Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

My mother’s dignified, holy death

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent
By Jeanne Smits
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Dear friends,

My mother died on Sunday, 28th of October. She was 90, and had been completely dependent for 18 months. By progressive standards, her life was completely useless. During that year and a half, she was only vaguely conscious of her surroundings, lying in a hospital bed, incapable of any autonomous action whatsoever. She could hardly see or hear us. She could not eat or drink alone. Everything had to be done for her. But in those blessed 18 months, she taught us the extraordinary value and dignity of human life, and her death was such an example to us I would like to share it with you.

My mother had been ill for quite some time with a form of Parkinson’s disease, but while we felt she was slowly going backwards, she still had the greater part of her faculties and was at home with my father, who looked after her lovingly. Suddenly, last year in spring, she passed out for an hour and woke up delirious, in a state of great agitation. Luckily I was spending a short vacation at my parent’s house, and when the ambulance came I was able to accompany her to the regional hospital.

We were all afraid her last hour had come and while she was being taken care of in the emergency department I pleaded with John Paul II. “You know what it is to have Parkinson’s,” I said. “Please help my mother!”

At that exact moment my husband’s cell phone rang. It was a friend, a priest who was organizing a day of conferences and remembrance in Paris on the occasion of John Paul II’s beatification. Would I give a one-hour talk on John Paul II and natural law?

“OK, John Paul II,” I thought. “I’ll do something for you, and you’ll do something for my mother.” I accepted. From that point onwards my mother’s condition worsened, swiftly and inexorably.

But it was a blessing in disguise.

The infection that had been responsible for her delirium was treated, but only after 18 hours: much too late. Her brain had been harmed. After two weeks my mother was discharged from hospital and returned home, but she was by then already incapable of getting up from her bed, she was more and more agitated and my father, who was then 92, could not possibly cope. Providentially, we were offered a room for heavily dependent persons at the local hospital, only a few kilometers away. Ordinarily obtaining such a room takes up to six months or more. This time apparently the room was waiting for its patient. It was heartbreaking to take her there. But what could we do?

My mother, from that time onward, was no longer agitated, depressed or unhappy. She was living in a world of her own, although she would answer our questions appositely in her normal, firm and clear voice, often wittily, and always welcomed us with a radiant smile when she realized we were near her. The last really conscious and complete sentence I heard her say was the day after she had entered what was to be her last home, and I was saying goodbye before leaving for Paris, my family, and my job.

“I want to go to where the Pope is,” she said.

“Which Pope: John Paul II or Benedict XVIth?” I asked.

The answer came immediately, clear and completely incongruous, coming from her:

“Wojtyla,” she said.

One of my sisters had another experience. On the first day in that hospital, she heard my mother saying loudly and clearly the prayer taught by the angel to the three children of Fatima – Our Lady of Fatima having always been her great devotion: “I offer all my sufferings to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for the conversion of sinners.”

My mother lost her own mother when she was 11 years old, way back in 1933, and it was a shock so great she had no memories preceding that date. She had asked the Virgin Mary to be her mother, and had always prayed devoutly, hoping for the good and peaceful death Our Lady promises those who serve her. But she had been, in her last years at home, very anguished by the perspective of death.

For the eighteen months following her admission to the center for dependent elderly persons, we, her five children, had our mother close to us, strangely and unexplainably close. She was living in another time, another dimension almost, where the value of material things has disappeared, where only the person counts: the person with his or her capacity for love and relationships. She was mysteriously and completely herself, loving us, showing her profound pleasure when we were near, needing no riches other than our words of affection. My father – 93! – would take out his car almost every single evening to visit her in hospital and to give her supper, spoonful after spoonful. For this she would often thank him, as she would also thank the hospital workers when they came to help her, feed her, change her, care for her, with a slight pressure of the hand.

During those long months, my “Mammie” was indeed wonderfully cared for by the nurses and hospital workers who all showed the same consideration and respect for this life, “useless” as it was and slowly nearing its end. They would often come and make up her bed, change her sheets if necessary, and brush her hair just before they knew my father was due. They did all they possibly could to make her comfortable, massaging her to avoid bed sores – she had not a single one in those 18 months, after being healed of the wounded heel she had brought back from her two-weeks stay in the previous hospital – and arranging for my father to bring in an air-humidifier to make her breathing easier.

On October 13th, I got bad news from home. My mother had been found in a critical state in the morning: she had probably had a heart attack during the night and she was suffering from pulmonary edema. She was given oxygen and appropriate medication to help her get over the condition, but once again we thought it was the end. I was due to speak at a prayerful meeting for persecuted Christians that same evening, but I waited to hear that her condition was a bit better to decide to stay in Paris.

