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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Dr. Miriam Grossman speaks to large audience in Mississauga, Ontario Steve Jalsevac/LifeSite
Lianne Laurence

VIDEO: How DO you to talk to kids about sex? US sex-ed critic gives practical tips

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

MISSISSAUGA, ON, August 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Talking to their children about sex is “anxiety provoking to say the least,” for parents, says American sex-ed expert, Dr. Miriam Grossman.

“Some people just can’t even do it, and that’s okay,” the New York-based psychiatrist told the crowd of 1,000 who packed a Mississauga conference hall August 18 to hear her critique of the Ontario Liberal government’s controversial sex-ed curriculum.

After Grossman explained how the Liberal sex-ed curriculum is dangerously flawed and ideologically driven, she used the question-and-answer session to give parents much appreciated and sometimes humorous practical advice on how to teach their children about “the birds and the bees.”

“If you feel you can’t do it, maybe there’s someone else in the family or in the constellation of people that you know you can trust that could do it,” said Grossman, author of “You’re teaching my child WHAT?” and an internationally sought-after speaker on sex education.

A child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with 12 years’ clinical experience treating students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) clinic, Grossman said explaining sexuality and procreation to children is “a process,” that “shouldn’t ideally happen all at once. A child is not a miniature adult, and absorbs…new information differently than adults do.”

And parents need to be sure just what their child wants to know.

To illustrate this, Grossman referred to her earlier story about a father who gave his son every detail on human procreation after the boy asked him, “Dad, where do I come from?”

After the father finished, his son replied, “Well, that’s funny, because Johnny told me that he came from Montreal.”

“Try to find out what your child is really getting at, and, don’t give it all at once,” Grossman said. “You start with a little bit at a time…and you know, there’s so many variables here, and people have their own traditions and their own ways of explaining things, and something that might be right for my family might not be right for your family.”

She also advised that, when confronted with a four, five, six or seven-year-old asking about a pregnant woman, or where babies come, a parent can ask, “What a good question that is. What do you think?”

And parents can also legitimately put off the discussion when appropriate, telling the child, “That’s really not something you need to know about right now.”

“Wow, what a novel idea: Telling a child that they could wait until they’re older to discuss that subject,” Grossman said, adding that parents wouldn’t brook a six- or even fifteen-year-old child asking how much money they made or had in the bank. “Excuse me? Not every subject has to be an open book.”

However, the time will come when a child needs to know “about how her body’s going to change, about reproduction, about how a new life is created.”

That time, Grossman advised, is puberty, or “as puberty is beginning,” and this is especially so for girls, who, if unprepared for the surprise onset of menstruation “might think [they’re] dying.”

“The actual nitty-gritty about the birds and the bees and intercourse” can “be told in bits and pieces, or it can be told all at once, if you feel it’s necessary,” she said, adding that it’s beneficial if the parent acknowledges his or her awkwardness, because the child will think: “This must be such an important subject that my mother or my father is sitting there squirming, but he’s doing it anyway. I’m really loved.”

“And the children need to understand that as you grow up, you change a lot, not only physically but emotionally,” Grossman said, “and what may seem odd or disgusting when you’re ten years old, or whatever age, it becomes something very special and beautiful when you’re older and you’ll understand it later. You don’t have to understand it now.”


Know your child and guard your home

But as an essential foundation for this discussion, parents must both know their children and guard their home from the encroachments of a culture that Grossman described as “very, very sexualized” and “really horrible.”

“Children need parents who are loving but are also firm and authoritative,” she asserted.  “They don’t need best friends. They need us to guide them, to know what they’re doing, to be on top of what they’re doing.

So parents need to be aware of whom their child is “hanging around with, and what kind of movies are they watching…what’s going on with your child.”

“You need to know that anyway, even if it’s not about sex education,” she pointed out. “Try and know your child. Every child is different.”

And Grossman emphasized that it is “extremely important to be careful about what your child is exposed to in the home, in terms of television and Internet, obviously.”

