I really don’t know the answer to the title of this article, I can only share what I think is the Creator’s plan as I’ve experienced the deaths of so many loved ones over the years and especially in these last several months. Since January I’ve experienced the deaths of eight Sylvania Franciscan Sisters, three of them in the month of July alone. My last surviving uncle, Richard Thill, died in March just as we became aware of the pandemic, and my cousin, Peter, and my dear sister, Bobbie, died in June. None of the deaths were attributed to Covid-19, but that is little consolation as they have indeed all passed on from this earth to heaven. At least that is my hope and prayer.
The older I get and reflect on what I think I know about death from my religious beliefs, my reading about death, media coverage, and discussions on the topic with a variety of people, I find myself questioning and wondering, like Susie, why do we seem to have to leave this earth and just where is it that we go?
When I taught gerontology courses at Lourdes College in the 80s and 90s, I developed a course on Death and Dying because the students wanted to know more about the topic. They were going to have to face the loss of the elders they were caring for and working with, and they were searching for insights in order to help the elders and themselves deal with the last phase of life’s journey. We had some excellent discussions on life after death, people they knew who had a near death experience, and those who believed that there was nothing after death.
I like what the poem on Bobbie’s memorial card has to say about death, especially the verses quoted above. Personally, I find it consoling to believe that I will go somewhere after death, though I’m not real clear just where that may be. Do any of us really know? When I taught religion to my third graders, I used to tell them that, “Heaven is where God is, and God is everywhere, and if that is true then we are in heaven right now!” I must admit I don’t really know if that works when life right here doesn’t feel like I imagine heaven should feel like. There are times, though, when things here seem heavenly—a newborn baby, a fluffy puppy, a gorgeous sunset, people being kind to one another, eating a delicious tomato, enjoying a glass of wine, crunchy potato chips, graduation, being cancer-free, etc., etc., etc. Maybe at times like these we are in heaven, we just don’t know it yet!
I picture my sister saying these words now:
Lift up your heart and share with me,
God wants me now…He’s set me free.
Sister Mary Thill is a Sylvania Franciscan Sister. She is Patient Liaison for Mature Health Connections at Mercy Health – St. Vincent Medical Center. She can be reached at 419-251-3600.