“Son, why have you done this to us?”[i]
Okay. I’m just going to say it. I don’t want to contract covid–19 and die.
I don’t want any of my loved ones to die from it either.
I’d rather that none of us die at all. Well … that’s not exactly true. An endless life of endless aging doesn’t actually sound good, pleasing, or right in any way. Besides, I believe in the immortality of the soul, and I know that I cannot purely and fully experience the infinite — the pure, unfettered, endless embrace of God’s love — while still living within the finite. Nobody can. Death, as we know it, is simply the body and soul transition from the finite to the infinite, from natural life to supernatural life.
But I don’t want to start that transition just yet.
Death is terribly sorrowful for those who are left behind. In the midst of this current pandemic (there have been others in human history, of course) and efforts to stop the contagion through social distancing, we are realizing how fragile life is and how interconnected we all are. I’m sad not to be able to socialize with my sister, brother-in-law, and teenage nephews, as my aging parents and I avoid contact with anyone, and I more clearly see what a vital part of my life — and of my heart — that they are. I can’t fathom ever mourning them. And I don’t want to think about their sorrow and pain in mourning me one day.
Thinking about our own mortality and the mortality of our loved ones causes sorrow and an ache in the heart. We humans are capable of loving someone so much that it hurts: it hurts to know that we can’t protect them from every suffering and that, one day, we will have to part from them forever in this life.
His mother wept at His feet, horrified to see the iron spike driven through His flesh — the little feet that she once cupped in her hands and tenderly kissed, now broken open and bleeding with the horrific pain of human cruelty. Memories flooded over her of that evening (… was it only a couple of days or a couple of decades ago?…) when she walked through the caravan of pilgrims to gather her son to her for the night, and she could not find Him. He wasn’t there … and the words of the holy man Simeon had come back to her as she felt a sword of anxiety pierce her heart with love for her missing child. And now, the pain of love for her dying son was overwhelming as she gazed upon His tortured, crucified body, as she saw Him struggle to breathe, pressing up His weakening body upon those iron spikes to gasp for air, racked with pain, His beloved face disfigured and writhing with agony.
What could she do?
Nothing but love Him, love Him completely with her whole being, with her whole being suffering His pain.
Jesus looked down upon His mother as He hung upon the cross and gazed into her eyes, her deep brown eyes … the first human eyes with which He, her son, God in the flesh, had ever connected, had ever exchanged that wordless look of unfathomable love. The look between them now was heavy with sorrow, like the drowning weight of lead pulling them both into the abyss of heartbreaking pain. Jesus saw that His mother was suffering, grieving that He should suffer so terribly and already mourning His approaching death. He needed to speak to her, to tell her something, to give her something in these last moments of His earthly life. But what?
Would He explain to her again that He must be about His Father’s work, that He would always be excruciatingly obedient to the divine plan? He already knew her response to divine will, had heard her willing words on the beating of angel’s wings before He, the Eternal Word, was made flesh in her womb: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” He beheld the handmaiden of the Lord now, in her pitiable, heartbreaking sorrow as His own heart ached with love for the woman who had carried Him, bathed Him, taught Him, laughed with Him and cried with Him and loved Him, loved Him with all of her being as her God and her child. She knew and accepted the power of God, though the cruelty of the world pierced her loving heart with unspeakable sorrow.
On the Cross, Jesus did not offer His mother the comfort of His return or the promise of their reunion in the eternal bliss of Heaven. He knew that she would experience joy again, profound and endless joy, but before that she would suffer greatly — the pain of His death and His physical absence in her earthly life would be devastating. He couldn’t bear the thought of her weeping alone without His arms to hold her up and comfort her. He didn’t want to leave her. His heart ached with the loving desire to do something personal and lasting for her before he died.
“Woman,” He said to her, like at the wedding feast when she asked for His help. She looked up at Him now, with her hurting, bleary eyes, as she tried to be strong for Him, her beloved child. Jesus forced His body up straighter on the cross, gritting His teeth against torturous, searing pain, keeping His face as composed and kind as He could in His agony. “Behold your son,” He said to His mother and, with His look, motioned her eyes to the strong young man who stood beside her at the foot of the cross, the beloved disciple who was weeping silently, trying to fight against his own bewildering sense of grief. Jesus gazed fervently into John’s eyes, saying with determined effort, “Son, behold your mother.”
Jesus wanted to make sure that His mother would be comforted and cared for after His death. Perhaps worse than the pain of the crucifixion was the pain of knowing that His mother would suffer grieving, mourning and weeping in a valley of tears.
I don’t want my loved ones to suffer either when I die. I know that they might watch me struggle in the dying process and their hearts will break for me. “Do you not know that I am about my Creator’s work?” I might like to say to them if my faith and my mind are strong enough. Or, like Jesus, I would like to try to ensure that they will be comforted and cared for after I draw my last earthly breath, I would like to know that they will not feel alone.
God in the flesh is with and within every dying human being upon this earth. Christ’s heart is breaking with theirs at the thought of leaving family and dear friends, desiring that loved ones who mourn and grieve will be cared for, comforted, and loved in a way that the departed will not be able to love anymore. Christ gives those who mourn to us. Let us take them into our hearts, in prayer and in action. Let them know that they are not alone.
With Mary, with every mother, with every person who loves another human being, I also pray that my beloved will be protected from all harm and that only God’s perfect, positive, holy, ordained will shall be done. It would break my heart to see any of my loved ones suffer. I can’t imagine what pain and horrible grief there would be if I had to mourn their deaths, to grieve their passing from this life. I don’t want to ever experience that pain. God, please watch over us all.
God doesn’t expect us to treat death and dying like a merely expected and natural part of life. God knows that our human vision is blurred by tears and we cannot see any goodness in parting from our loved ones, a parting that is either because of their deaths or ours. Jesus, fully divine as well as fully human, did not say to His mother, “Don’t worry, don’t cry, this is only temporary, everyone must die.” He shared her intense sorrow and lovingly hoped that somebody would help her through the mourning and pain, somebody who was grieving too.
There will come a day when my family experiences the awful sadness and wrenching heartache of death, the death of one of us. It’s not a day that I ever want to see, but I will, one way or the other. So will you in your circle of loved ones. Perhaps you have already experienced that day. Perhaps more than once. We rightly mourn and grieve. And, whether we are the one who dies or survives, we live on. We are drastically changed, our lives are difficult as we live through grief, but our loving lives continue. It is right, good, and pleasing to those who have passed that those who remain in earthly life should live on in faith, hope, and the beautiful, active goodness of love.
© 2020 Christina Chase
[i] Luke 2:48
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.