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“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” I fidgeted with the laminated card containing the vow formula—almost dropped it on my lap as I struggled to regain awareness of what I was doing. I was twenty-nine years old.

It was July 22, 1965, feast day of St. Mary Magdalen, a steamy morning in the fan-cooled Gothic chapel of the Motherhouse in Rome, Italy. Perspiration filmed sallow cheeks within my frilled cap, hunger scoured my innards, and skirts of my Sunday habit covered my polished Oxfords. Behind us, knelt families and friends gathered to witness our final profession of poverty, chastity, and obedience, until death, in our community.

Despite worsening stiffness in my knees and generalized malaise, I had completed five months of probation, the final formation and testing before taking this step. Conferences on the Rule and Constitutions—although in French, the universal language of the community—long hours of prayer and reflection, and direction with the Superior had spirited me toward this oblation, I perceived as God’s will.

Yet, emptiness smacked within the fissures of my psyche as I continued reading the vow formula. Where was my heart? Did I ever have one or had I been pretending all along? Who was this inner stranger, scowling at me? I was supposed to be happy.

As it turned out, seventeen years later I left the community to search for my heart, an arduous process more austere than practiced as a nun.

In the midst of another formation, this time in hospice, I’m preparing for another oblation that will jettison me from all forms of death into the arms of my Beloved. To Him, I’ll offer my scarred, but graced, heart. This is working out…

 

With the Psalmist, I pray, Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. It’s working. As I approach the tenth month of hospice care, I love my life exactly the way it is unfolding, one day at a time. I’m almost home.

Like the garden snake that sheds its entire skin for housekeeping purposes, my eighty-four years resemble its transparency discarded upon the grass. That part of my life, examined, owned, and surrendered to God’s mercy, is complete. A corresponding lightness enlarges my spirit for still more growth before my transition. I was delighted to find corroboration of this attitude in the Jesuit Karl Rahner’s On the Theology of Death (1973) in which he decries passivity: Death, the defining experience of our lives, mandates full participation.

Each gift of twenty-four hours quickens my desire for communion with Creator-God, my writing partner. Our intimacy deepens with each blog, with each significant read, and with spirited family and friends. Contemplation opens my psyche for further nurturing. Silence offers its savory fruits, as well.

With minuscule diminishments occurring in my body, however, I’ve no sense of what will happen during the last weeks of life. On my dining room table are six pill bottles, still unopened, for treating anxiety, shortness of breath, restlessness, pain, nausea, constipation, dry mouth, and seizures: clues of how bodies decompose before death. Mine will involve suffocation caused by Rheumatoid Arthritis destroying my lungs.

Weekly visits with the hospice nurse and chaplain continue affording information and support. Because of increasing weakness and breathlessness, I’ve hired a helper to prepare meals, etc. With her guidance, we’re enlisting the help of spirited caregivers when I require 24/7 help.

I often remind myself that this is something I have to go through, the culmination of human existence. A great adventure awaits me. I will not be alone.

 

 

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