and Gene into the Shoreview Senior Living Center with the intention of having them together. Mary received hospice care while their daughters began the difficult task of planning for her funeral. “In the nursing home, when I was reading Matthew Kelly’s book, Rediscover Catholicism, to my parents, we all cried together. I felt both of their hearts were open and ready for God’s will,” said Karen.

A happy ending

Two days later, on the night of April 5, Gene and Mary were at the care center in their new beds–which were right next to each other. Some of their daughters were in sleeping bags on the floor. During the night, Gene got up to get a glass of water. In mid stride, he passed on–gently sinking to the ground as if he were carried in the arms of Jesus. “We thought God would take our mother first,” Vicki said, “and we knew that would be too hard on Dad.”

But God works in mysterious ways, and the Kirsch daughters now know that it was best that their father went first. They told their mother to look for Dad’s hand and go to heaven.

Two days later, Mary passed away peacefully. She had been anointed by Fr. Williams who had just returned from Italy. Mary and Gene–who loved to do everything together—were laid to rest on the same day. The Maternity of Mary altar was still decorated with the lovely Easter flowers that Mary admired each season. “They were a wonderful couple, something of a fixture at Maternity of Mary for decades,” Fr. Williams said. “They were likable and endearing. It was an honor for me to preside over their double funeral Mass – the first time such a thing has occurred for me in my nine years of serving as a priest.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading...

The Assumption: Our Earthly Bodies and Heaven

August 14, 2013

0 Comments

Painting in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, MD.   Photo/Jim, the Photographer.  Licensed by Creative Commons.

Painting in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, MD. Photo/Jim, the Photographer. Licensed by Creative Commons.

I’ve sometimes wondered if the Blessed Mother experienced the wrinkles and pains of old age. She was human and by all accounts didn’t have an easy life. The Church tells us she had no pain when she gave birth to Our Lord, but during the rest of her life there must have been some hardship and suffering.

The dying who suffer terribly in their bodies are not always sad at the prospect of leaving them to meet God. Yet the Church teaches that the Lord did take His mother’s aged body to heaven at the Assumption.

As the angels bore her body there, maybe the aging process went in reverse so that by the time she got there she looked the way she has in her apparitions. That’s not to say she wasn’t equally beautiful in her later years on earth but she has mostly appeared to us as a younger-looking woman.

Why bring her earthly body to heaven?

God could have made a new body in heaven for the Blessed Virgin. Why did he choose to bring her earthly body which, if it’s like mine, came with runny nose, bad breath and hangnails? The most obvious answer is that her body was the tabernacle of the Most High, Christ’s first earthly home.  According to Father Canice Bourke, OFM Cap.:

The womb that bore Jesus Christ, the hands that caressed him, the arms that embraced him, the breasts that nourished him, the heart that so loved him — it is impossible to think that these crumbled into dust.

Another reason appears in what we profess in the Apostles Creed: “The resurrection of the body…” This essential Christian doctrine is explained in the Catechism:

We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess” (Council of Lyons II: DS 854). We sow a corruptible body in the tomb, but he raises up an incorruptible body, a “spiritual body.” (CCC 1017)

Our Lady was the first to receive the fruits of our redemption in her Immaculate Conception. She did not sin and it is believed that her body was immune to corruption. Would she not also be the first after Christ to experience the resurrection which all the faithful will experience?

Cremation for the Blessed Virgin?

According to the Golden Legend, a 13th century collection of saint biographies, Our Lady’s body was placed in a tomb for three days after her death (though whether she did actually die has been disputed by scholars for centuries). During that time, some who thought Christ was a traitor sought to burn her body.

It’s hard to imagine someone actively destroying the body of the Mother of God. And it makes me question whether we should do this to our own bodies, which St. Paul calls temples of the Holy Spirit.

The Church does allow cremation, “provided it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.” (CCC 2301)

Thankfully, it didn’t happen to the body of the Blessed Mother. According to the Golden Legend, Christ and a company of angels came to bring Our Lady’s body to heaven. St. Gregory, Bishop of Tours wrote in 594 AD:

“The Lord…commanded the body of Mary be taken in a cloud into paradise; where now, rejoined to the soul, Mary dwells with the chosen ones.”

I hope to be one of the chosen ones, up there in my body. Hopefully without the dry skin and wrinkles.

Continue reading...

Reflections on the Triduum – The Easter Vigil

April 1, 2013

2 Comments

Easter Lily For the last 7 years or so I have helped with the liturgy for the Easter Vigil at my parish.  I love helping with this liturgy.  Their is so much going on! Baptisms, confirmations, first communions and the history of the the Church all rolled into one.  When I went to my first Vigil some 10 years ago it was the beauty and drama that caught my attention.
The church was filled with flowers and banners and the choir was singing “Horse and chariots are cast into the sea!” and the night starts outside with a fire.    Even to a secular eye their is allot going on – I remember thinking “this is like a Cecil B DeMille movie or an opera!”

The history of the world unfolds in the readings.  Present day new Catholics are welcomed into the church.  The culmination of the last three days is given its context.
But their is such paradox and depth and mystery.  Every year I try to understand it more.