Children need to understand that “just like you have garbage you take out of the house, you put it in the garbage bin, it’s dirty, it smells…there are other things that also don’t belong in the house.”

And children learn quickly what is, and is not, permissible inside the home, Grossman said. “Me, I keep kosher…If I go into a store, my kids know from a very young age, we don’t eat that.”

So they are used to the idea of “the world outside and the inside world, of inside your home, and inside your heart as well.”

Parents can also convey this by telling their children that “the world is an upside-down place, and sometimes the most special, holy subjects are…just thrown in the gutter. And that’s a bad thing. In our family, in our tradition, we don’t do that.”

“Sexuality is one of the subjects that in this upside-down world, it is sometimes just in the gutter,” she said. “And so I want you to tell your child to come to me when you have questions, I will give you the straight story about it.”

Grossman herself is “not even sure,” as she stated in her seminar, that sex education should be in the schools: “I believe sex education should be at home for those parents that want to do it.”

She also noted that parents “can make mistakes. We all make lots of mistakes but it’s okay, you can always come back and do it differently,” adding that this is “another wonderful message for your child. You know what, it’s okay to make mistakes, you can always go back and try and fix it.”

Grossman urged parents to visit her Facebook page, website and blog. “I have so much information you can get there that you’ll find useful,” and added that she will be publishing books for children, and has posted her critique of New York City’s sex-ed curriculum, which is similar to Ontario’s.

The parental backlash to that sex-ed curriculum, set to roll out in the province’s publicly funded schools this September, has been “amazing” Grossman noted.

Grossman’s seminar was sponsored by Mississauga-based HOWA Voice of Change along with the Canadian Families Alliance, an umbrella group representing more than 25 associations and 200,000 Ontarians opposed to the curriculum. The report on her devastating critique of the sex-ed curriculum can be found here, and the video here.

Ontario readers may find information and sign up for a September 2 province-wide protests at MPPs offices here. So far, there are protests planned for 92 of Ontario’s 107 constituencies. The parents’ movement seeking removal of the curriculum is urging all concerned citizens to join this special effort to influence individual Ontario legislators.

See related reports:

Ontario’s dangerous sex-ed is indoctrination not science says U.S. psychiatrist to large audience

Videos: US psychiatrist tells parents “stand firm” against dangerous sex-ed

See the LifeSiteNews feature page on the Ontario sex-ed curriculum containing nearly 100 LifeSite articles related to the issue

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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Did the pope just endorse a gay children’s book? Of course not, says Vatican

Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete
By Pete Baklinski

ROME, August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- While mainstream media is gushing with news today that Pope Francis allegedly praised a children’s book that promotes gender theory, the Vatican is decrying what they called the "manipulation" of a cordial letter from an official in the Secretariat of State to suggest that the Vatican is promoting teachings contrary to the Gospel.

Italian children’s author Francesca Pardi was reported by The Guardian to have submitted a parcel of children’s books promoting the acceptance of homosexuality and gender theory to Pope Francis in June after Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro publicly banned the author’s newest book, Piccolo Uovo (Little Egg), from children’s schools. The book was criticized by pro-family leaders for promoting non-natural family structures of two men and two women.

In a letter accompanying the books, Pardi wrote: “Many parishes across the country are in this period sullying our name and telling falsehoods about our work which deeply offends us. We have respect for Catholics. ... A lot of Catholics give back the same respect, why can’t we have the whole hierarchy of the church behind us?”

The Guardian is reporting that Pardi has now “found an unlikely supporter in Pope Francis,” who through his staff has responded to the author and is presented as “praising her work.” It quotes the following from a July 9 letter to Pardi from the Vatican.

“His holiness is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values,” wrote Peter B. Wells, a senior official at the Vatican Secretariat of State, in a the letter The Guardian is reporting it has seen.  

While the letter gently calls the author to use her talents to spread “genuine human and Christian values,” The Guardian takes it as the pope’s endorsement of gender theory.

