As Catholics we are taught to pray for a good death.
Prayer to St Joseph
O Blessed St. Joseph, who gave up you last breath in the arms of Jesus and Mary, obtain for me, I beseech you, the grace of a happy death. Defend me from all evil, especially in my final hour. Assist me by your presence, protect me by your power, and obtain for me this grace, O holy St. Joseph, that I may breathe forth my soul in praise, saying in spirit, if so I am unable to do so in words: Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and life. Amen.
I read an account of one of the most beautiful deaths I know of – that of St Therese of Lisieux, who died at 24 years of age.
Below is an excerpt from “Story of a Soul.”
Mother Agnes relates: “I was alone with her about 4:30 in the afternoon. I thought her end was approaching when I saw a sudden pallor in her face. Mother Prioress returned, and soon the whole community was assembled again around her bed. She smiled at the Sisters; however, she did not say anything until her death. For more than two hours the terrible death rattle tore her chest. Her face was flushed, her hands purple, and her feet were as cold as ice. She was shivering in her limbs. Huge beads of perspiration stood out on her forehead and rolled down her cheeks. It was becoming increasingly difficult for her to breathe. When trying to catch her breath, she uttered little cries.”
Thêrèse smiled at her sister, Sister Genevieve, who dried her forehead and passed a piece of ice over her parched lips.
When the Angelus bell rang at 6 o’clock, Thêrèse looked at the “Virgin of the Smile” for a long time. She was holding her crucifix firmly. As the community had been almost two hours in the infirmary, the Prioress allowed the Sisters to leave.
Therese sighed: “Mother! Isn’t this the agony? Am I not going to die?”
“Yes, my poor child, but God perhaps wills to prolong it for several hours.”
“Well, all right! Ah! I would not want to suffer a shorter length of time.”
Her head fell back on the pillow and was turned toward the right. The Prioress had the infirmary bell rung, and the Sisters quickly returned. “Open all the doors,” Mother Marie de Gonzague ordered. Hardly had the community knelt at her bedside when Thérèse pronounced very distinctly, while gazing at her crucifix: “Oh! I love Him!” And a moment later: “My God, I love you!”
Suddenly her eyes came to life and were fixed on a spot just a little above the statue of the Blessed Virgin. Her face took on the appearance it had when Therese enjoyed good health. She seemed to be in ecstasy. This look lasted for the space of a “Credo.” Then she closed her eyes and expired. It was 7:20 in the evening.
Her head was leaning to the right. A mysterious smile was on her lips. She appeared very beautiful; and this is evident in the photograph taken by Cêline after her sister’s death.
According to the custom of the Carmel, Therèse was laid out in the choir in front of the grille from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening. She was buried in the Lisieux cemetery on October 4, 1897 (She was 24 years 9 months old).
While in the infirmary, she had written these lines to Father Belliere on June 9: “I am not dying; I am entering into life!”
That marvelous life after death of this unknown Carmelite nun was about to begin. (261-271)
Just that account as well as the account of St Francis’ death, blessed me so much strengthened my faith. You see, even through our dying, we can be examples for others.
Do you know of any other accounts of Saints or people you know who died so beautifully that we are reminded of the verse that “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15)?