The Most Holy Name
By Anne Wilson - La Mesa, California, USA - 25 November 2015
In 1960, two or three years after my mother had become a Catholic, a priest and friend of hers journeyed to Rome and brought back to her a special gift: the certificate of a papal blessing for our entire family from the new Holy Father, Pope John XIII. The document read, "Most Holy Father, Mr. and Mrs. Griffith Evans and family, humbly prostrate at the feet of Your Holiness, beg the Apostolic Blessing and a plenary indulgence at the hour of death, provided that being truly sorry for their sins but unable to confess them, they shall at least invoke the Holy Name of Jesus." There was a picture of John XXIII above these words, his hand raised in blessing, and the document was signed by Vatican officials.
Mother had framed the blessing. For as long as I remember thereafter, it was always displayed with great reverence in her home. Many decades passed, and it went with her to the various homes she owned or lived in, and I often wondered about it, looking for it whenever I visited.
In December of 1979 (or perhaps it was the year after), my husband and I visited Mother in Reno, where she had been teaching at the University of Nevada. I remember that we went to Midnight Mass for Christmas in the great downtown cathedral, with its beautiful choir, resplendent wreaths and evergreens, its Christmas tree, crèche, candles, incense, and magnificent liturgy. There were pine garlands everywhere, and when we left the church, we breathed in the crisp, cold snowflake-laden air. And of course at home, my mother's traditional, freshly baked cinnamon-and-almond Scandinavian breakfast wreaths were waiting for us.
Sometime during that week-long visit, I had a very unsettling dream. The reason I remember it so vividly even today is because of an insight that came to me with such force, with that dream, that some twenty-three years later, it impacted the moment of my mother's death.
The dream was odd, to say the least. It was about a Mass -- and one that was absolutely sacrilegious. I will spare you most of the details, but mention these: cocktail waitresses in skimpy clothing wandered among the pews, taking parishioners' dinner orders for the "Eucharistic meal"; people with garish colored hair and makeup danced lewdly in the aisles; instead of carrying the staff and holy cross, the celebrants' carried gigantic, white plastic forks and spoons, and the altar servers' carried platters of roasted meats, placing them on the altar. Shocked, I felt that I had stumbled upon something evil, and I knew I had to leave. Bit in trying to get out of the church, I got lost in a dark corridor and ended up in a basement that was foul smelling and damp. It got even worse, but before I was subjected to whatever was waiting for me down there, I struggled desperately to pray and speak, aloud, the name of Jesus. But so terrified was I in the dream, I could not form the word or utter any sound. Just then, I heard a gentle voice say, reassuringly, "It's alright. Just think the name of Jesus, and all will be well." As I focused on that one word -- the Holy Name -- I suddenly found myself on a peaceful hillside at night, with stars sparkling all around me in the clean air.
It was only a dream, but it made an impression. I told my mother about it, and we were both relieved that the dream had ended as it had, with faith and reassurance of God's loving protection, dispelling the evil that had gone before.
Two decades passed, during which time I became a widow and moved to San Diego at my mother's urging, to take an apartment directly across from hers in order to be there if she needed me. She had already suffered a minor stroke and several falls. Then came the cerebral hemorrhage from which she would not recover, and which brought her such intense mental and physical agony that she spent her last three months in and out of delirium, screaming and trying to climb out of her bed and even out of the hospital windows. My sister and I took turns at her bedside, praying, playing hymns, massaging her bruised limbs, offering sips of water or broth and any comfort that we could. In moments of lucidity, she was brought the Eucharist, and she received the Last Rites. There would be no recovery, and the hemorrhage was destroying her brain, moment by moment. It did not seem fair that after so much torment in her life, she had to endure this, too! We begged God to take away her pain and either cure her entirely or let her go in peace.
Then, finally, on March 23, 2003 after several comatose days, her eyes suddenly flew open and she seemed to fix her gaze on something that appeared to frighten her. I called my sister to come at once, as I knew, then, that she was within minutes of dying. I held her in my arms and reassured her that, whatever fears she had, God would keep her safe. My sister came, and I stepped away from her long enough to let my sister have a private last embrace.
Then my sister said, "Anne, I think she's gone . . ."
I went quickly to Mother's side and lifted her in my arms. She had stopped breathing, but I could see in her open eyes flickers of light. In the tracking motions of her eyes, life still lingered.
That was when the long-ago dream and message came back to me. "Mama, you always said that you wanted to die with the name of Jesus on your lips. I know you can't say it, but think it, and it will be enough." I bent down to her lips and whispered "Jesus" into her gaping mouth, kissed her lips suddenly and lightly. It felt like a surge of energy, almost like lightning, passed between us. As I released her back onto the pillow, with her last residual breath she seemed to say, "Yesss . . ." And she was gone. My sister and I both witnessed it.
I still get goosebumps when I think of it. Today, that framed Apostolic Blessing hangs above a small altar in my room. I feel humbled at having been allowed to be with my mother in that last moment. And now, in my later years, as I pause to reflect in wonder, I ask that in my own last moments that she will come and be by my side to remind me to just think the Name of Jesus, and know that all will be well.