That same evening “Mammie” was apparently asleep, but when she received the Last Sacrament on this 95th anniversary of the last apparition in Fatima, something extraordinary happened. One of my sisters said loudly into her ear the prayer she loved: “I offer all my sufferings to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for the conversion of sinners.” My mother smiled, opened her mouth widely, and said: “Aaaah!” as if in profound approval. This was to happen a few more times during the days that followed, although she was almost continuously sleeping.

From that moment on my mother ate very little: at the end, a few spoonfuls of yoghourt in the morning at most. She was constantly given water and glucose intravenously so that she would not suffer from dehydration. She was given oxygen, but no violent treatments so that she would not suffer unnecessarily; we also decided not to have her transferred to another hospital as transporting her would have probably made her even more ill.

Just before the beginning of the two weeks school vacation for All Saints, my father called me to say he thought my mother would die soon: a matter of days or weeks at the most. We hurriedly prepared to travel to Brittany with our two younger children, the eldest being away on an end of high school retreat with his class.

It was a sorrowful trip on that Saturday, October 27th, and when we called my father to say we were nearing his home he said he would drive out to the hospital to meet us there so that we could see “Mammie” straight away together with him. It was 11 p.m.: the night nurse quickly answered our call and came to open the hospital doors for us, warning that my mother was “very tired”. She was lying peacefully, receiving oxygen through tubes in her nose and sleeping easily. We all kissed her and told her how much we loved her. The nurse told us we could call at any time during the night and promised to warn us if my mother’s condition worsened, but there appeared to be no immediate cause for concern.

Next day was Sunday. We went to Mass together and stopped at the hospital at midday on the way back. My mother was the same, so we all returned home to have lunch.

Less than three hours later, the dreaded call came. The nurse on duty found my mother’s breathing very irregular, with long pauses. Would we come? Quickly we prepared for the five-mile drive to the hospital; my father, my husband and our two younger children, 13 and 10, hurried off. Tactfully and respectfully, the nurse accompanied us into the room. My mother was breathing so shallowly it was almost imperceptible; the nurse could hear that my mother was still alive as she perceived her respiration and blood flow through her stethoscope.

A hospital worker came in and told us to hold my mother’s hands, assuring us that even if she seemed asleep, she could feel us and would be helped and comforted by our presence.

Together, we said the prayers for those who are agonizing – but such a peaceful agony so as not to deserve its name! – the litany of the Divine Mercy, and the psalm “Nunc Dimittis” : Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace…

Two of my elder sisters had soon been able to join us. Together we started to say the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. The nurse came in regularly: each time, she would still hear my mother’s almost imperceptible breathing: no, she was not dead.

Our two young children cried quietly: no, they would not leave the room, they wanted to be with their grandmother till the end.

At the end of the fifth Joyful Mystery, it must have been 5:20 p.m., my father and one of my sisters felt my mother’s fingers slowly growing cold. That was the only certain sign we had of life’s departure: “Mammie’s” life had slowly, gently, peacefully ebbed away, no one could have said exactly when. Her last moments, in the prayerful presence of most of her family, were fully respected, she died in her own time, at her own pace, having fully accepted all that was to come about in a spirit of reparation, without fear and oh, so softly.

In the traditional liturgy my family loves, it was the feast of Christ the King, another favorite devotion of my mother’s.

Her death appeared as a sad mystery, a bereavement, but it was a natural and familiar parting, not a tragic destruction. For all of us, and especially for our children, it was a lesson in savoir-vivre as the French would say: knowing how to die is the better part of knowing how to live…

There was no indignity in her diminished state, her end of life was definitely worth living, and consoled those who loved her. Her life was offered up, not violently taken by a murderous doctor committing what they dare to call “euthanasia”, or “easy death.”

My father asked to have my mother brought home, so that we could “wake” her as used to be the custom in former, more humane times. We all prepared the room where she would lie next morning, borrowing candles from the parish church. The undertakers came that same Sunday evening and kindly, sensitively helped us to prepare for the arrival of my mother’s mortal remains. Did we have Holy Water, some appropriate vessel to place before the bed, a branch of blessed palm so that our visitors could bless the body? Yes, that’s in poor, secularized France…

The next two days were strange and awful, but also very consoling. Many friends and neighbors came in to pray at my mother’s bedside and we had the feeling we were getting that bit of extra time we needed for her death to sink in. And life went on: between the hassle, worry and paperwork, keeping everyone fed, organizing family lunches and dinners that have such a special capacity to make family bonds palpable, arranging for the funeral and the reception which would take place at home afterwards, we would go softly into my mother’s room and pray. The children came into the room now and then, between a bout of tennis in the garden or a subdued game in the living room. No one even thought of asking to watch a film. The situation was completely natural because we had let the supernatural occupy the space it deserves.

