In the days before my friend Jim died, he repeatedly asked to pray the rosary. I took the lead, announcing the mysteries and beginning each prayer, and he would finish them. The nearer he got to his death, the more he wanted to pray the rosary.
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
I think it helped him to accept what was coming and it was reassuring to think about Mary praying for him at the hour of his death.
He savored the words, letting them swirl around in his mouth as he had once enjoyed fine wine. Those words had become his comfort food, his sustenance.
On the Saturday before he died I took a nap after we prayed the rosary. Fifteen minutes later, Jim woke me up and asked if we could pray the rosary again. I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep, but he wanted to pray, and so we prayed.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” I began.
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen,” Jim concluded.
As the beads passed through my fingers, I became aware that Jim had changed a word, had made the prayer more personal, “…now and at the hour of my death,” he prayed. He knew his hour was near.
While we prayed the rosary the second time that afternoon, I had a vision of Mary coming to get Jim to lead him to God. I was startled by the vision, since my relationship with Mary had been tenuous at best. But there she was, letting me know that she was coming and that she was going to lead Jim to God. I continued to pray. “Hail Mary…”
When we finished the rosary, I told Jim of my vision. “That is exactly how I imagine it,” he said, his voice wistful and his face transformed by a faraway look and a knowing grin. He was ready and looking forward to the moment Mary would come for him.
Jim died the Tuesday of Holy Week.
In the midst of this Holy Week, I am reminded of that other one two years ago.
At the time, I thought the vision of Mary was for Jim’s sake, to give him reassurance as he neared death, but I soon realized that the vision was also for me, offering comfort and hope—from one woman to another.