“Pope Francis sends letter praising gay children's book,” the paper’s headline states. “Italian book that explores different family types including same sex was banned by mayor of Venice, but pontiff becomes unlikely supporter,” reads the subtitle.

In a press release that Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi sent to LifeSiteNews on Friday, the vice speaker of the Vatican, Ciro Benedettini, made clear that the friendly reply letter to the author in no way approves of attitudes or positions that are contrary to Catholic teaching and the Gospels.

The Vatican's statement also says that in the original letter from the secretariat of state Wells merely "acknowledged receipt" of the materials sent by Pardi, and also made clear that the letter was private and not meant for publication. 

"In no way does a letter from the Secretary of State intend to endorse behaviors and teachings not in keeping with the Gospel," says the statement, decrying the "manipulation" of the letter.

Benedettini said the blessing of the pope at the end of the letter was meant to be for the author herself, and not to affirm positions concerning gender theory that are contrary to the Church's teaching. Using the letter to this end is erroneous, he said.

Pope Francis has strongly condemned the notion of “gender theory” on numerous occasions, saying that it is an “error of the human mind that leads to so much confusion.”

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Lisa Bourne

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Poll suggests most US Catholics wrongly believe Pope Francis backs gay ‘marriage’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- A considerable majority of U.S. Catholics are in conflict with Church teaching on abortion and marriage, a new study says, and a startling number of those also believe Pope Francis backs homosexual “marriage.”

Despite Church teachings, Catholics in America also closely parallel the general populace in their support for abortion and homosexual “marriage,” falling short in the Biblical call to be “in the world but not of the world.”

The findings suggest what many Catholics have said is a climate of confusion in the midst of the Francis pontificate. Concerns over that confusion prompted a coalition of pro-family groups to respond with an international petition effort asking the pope to reaffirm Church teaching, drawing more than a half-million signatures.

The survey, conducted by Public Religions Research Institute, found that 60 percent of all U.S. Catholics favor legalized homosexual “marriage,” compared to 55 percent of all Americans. Likewise, 51 percent of Catholics think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 53 percent of the general population holding this view.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a sacramental union between one man and one woman, mirroring Christ and the Church respectively as bridegroom and bride.

The Church also teaches that life begins at conception, that each human life possesses dignity as a child of God and is to be afforded protection, making abortion an intrinsic evil.

Catholics, accounting for 22 percent of adults in the U.S. population, have a favorable view of Pope Francis, the study said, but they are very confused about his take on homosexual “marriage.”

Of the Catholics who back homosexual “marriage,” 49-percent also think the leader of the Catholic Church backs it along with them. Fifteen percent of those Catholics who oppose homosexual “marriage” also mistakenly believe Pope Francis supports it.

Pope Francis has made numerous statements in support of life, marriage and family, but the confusion remains.

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"After Ireland and the U.S. Supreme Court both approved same-sex 'marriage,' a strong reaffirmation of Church teaching could save the sacred institution of marriage, strengthen the family and dispel the lies of the homosexual revolution," TFP Student Action Director John Ritchie stated.  "Young Catholics -- even non-Catholics -- look to the Church as a beacon of morality and stability in our Godless culture, but some of our shepherds have issued confusing statements."

TFP Student Action is a part of the lay Catholic organization American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, and is part of the alliance behind the Filial Appeal, the petition asking the Holy Father to reinforce Catholic teaching at the Vatican’s upcoming Synod on the Family in October.

Ritchie explained how the confusion was aiding the Church’s enemies, and warned of the potential consequences.

"This prayerful petition asks Pope Francis to clear up the moral confusion that's been spreading against Natural and Divine Law," he said. "If the enemies of the family continue to chip away at holy matrimony, the future of the family and civilization itself will be in even more serious peril."

At press time more than 500,000 signature had been gathered for the appeal, including five cardinals, 117 bishops and hundreds of well-known civic leaders.

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