April 21, 1968. Dona Lucilia Ribeiro dos Santos Corrêa de Oliveira lay in her apartment on her deathbed. The young Dr. Luiz Moreira Duncan, a friend of her son, Dr. Plinio, was in attendance since her private doctor, the eminent Dr. Abrahão Brickman, was out.
Around 10 o’clock in the morning, the nurse attending Dr. Plinio – then convalescing from a grave illness contracted in December of 1967 – alerted Dr. Duncan, who was reading a newspaper in the living room, that Dona Lucilia was doing poorly.
The doctor was somewhat surprised, for he had given her an injection at 8:20 a.m. and nothing had then indicated a drastic worsening of her condition. He immediately put aside the newspaper he was reading, and went to her room.
A large and deliberate Sign of the Cross
Dona Lucilia lay tranquilly without the support of pillows, her arms extended alongside her body. Her eyes were closed and her lips were moving, certainly in prayer.
Upon taking her pulse and seeing how slow and weak it was, the doctor noted that she was in her final moments. He asked the nurse to summon Dr. Plinio immediately.
Meanwhile, Dona Lucilia, never ceasing to move her lips, felt in her heart that the solemn moment of her departure from this life had arrived.
She decisively withdrew her hand from that of the doctor and, with a delicate but firm movement, without manifesting effort or difficulty, made a large and deliberate Sign of the Cross. She then crossed her pure white hands upon her chest and serenely expired. It was the eve of her ninety-second birthday.
As someone would later very aptly comment, “She majestically departed from a life led with honour.”
A gentle death
From the moment the doctor drew close to her bed, she had not opened her eyes. She died without a tremor, showing no visible sign of pain. “Beati mortui qui in Domino moriuntur – Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Rv 14:13).
In her last moments she maintained the serenity with which she had braved all manner of pain throughout her life, registering neither surprise nor protest. In those final moments, she exhibited the firm resolution of a truly Catholic soul. Her attitude toward suffering – so much a part of life – was that of faithfully facing her duty and accepting it with courage, sweetness, and peace, blessing the Hearts of Jesus and Mary and uniting herself entirely to Them.
The large Sign of the Cross she made as her life drew to a close evokes the phrase, “Talis vita, finis ita – Just as one lived, so does one die.”
A closeness that endured in the light of the Faith
Despite the piercing sorrow he felt, Dr. Plinio ended the day with deep serenity.
In fact, already in the early afternoon, as he prepared, in his room, for the funeral rites, he was visited by an ineffable peace and calm, and felt an ebbing of the desolation brought on by the death of his unforgettable mother and the thought of the unalterable separation.
The noonday sun would no longer shine in that home, where Dona Lucilia had lived out her private life with dignity. However, a warm and welcoming twilight would always linger.
Back from the cemetery, reclining on the sofa of his office, Dr. Plinio clearly felt as if his dear mother was seated nearby in the rocking chair, ready to begin their customary evening chat… In an imponderable way, she was still giving life to the home.
In the light of the Faith and beyond the threshold of death, the closeness between mother and son was unabated.
Exemplary preparation for the entrance into eternity
Divine Providence saw to it that Dona Lucilia receive Extreme Unction on the day before her death. Her son, concerned with her state of health, had asked a priest friend of his to kindly administer the Last Rites.
Around 5 p.m. the priest duly arrived with the holy oils. Entering her room with Dr. Plinio, he briefly and clearly explained that he had come to administer to her the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.
During the ceremony, at each Sign of the Cross made by the priest, she blessed herself with large and solemn gestures. Propped up on several pillows, her eyes wide open, fully lucid, she received the Sacrament that would prepare her for death.
Her pious concentration as she followed each step made an impression on those present. The priest himself, mentioned this in conversation with Dr. Plinio, saying that he had been edified with the way she had received Extreme Unction.
The final day of a long life
This memorable scene unfolded in a peaceful climate, suffused with a sort of supernatural luminosity.
For some time, Dona Lucilia had been having breathing difficulties due to heart problems. She coped with this distressing situation, by wisely allocating, so to speak, the small quantity of oxygen she was able to inhale. She never gasped nor struggled. She gradually acclimatized her body to the diminishing amount of air entering her lungs.
She was preparing herself to die in peace, never uttering a word suggestive of fear or complaint over the torments that usually afflict the dying.
With her customary affability and concern for all, she attempted to respond to everything that was said to her, even though her lack of air permitted only short phrases. She rose above her condition to console anyone at her bedside who was troubled.
On the last day of her life, she recited all her daily prayers as usual, before the statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady. Her expression and gestures bore the meekness of a pure soul, the spirit of peace and joy that comes from having completed one’s duty, the mark of those who have made every sacrifice.
She radiated the simple dignity of one, who, having entirely immolated self, and before whom only death and eternity remain, exclaims like St. Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tm 4:7). Her soul was ready to receive the “crown of righteousness” in Heaven. ◊
Taken, with minor adaptations, from:
Dona Lucilia. Città del Vaticano-Nobleton: LEV;
Heralds of the Gospel, 2013, p.39-46