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Grandmother is dying


Grandmother in bed There are two chairs flanking Grandmother’s bed and I am to sit in the chair by the window. That is the chair in which children sit and I am a child so.

Grandmother is in the bed sleeping. I am keeping vigil. Mother says Grandmother is dying but she looks like she is sleeping to me.

Grandmother is wearing her steel spectacles and they rise and decline very gently as she sleeps. When she dies Mother will remove her spectacles and we will give them to a child in Africa who needs spectacles and has never had spectacles but when he gets spectacles his whole world will change and that will be an act of goodness.

If you do three acts of goodness Jesus stops what he is doing and glances over at you with a look of infinite tenderness. If you earn enough looks of infinite tenderness you can burn away your sins as if they had never been committed and not even Lucifer will know that you sinned.

Lucifer knows you sinned by the stench of sin upon you. The stench is on your soul, not your skin or your clothes. You can no longer buy off sins like you could in the old days.

That was a mistaken custom and Martin Luther was correct to call Mother Church to task about that. He was a Catholic priest which we forget. So you can technically be Catholic and Lutheran, but only if you are Martin Luther.

Grandmother said that and she was never wrong about anything because she spoke forcefully with conviction of her faith as a guide to her every thought and action.

Grandmother says bad thoughts are sins. Mother says well now that is an amorphous area and we should be cautious about filling the boy’s head with fearsome intimations. Intimations are hints and suggestions toward corporeal or substantive things.

After Grandmother dies in this bed she will cease to be corporeal and will become utter spirit and we hope she will be returned unto the Lord from whom all things derive.

I watch Grandmother’s spectacles rise and decline and suddenly they stop and I am terrified and rather than call out for Mother I turn and keep vigil on the birds outside the window.

There are cardinals and one flicker. A flicker is a woodpecker although rarely will you see a flicker hammering away on a tree.

Keeping vigil is a holy and unselfish act that each of us will do for one hour each during Grandmother’s final hours. We are a family and that is what families do. You will keep vigil even if you do not want to keep vigil and no amount of whining and moaning and complaining and pleading will suffice.

Grandmother suddenly gulps in a breath and I turn and look but she is still asleep. There is no clock in the room because if there is a clock in the room you will just stare at the clock rather than keep vigil over your own flesh and blood which is a holy and unselfish act recommended by the Church and surely something human beings have done since time immemorial.

To keep vigil is to stand witness at the door between life and death. It is to acknowledge the imminence of death but stand guard over the holy soul of the loved one.

It is ideally a time of deep spiritual meditation and not a time for recalling grudges and dwelling on unfortunate events in the past. It is a time of reconciliation and restoration, of quiet prayer for the soul of the dying person, that he or she be restored to the Lord from whom all things derive.

Outside the window the woodpecker suddenly swoops on the cardinals and they scatter and the woodpecker begins to scarf up all the rest of the popcorn kernels that my sister scattered for the cardinals and my sister sprints out of the house roaring and waving at the flicker, who flees.

Just then my grandmother stops breathing again and I am afraid to turn and find her fled and the bad thought enters my head that her soul will become a flicker and gorge herself on popcorn kernels but Grandmother hauls in a breath again and my next brother comes into the room quietly to relieve me, and I am released; but to this day when I see a flicker I think of my grandmother, and I believe those thoughts are prayers for her eternal soul, at home in the hand of the Lord.

Brian Doyle headshotBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, Oregon.

Grandmother image by Shutterstock.

Topic tags: Brian Doyle, ageing, sin, theology, death



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Existing comments

...and my heart flutters when I see Brian Doyle's name appear on Eureka Street. What a gem!

Trish Taylor | 06 May 2015  

Thank you Brian, a beautiful account and testimony. Accompanying the dying with love and prayer is such a deep and holy thing, where for me the presence of our lord is almost tangible ... perhaps even for children!?

Eugene | 06 May 2015  

I found this very moving. Thank you, Brian

Maryrose Dennehy | 06 May 2015  

Thanks Brian. Another great piece of writing. I always enjoy reading your work.

Maureen | 06 May 2015  

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