Their is always something that surprises me in this liturgy, this year it is the line from the Exulet.

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer! Most blessed of all nights, chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Happy fault and necessary sin?

I went on line to read Pope Francis’ homily for Easter Vigil  to look for insight.  He speaks of the surprises  too, but he speaks of the surprise of the  women as they entered to tomb.

“We can imagine their feelings as they make their way to the tomb: a certain sadness, sorrow that Jesus had left them, he had died, his life had come to an end. Life would now go on as before. Yet the women continued to feel love, the love for Jesus which now led them to his tomb. But at this point, something completely new and unexpected happens, something which upsets their hearts and their plans, something which will upset their whole life: they see the stone removed from before the tomb, they draw near and they do not find the Lord’s body. It is an event which leaves them perplexed, hesitant, full of questions: “What happened?”, “What is the meaning of all this?” (cf. Lk 24:4). Doesn’t the same thing also happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life? We stop short, we don’t understand, we don’t know what to do. Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us. We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past. We are afraid of God’s surprises.”

I understand the fear – the fear of newness.  When I come on the unexpected I become fearful.  I want to control and if I can’t control the situation I usually lash out at those closes to me. When I left the Easter Vigil on Saturday night (well close to Sunday morning) My plans were set for the next day.  Family to church in the morning, Easter brunch at my sister’s house followed by driving my children back to their respective colleges.

But something unexpected happened.

My husband got a call in the middle of the night.  His father was dying and he left to be at his bedside.  Suddenly, our world turned topsy turvy.

My father in law died on Easter in the afternoon.  Pope Francis words came to me.

“We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past. We are afraid of God’s surprises.”

The Easter Vigil, like every Mass is meant to remind us,

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; but has risen” (Lk 24:5-6)

As I tried to find the words to comfort my mother-in-law and my husband, those words of the angels came to mind.

This isn’t the blog post I intended to write.  Things happened and we deal with the unexpected.

A little about my father in law.

Bob was once asked to a tryout for the Yankees baseball team, but declined the invite because of various complications. I think their were times in his life that he regretted that he didn’t try.

In the last few days of my father-in-law’s life he was asked, “Bob, if you get better what are you looking forward to doing?”

In those moments when a person is ill and the life here and our past seems to merge in our minds, Bob replied “Play Ball.”

The days and months ahead will be filled with grieving for Bob.  The thought though comes to mind that if we truly believe the Easter story, we wouldn’t be sad.

If we believe in the resurrection Bob will get to “Play ball.”

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Continue reading...

‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ shouldn’t be missed

November 2, 2012

0 Comments

Never was there so much life in a book about someone dying.

Will Schwalbe’s memoir of his mother’s last two years glows with inspiration. This is a beautifully written new work that has an urging and urgency that will move you to read more books and better books while at the same time compel you to get up off your couch and do something, to both relish time with the ones you love and to be a person for others, a person who dares to help a stranger, even strangers around the globe.

If you love to read, you won’t want to miss “The End of Your Life Book Club” (Knopf).

If you want to absorb some wisdom from a person who got the most out of life and gave back even more, read this book.

If you want to meet a woman in whom the spiritual wasn’t just part of her but imbued in her every fiber, read this book.

Mary Anne Schwalbe was a remarkable woman both before and after pancreatic cancer made its presence known.

A leader among women

She was the first woman director of admissions at Harvard and Radcliffe and first woman president of the Harvard Faculty Club. She was the founding director of the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children and deeply involved with the International Rescue Committee. She was an election monitor in Bosnia, a college counselor and head of a high school. She was a trustee at Marymount Manhattan College and counted De La Salle Academy in Manhattan as one of her favorite schools.

Even as the cancer in her abdomen sapped her strength she worked to form a foundation to build – what else – a library, in Afghanistan, a country she visited nine times in order to be able to report on the status of refugees there.

The anecdotes about her heroic efforts in refugee camps on several continents are merely the mortar in between the bricks that make us this exceptional work.

Those bricks are books.

And when Mary Anne Schwalbe’s son Will writes about he and his mother reading books and sharing their thoughts about them, they create a fine a piece of literature.

‘What are you reading?’

Author Will Schwalbe acknowledges honestly that the “book club” is something his mother started unwittingly and he joined grudgingly. The family had always discussed books and movies and the like, so when mother and son found themselves together regularly for hours both before and during treatments for the tumors in her pancreas, the question, “What are you reading?” came up naturally, and this unique, two-person book club came into existence.

Chapter titles are the titles of the books the pair read and discussed.

Here’s just a handful and the snippets of “book club” comments and conversation.

There’s “Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson: Reading the novel, Mom said, “was like praying.” It “gave her another chance to talk with God.”

There’s “The Lizard Cage” by Karen Connelly about life in prison in Burma, “which, Mom says, makes one forget any problems here.”

A book shouldn’t just inspire you, Mary Anne Schwalbe claims, “It should make you furious.” And she took from “Gilead” a question she thought all should ask themselves: “What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation?”

They read Patricia Highsmith’s “The Price of Salt,” eliciting Mary Anne to comment, “That’s one of the amazing things great books like this do – they don’t just get you to see the world differently, they get you to look at people, the people all around you, differently.”