The hardest time came when, on Tuesday evening, they came with the mayor of our village to close and seal the coffin. Many pent up emotions came loose, and we were able to feel the importance of saying a definitive “good-bye”, a last word of gratitude, an “à Dieu”. It was much harder than the burial itself – which took place after a splendid and consoling funeral Mass where death is portrayed as it is: a terrible thing, but also a promise of eternal happiness for those who implore God’s Mercy.

Please pray for my mother, that she may truly rest in peace.

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signs the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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Indiana faces backlash as it becomes 20th state to protect religious liberty

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By Ben Johnson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN, March 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On Thursday, Indiana became the 20th state to prevent the government from forcing people of faith to violate their religious beliefs in business or the public square.

Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 101) into law, saying the freedom of religion is a preeminent American value.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence said.

Gov. Pence, a possible dark horse candidate for president in 2016, cited court cases brought by religious organizations and employers, including Catholic universities, against the HHS mandate. “One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.”

The new law could also prevent Christian business owners from being compelled to bake a cake or take photographs of a same-sex "marriage" ceremony, if doing so violates their faith. In recent years, business owners have seen an increased level of prosecution for denying such services, despite their religious and moral beliefs.

The state's pro-life organization applauded Pence for his stance. "Indiana's pro-life community is grateful to Gov. Mike Pence for signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law,” said Indiana Right to Life's president and CEO Mike Fichter. “This bill will give pro-lifers a necessary legal recourse if they are pressured to support abortion against their deeply-held religious beliefs.”

“RFRA is an important bill to protect the religious freedom of Hoosiers who believe the right to life comes from God, not government,” he said.

The state RFRA is based on the federal bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The Supreme Court cited the federal law when it ruled that Hobby Lobby had the right to refuse to fund abortion-inducing drugs, if doing so violated its owners' sincerely held religious beliefs.

In signing the measure – similar to the one Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed – Pence and the state of Indiana have faced a torrent of venom from opponents of the bill, who claim it grants a “right to discriminate” and raises the spectre of segregation.

"They've basically said, as long as your religion tells you to, it's OK to discriminate against people," said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national homosexual pressure group.

The Disciples of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination based in the state capital, has said it will move its 2017 annual convention if the RFRA became state law. The NCAA warned the bill's adoption “might affect future events” in the Hoosier state.

Pence denied such concerns, saying, "This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way I would've vetoed it."

The bill's supporters say that, under the Obama administration, it is Christians who are most likely to suffer discrimination.

"Originally RFRA laws were intended to protect small religious groups from undue burdens on practicing their faith in public life,” said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “It was not imagined there would come a day when laws might seek to jail or financially destroy nuns, rabbis or Christian camp counselors who prefer to abstain from the next wave of sexual and gender experimentation. And there's always a next wave.”

The bill's supporters note that it does not end the government's right to coerce people of faith into violating their conscience in every situation. However, it requires that doing so has to serve a compelling government interest and the government must use the least restrictive means possible. “There will be times when a state or federal government can show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious expression – to ensure public safety, for instance,” said Sarah Torre, an expert at the Heritage Foundation. “But Religious Freedom Restoration Acts set a high bar for the government to meet in order to restrict religious freedom.”

Restricting the ability of government to interfere in people's private decisions, especially their religious decisions, is the very purpose of the Constitution, its supporters say.

"Religious freedom is the cornerstone of all liberty for all people,” Tooley said. “Deny or reduce it, and there are no ultimate limits on the state's power to coerce."

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Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting.
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Porn is transforming our men from protectors into predators. Fight back.

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By Jonathon van Maren

Since I’ve gotten involved in anti-pornography work, I’ve met countless men who struggle, fight, or have beaten pornography. Each person seems to deal with the guilt and shame that accompanies porn use in a different way—some deny that it’s “all that bad,” others pretend that they could “stop whenever they want,” many insist that “everyone is doing it,” and most, when pressed, admit to a deep sense of self-loathing.

One worry surfaces often in conversation: What do my past or current struggles with pornography say about me as a man? Can I ever move past this and have a meaningful and fulfilling relationship?

