As soon as my baby girl turned seven months old, I started feeling ill. And it wasn’t the typical “I’m coming down with a cold” kind of ill. I was having a very difficult time breathing.
As a busy mom, I dismissed it as the usual effects of sleep deprivation. I went to the hospital just to be sure, but they sent me home after all the test results came out normal.
The next evening, I felt very faint and light-headed. After being rushed to the emergency room and more tests performed, the verdict was in: congestive heart failure associated with my recent pregnancy.
Ready for God
As soon as I heard the diagnosis, I called my husband and my confessor. They arrived at the hospital at the same time and while my husband held my right hand, my confessor promptly began giving me last rites.
While the staff was trying to stabilize me, my heart began to fail. It was a surreal experience in that I felt that I was drowning from within. My first reaction was fear and panic. As I was struggling to breathe, there were so many questions swirling in my head…”What is going on?” “Am I going to die?” “Who will take care of my three young children?” “Did I get a chance to say goodbye?” “Is my soul truly ready to meet God face to face?”
I was immediately ambulanced to another hospital with a more extensive cardiology department. When I was stabilized in the emergency room, I was transferred to the ICU. During this trying time, I began thinking about eternity. My heart longed to be with my young family but my body was suffering so much that I found myself yearning for Heaven.
The team of cardiologists could not give a very good prognosis. They were preparing me for the possibility of open-heart surgery. My only consolation during this trying time was the extreme peace I experienced every time I received Jesus in Holy Communion, the peace knowing that He is in full control of the situation no matter how dire.
Since my prognosis was unknown, my doctors and nurses asked if I had a medical directive on file. Thankfully, my husband and I worked on our Vital Documents File several years before when we first moved into our cottage. Included in our Vital Documents File was a Catholic Medical Directive that my husband promptly forwarded to the cardiology team.
Preparing For Eternity
While the topic of death in general makes many of us uncomfortable, it is still a reality we all must face one day. In Psalm 90, we read “let us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart.” Psalm 49 also reminds us, “For no man can buy his own ransom, or pay a price to God for his life. The ransom of his soul is beyond him. He cannot buy life without end…”
One of the benefits of living simply is that there is more room to focus on things that matter most. This includes taking care of important temporal matters, not for the sake of control, but for the sake of our loved ones who will be left behind.
We have our whole lives to prepare for our last day on earth. When these temporal matters are taken care of, we can focus more on preparing our souls for eternity. The act of preparing helps us realize that, on our last day on earth, the two important things that matter most is our relationship with God and our relationship with our family.
Seven Simple Steps
1. Be at peace with our Lord
Nurture a deep, intimate and personal relationship with God. Nourish this relationship with a daily prayer life and a deeper sacramental life. Be at peace with your God who wants nothing more than to be with you eternally.
2. Centralize all your vital documents
Take care of important earthly matters now. Centralize all vital documents into one file so it is easy to locate in case of an emergency. This file may include birth certificates, sacramental certificates, transcripts, insurance policies, assets, liabilities, last will and testament, and most importantly, a Catholic medical directive.
When we first moved into our cottage, one of our goals was to put everything in order within one year. This gave us enough time to work on our Vital Documents File without the entire process being so burdensome to our family life.
We hired an attorney to work on our will, adjusted our life insurance policy, and most importantly, called our local diocese to order a copy of our Catholic Medical Directive.
Our reasons for doing so is not morbid in nature. We simply didn’t want to wait until one of us was indisposed before working on such important a task.
3. Consider leaving a spiritual legacy for your children
This may include journals, memoirs, stories with life lessons or just simple letters to pass on to your children. Even if you are no longer there for them physically, they can still feel your presence in the powerful words that you leave behind.
4. Be in the picture
After being so close to death, one of the projects I did during my recovery was to make slide shows for my children. I quickly discovered that I wasn’t in many of the pictures because I was always the one behind the camera.
So a dear photographer friend came, did several photo shoots for my family and taught me how fun it was to make memories WITH my children. We continue to make memories and slide shows which have now become an essential part of our spiritual legacy.
5. Learn from Scripture
Psalm 49 remind us, “do not fear when a man grows rich, when the glory of his house increases. He takes nothing with him when he dies, his glory does not follow him below. In his riches, man lacks wisdom….”
6. Learn from the Saints
St. Laurence Justinian once wrote, “consider the end of life and you will love nothing in this world.”
St. Alphonsus Ligouri also wrote, “…is not he a fool who seeks after happiness in this world, where he will remain only a few days and exposes himself to the risk of being unhappy in the next, where we must live for eternity? We do not fix our affections on borrowed goods, because we know that they must soon be returned to the owner. All the goods of this earth are lent to us…”
He continues, “My soul has been given so many years in the world, and has not loved Thee. Give me light and strength to love Thee during the remainder of my life…”
7. Fast forward to your last day on earth
Fast forwarding to our last day on earth allows us to rearrange our priorities so we can see the difference between what is urgent and what is important.
When my priorities get out of control, I ask the Lord to give me the grace to fast forward to my own funeral and look around the congregation. Is there anyone I need to forgive? Do I need to ask forgiveness from someone? Did I tell my husband enough how much I love and appreciate him? Did I hug my children enough and tell them how much I love them?
The beauty of fast forwarding is that I can always rewind back to the here and now. Then I can tell my husband how much I love him and appreciate him. I can hug my children and listen to them attentively even if the chores are not done. I can unplug from the internet and make beautiful memories with my family instead.
Yearning For Heaven
Simple living allows us not to get too distracted with earthly things so that we can better prepare for our life in Heaven. We can focus more on the relationships that matter most.
My heart failed a second time when I was in the hospital. But instead of panic, I surrendered my very breath to God. Shortly thereafter, an indescribable peace and love came over me. I felt that whatever He wanted of me, be it life or death, everything and everyone would turn out just fine.
Many prayers later, my cardiologists determined I didn’t need open heart surgery after all. Instead, I would have to be on heavy duty heart medications for several years.
After ten grueling days in the hospital, I was happy to be home. But I will never forget the indescribable peace and love our Lord allowed me to experience in the hospital that, I must admit, makes me yearn for Heaven even more. But for now, He wishes me to serve Him as a wife and mother.
I will forever remain indebted to Him for saving me from my sins, for saving me in the hospital and for giving me a second chance at life.
He truly is my Savior in every sense of the word… both in this life and in the next.
Header Image CC harold.lloyd