The Schwalbe mother-son book club balanced reading new works and older ones, fiction and non-fiction, Mohsin Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” as well as T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral”; “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson.

In their pages the two find insight into friendship, loneliness, fate, the effects of choices, the joy of thanking, benevolence, stewardship, anger, forgiveness, suicide, absolution, joy, death, kindness, aging, relationships, second chances.

Books help us talk about something we don’t want to talk about, Will Schwalbe declares.

A spiritual life lived

A Presbyterian, Mary Anne Schwalbe kept “The Book of Common Prayer” handy and Mary Wilder Tileston’s 1884 “Daily Strength for Daily Needs” even closer.

She succumbed to the cancer some two years after it was diagnosed, having bookmarked a page in “Daily Strength” that contained the quote from John Ruskin: “If you do not wish for His Kingdom, don’t pray for it. But if you do, you must do more than pray for it; you must work for it.”

She tended to steer the book club toward works where Christian faith played an important role, her son wrote.

The book offers insight to us all in how to talk with those ill with a “treatable but not curable” disease. Ask not “How are you feeling?” but “Would you like to talk about how you’re feeling?” And, if you are thinking about sending a message to someone in hospice, do it.

Author Will Schwalbe noted, as he and his family dealt with the situation, “I was learning that when you’re with someone who is dying, you may need to celebrate the past, live the present and mourn the future all at the same time.”

There’s a slice of the author’s mother’s wisdom on every page.

For example, after a chemotherapy treatment one day, she doesn’t perk up. She explains, “I’m feeling a little sad. I know there’s a life everlasting – but I wanted to do much more here.”

That Mary Anne Schwalbe did enough while with the living we’ll  leave to her creator’s judgment.

But the story of the book club that she and son Will devised have left a remarkable gift for those of us left behind.

Will writes what he learned from his mother:

“Books are how you take part in the human conversation, how we know what to do in life and how we tell others, how we get closer to each other and stay close.”

Continue reading...

Cremation and the scattering of ashes

September 30, 2011

2 Comments

grave

Photo by _Skender_. Licensed through Creative Commons.

For as long as I can remember, my grandfather used to tell my brothers and me that he wanted to be cremated. Not understanding what it was about, cremation seemed like a scary thing to me.

As I got older, I didn’t know if the Church would allow it. In the end, though, grandpa got his wish–by the time he passed away in 2000, cremation was becoming more common among Catholics.

While I was researching respectful treatment of cadavers in an anatomy lab for a story in the Catholic Spirit, I started wondering exactly how the Church looks at the body at death, what she teaches about cremation and how we’re supposed to treat a person’s cremated remains.

The Catechism states that “the bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection.” (CCC 2300) Though we don’t know if our bodies in this life will be the ones we will have in eternal life, our bodies are a gift and they deserve special care and treatment, said Dr. Paul Wojda, associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas who teaches a course in bioethics.

“The Catholic position takes the body seriously, it takes material creation seriously,” he said.” It takes the earth seriously because of its deeply sacramental significance.”

So how does cremation come into this?

For centuries the church didn’t allow cremation because it saw the practice as an open denial of the Resurrection by non-Christians, Wojda said.

Then in 1963 the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified the regulation, permitting cremation in cases of necessity, but prohibiting it for anyone openly denying the faith. The 1983 Code of Canon Law states that a person may choose to be cremated if they have the right intention. (No. 1176, 3)

“It’s no longer the case that the Church frowns on it,” Wojda said. “It permits it but I wouldn’t say it’s out there promoting it. If you were cremated that used to be a clear sign that you were not religious, or not Christian or not Catholic but that’s no longer the case.”

While she permits cremation, the Church does not approve of scattering a loved one’s ashes or keeping them at home in an urn.

According to the Order of Christian Burial:

The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum  or columbarium (site for storage of cinerary urns). The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires.

Burial at sea is permitted, however. A person’s cremated remains “may be properly buried at sea in the urn, coffin or other container in which they have been carried to the place of committal.” (OCF 416)

A big problem with scattering someone’s ashes is that there’s no specific place to honor the person, Wojda said.

Also, he said, “I think what we have to recognize is that the scattering of ashes has been used historically and even up until the 20th century as a sign of contempt for the person who died.”

My grandpa had his reasons for wanted to be cremated. I’m glad he’s buried next to my grandma in a cemetery where I can honor them both.

Continue reading...

Can Catholics laugh? Let’s see

July 29, 2011

1 Comment

From the Ironic Catholic (Hey, Google her site!)

An old preacher was dying. He requested that his IRS agent and his lawyer come to his home. When they entered his bedroom, the preacher motioned for them to sit on each side of the bed.

Both the IRS agent and lawyer were touched that the old preacher wanted them to be with him in his final hour. They were also curious, since the preacher had never given any indication of liking either one of them. Finally, the lawyer asked, “Pastor, why did you ask us to come?”
The old preacher mastered up some strength, then said weakly, “Jesus died between two thieves, and that’s how I want to go too.”
Continue reading...