Have You Ever Watched a Person Die?

15 September 2009 Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows
1 Tim 3, 1-13; Psalm 101; John 19, 25-27

To watch a person die is excruciating. And when there is nothing I can do, except to be there, the situation aggravates what I feel. To accompany a family member or a dearest friend succumb to disease is unbearable. To see the body wasting away, to feel the agony of a person whose cancer progresses, and to finally be present at the last breath constitute one of the most sorrowful and intolerable experiences many of us have.

As a priest, I have been in many of these moments; I have been summoned by family members or friends to give the final sacraments to their sick. And even if I am not directly related to them, whether by blood or affinity, I have always been affected by it. The emotions cannot be hidden even in their silence. As I stand next to the hospital bed with them around the infirm, I sometimes wish that I can do something to stop the pain. But the best that I have done is just to be there and wait. This is the experience of Mary who stood beneath the cross, watching her Son suffer and die.

Think of the many parents whose child died in a freak accident; or those whose child committed a crime, and they too have agonized watching their sons or daughters being tried and convicted. Think of family and friends whom we have undergone great mental anguish as we see them helplessly being eaten by drugs. Remember those whom we have listened to and given advice, but still deny their issues. They suffer the consequences of their choices, and we know that the source is a blind spot in their lives — something that we see, but they refuse to believe. In all of these, we have stood beneath their crosses and endured the pain like Mary. Moreover, we do not know what will happen to our loved ones. Or when they would accept their ailment and begin to ask for help; or when they would die. We would go through all their medical examinations with them and wish for them to live, but we also have to accept any eventuality.

But if we have endured trials for others and with others, then we have loved much. If we stood beneath the crosses of others, then we are a real friend to them. I believe the graces of “just being there” is faithfulness and constancy. If we stood by our friends — or our teams — no matter what, then our love for them is sincere. We willfully choose to be one with them. When friends suffer from lapses of judgment or they have done something scandalous, we too take upon ourselves the fear of looking foolish and endure the bickering of others. We feel what they feel and we do not regret feeling it. Mary is the opposite of Peter who doesn’t want to be identified with Jesus who was being tried like a criminal. She did not mind being seen in public, proof of her unfailing love.

When we support, encourage, comfort and console others in the very depth of their sorrows, then we also develop an inner strength and a resiliency amidst the storms of life. Consider our parents who endured with us, they have a strength from which we derive our own. They have an inner life-giving energy from whose inspiration we take the strength to carry on. This is the same life-giving Spirit that develops in us when we stand beneath the crosses of others; just as Mary stood beneath the cross of her Son.

As we remember Mary, our Lady of Sorrows, we take two positions for reflection. What is it like to stand beneath the cross of another? Where do you get the strength and courage to remain faithful and strong for them? On the other hand, what is it like to be on the cross, and have someone else stand beneath our suffering? How does it feel to have someone to lean on to, from whose strength we rely on?

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