I share this with you, because it´s a way of unburdening my heart, and because it is my duty of justice to bear witness to the heroism of my sister María del Carmen, who until today was always a great example of life for me in every possible way.
I do not know how many times I have heard at the beginning of the Holy Mass, the refrain "I rejoiced with those who said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord. ..." Today, with my heart crushed with pain, but with great peace, I have thought a lot about you, my sister Maria del Carmen, whom I loved so much on this earth. You won the race and you came first to the only finish line that is worth the effort, to the only goal among all, that is everlasting! You entered the House of the Lord with a great celebration! What a spectacular way to get to Heaven!
I saw my sister for the last time on Thursday, on a Thursday that seems like any other day, in the midst of this pandemic that has us all of us locked down, living a life so different from the one we lived just a few weeks ago.
It was close to noon and I got a call from Luis, my brother-in-law, telling me that she was not doing well at all. It was to be expected, it was something that, in the middle of everything, did not surprise me at all. María del Carmen, la Nena, as I always called her with deep love and respect, had suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for years. She was only three years older than me, but she had always been a lot more mature and serene and she never did any of the crazy stuff I did in my life. She had always been there to advise me, and most importantly, to listen to me. And since she did everything well, she also lived this disease very well, as well as she had been taught to live it in Opus Dei, an organization of the Catholic Church, to which she had belonged since the 1980s. Never, not a single time, in all the years she had it, I heard her grumble or complain despite the fact that little by little the disease had taken its toll, first she lost her speech, and then she gradually became paralyzed, to the point that she could hardly write on the phone anymore as this was her only way to communicate with everyone.
When she lost her speech, she texted me with simplicity that God wanted her to be mute, and she used to joke about it. Then, when she could barely write on the phone anymore, she told me the same thing again and we laughed about it. Inwardly, I suffered a lot when I saw her like that, but I knew that she found in ALS a way to unite with Our Lord on the cross and that for her the disease was her way to holiness. I was always amazed at how she was able to be watching everything and everyone from that phone. With text messages, she managed her home and kept it spotless and decorated according to the season of the year, and her timely WhatsApp texts were never missing, especially when someone had misbehaved. She was truly amazing!
On Thursday, Luis told me that ALS had already affected her respiratory system and that she already needed to be connected to a portable oxygen tank in order to breathe. Exceptionally, that day I had gone to the office to check some papers, so I left thinking that I had little time to see her since the curfew would start in a few hours. When I got to her house, I put on a mask before entering her room, when I came in, our eyes crossed, we knew that perhaps we would not see each other again. She started to cry, I only managed to tell her how much it hurt not to be able to hug her or kiss her because of this damn virus that has changed our lives, maybe forever.
I sat on a chair next to her, keeping my distance, and trying to hold back my tears. Damn, how tough! She, as always, wanted to talk to me, and asked Gaby, my niece, to help her write on the phone. With great difficulty she wrote a few words. My niece turned the phone over so I could read:
"I think I'm dying"
Tears clouded my sight and I could only tell her that I was very jealous. “That I wanted to die like her.” “So close to Our Lord!” “So close to Our Lady!” I told her that she had always lived faith, hope and charity in a heroic way and that she only needed to take one last short leap. I reminded her of how her exemplary affection and tireless prayer had brought my parents and my brothers into Heaven, and how now they were waiting for her up there with open arms. I dared at one point to say:
"Do not be afraid"
She, with great effort wrote again on the phone: "I'm not afraid. I cry because I am a wimp and I am facing suffocation” and with her usual good humor, she smiled, as she always did, in all circumstances, even in the most difficult moments, even in the last moments.
I understood then, that what scared her was not death, but rather the discomfort of suffocating, of not being able to breathe. I always knew that my sister was an exceptional woman, someone totally out of the ordinary. At that moment I confirmed it. Suddenly, I realized that I was in front of a person, my sister, in flesh and blood, getting into Heaven and fighting to the last consequences! Then I remembered those words of Saint Josemaría: “This is our destiny on earth: to fight for love until the last moment. Deo gratiae! ” And amid my pain, I thanked God for witnessing my sister's struggle to achieve holiness, until the end, until the last moment, until her last breath.
I felt uneasy because in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, I had not managed to get a priest to come and bring her the last rites. I spoke with Fr. Federico, who told me to help her do a good act of contrition, which is never superfluous, and to pray with her the prayer for a good death. He also recommended some appropriate readings for these moments. I did what he told me, and we prayed the Holy Rosary with her three daughters and my brother-in-law. I left comforted.
At the time I didn't know that this would be the last time I would see her alive. But later, it was deemed convenient that I no longer return due to the risk of contagion from COVID-19. I offered it as atonement with all the pain in my soul, never to see my sister again. On Friday morning, I managed to communicate with Fr. Luis, pastor of the church near her house, who brought her the Viaticum, the Eucharist that is brought to people close to death, and the anointing of the sick. I think that gave me more peace than her. I felt I had done her one last favor. Something that she would have expected from me, and that she would have done for me if things had been the other way around.
On Saturday, the day of the Virgin, María del Carmen lost consciousness. Very soon she would appear before Our Lord, and I am confident that He would be happy to receive her. Finally, very early in the morning on Palm Sunday, celebration of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, my sister left this earth. I am sure that now, she is joyous, hand in hand with the Love beyond All Others, very close to our Mother Saint Mary, celebrating Life, in capital letters, with my parents and my brothers. Congratulations Nena! You made it!
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