I want to address this question just briefly, since I’ve encountered it so many times.

First, however, I’ve written before how I at times dislike the language of “struggling” with pornography or pornography “addiction,” not because they aren’t accurate but because too often they are used as an excuse rather than an explanation. It is true, many do in fact “struggle” with what can legitimately be considered an addiction, but when this language is used to describe an interminable battle with no end (and I’ve met dozens of men for whom this is the case), then I prefer we use terminology like “fighting my porn habit.” A semantic debate, certainly, but one I think is important. We need to stop struggling with porn and start fighting it.

Secondly, pornography does do devastating things to one’s sense of masculinity. We know this. Pornography enslaves men by the millions, perverting their role as protector and defender of the more vulnerable and turning them into sexual cannibals, consuming those they see on-screen to satisfy their sexual appetites.

What often starts as mere curiosity or an accidental encounter can turn into something that invades the mind and twists even the most basic attractions. I’ve met porn users who can’t believe the types of things they want to watch. They haven’t simply been using porn. Porn has actively reshaped them into something they don’t recognize and don’t like. 

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Porn is this generation’s great assault on masculinity and the role of men in society. It is essential that we win this battle for the sake of society’s survival. Contrary to what the gender-bending and family-morphing progressive elites claim, good husbands and good fathers and good church leaders are necessary for a healthy society. But pornography is destroying marriages, creating distant and disconnected fathers, and, metaphoricaclly castrating men, hindering their ability and desire to make a positive difference in the society around us.

So, with this sobering set of facts in mind let’s return to the question: what do pornography struggles, past and present, say about a man?

The proper way to respond is with everything that is good about masculinity. We have to fight pornography as men have fought countless evils throughout the ages. We need to fight pornography to protect women, and wives, and children, and our society at large. This is how pornography threatens society, by castrating men, and turning them from protectors into predators. Rooting out the evil in our own lives allows us to better fulfill the role we are called to perform in the lives of others. Battling our own demons enables us to battle the wider cultural demons. Every day without porn is another bit of virtue built. Virtue is not something you’re born with. Virtues are habits that you build. And one day without porn is the first step towards the virtue of being porn-free.

Many men ask me if men who have had past porn addictions are cut out for being in a relationship or working in the pro-life movement or in other areas where we are called to protect and defend the weak and vulnerable. And the answer to that is an unequivocal yes. Our society needs men who know what it means to fight battles and win. Our society needs men who can say that they fought porn and they beat porn, because their families and their friends were too important to risk. Our society needs men who rose to the challenge that the evils of their generation threw at them, and became better men as the result. And our society needs men who can help their friends and their sons and those around them fight the plague of pornography and free themselves from it, too—and who can understand better and offer encouragement more relevant than someone who has fought and been freed themselves?

So the answer to men is yes. Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting. Lend them support and encouragement. We cannot change the fact that porn has left an enormous path of destruction in its wake. But we can change the fact that too many people aren’t fighting it. We can change our own involvement. And we can rise to the challenge and face this threat to masculinity with all that is good about masculinity.

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Red Alert!

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By John-Henry Westen

I don’t like having to do this, but we have always found it best to be totally upfront with our readers: our Spring fundraising campaign is now worrying us! 

You see, with just 6 days remaining, we have only raised 30% of our goal, with $125,000 still left to raise. That is a long ways to go yet.

We have no choice but to reach our minimum goal of $175,000 if we are going to be able to continue serving the 5+ million readers who rely on us every month for investigative and groundbreaking news reports on life, faith and family issues.

Every year, LifeSite readership continues to grow by leaps and bounds. This year, we are again experiencing record-breaking interest, with over 6 million people visiting our website last month alone!

This unprecedented growth in turn creates its own demand for increased staff and resources, as we struggle to serve these millions of new readers.

And especially keep this in mind. As many more people read LifeSite, our mission of bringing about cultural change gets boosted. Our ultimate goal has always been to educate and activate the public to take well-informed, needed actions.

Another upside to our huge growth in readers is that it should be that much easier to reach our goal. To put it simply: if each person who read this one email donated whatever they could (even just $10) we would easily surpass our goal! 

Today, I hope you will join the many heroes who keep this ship afloat, and enable us to proclaim the truth through our reporting to tens of millions of people every year!

Your donations to LifeSite cause major things to happen! We see that every day and it is very exciting. Please join with us in making a cultural impact with a donation of ANY AMOUNT right now. 

You can also donate by phone or mail. We would love to hear from you!

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