And At the Hour of Death

And At the Hour of Death June 7, 2024



purple and white pea blossoms from my garden
image by Mary Pezzulo

I thought I planted dwarf peas.

The label on the seed packet said “dwarf,” which I thought meant the pea vines themselves would be smaller than average peas. Usually, when I plant peas, they grow up about ten inches tall or less, so I thought dwarf peas would grow six inches. But apparently the “dwarf” in “dwarf peas” refers to the size of the pea pod and not the vine. These pea vines were nearly four feet tall. They were shading my tomatoes so badly that two of them were ridiculously small and wizened. I had to transplant them to another part of the patch to get some sun.

The peas had far overgrown the fencing I put up for them. I’d put two old shovel handles in the ground for them to cling to, and they were weighing one stake halfway to the ground. On Wednesday afternoon, right before the predicted thunderstorm, I went outside and tried to get that pole to stand upright. I leaned on it with all my strength. It was no use. The ground was too dry and hard; it had shrunken around the leaning pole like cement. I managed to get it almost straight, and then I gave up. After the rain, I told myself, the ground would be soft. I would come out and fix the pole then.

I sat down to catch my breath, exhausted. I didn’t know how it was possible that one pea pole had winded me so completely. I’m not a strong woman, but I’m usually stronger than this.

The clouds sprinkled a few big round wet drops. I shook myself and got up, heavily, as if I’d done a whole day’s work on a farm instead of a few minutes of work in a garden. I went inside to get out of the deluge. But the deluge did not come. Those drops were all there was.

I told myself I ought to go out and water the garden, but I couldn’t.

Adrienne and I sat on the sofa playing video games until bedtime, and still, the rain didn’t come.

I went upstairs to get ready for bed. I’m usually very meticulous in my bedtime routine. The bedtime routine is one of those things I do with great care, step by step, like gardening. I recite the steps to myself as I do them because it makes me feel accomplished: shower, toner, pajamas, eye cream, night cream, floss, teeth brushed, hair brushed, bed. I do this every night, even when I’ve been up until three finishing my writing. Bear that in mind when I say that I was so exhausted, I skipped the shower. I skipped the toner. I forgot to brush my teeth. I just washed my face and dabbed on a little night cream, and then I collapsed into bed.

By the time I got to bed, I barely had the strength to roll over and turn off the rattly window air conditioner, but I was so cold that I forced myself to put in the effort. I rolled up in my quilts.

Michael came upstairs with a glass of water and asked why it was so stuffy upstairs. We need to keep the window units on most every night in the summer, or the house overheats.

I opened my  mouth to tell him to get me the electric blanket because I was freezing. And then the worst possible thing in the world happened, and I barely got to the bathroom on time. Walking back from the bathroom was so exhausting I had to lean on the wall.

I have been chronically ill for most of my life. I was misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia for about ten years, and spent a lot of time during those years bedbound. You’d think I would be used to being sick, but it always broadsides me.

I don’t remember swallowing the Aleve or the nausea medicine.

I know that the nausea medicine didn’t work, and every time I sprinted to the bathroom it felt a little more like running a marathon. On one trip I asked if it had rained yet, and Michael said we’d gotten a good soaking.

I remember kicking off the electric blanket as the severe chills abruptly turned to a blistering fever.

I remember looking out the window and thinking that it couldn’t possibly be daylight out, but it was.

I remember deciding that I was going to die.

There was no reason to think that. Everyone catches a bug sometimes. I’ve been much, much calmer about being much, much sicker in my life. But somehow, at about dawn, when I was utterly dehydrated but too tired to rasp that I needed someone to bring me a drink, I thought that I was dying, and I was terrified.

Did I pray? Yes, badly.

Did I pray any proper, formal, memorized prayers, as a good Catholic is supposed to do when a good Catholic is dying, and terrified? No. I’m not a good Catholic.

I prayed to the archangels. The archangels are not human so I’ve always had the naive notion that they might like me, which humans never do. I told Archangel Raphael that I was a little afraid of them because a Charismatic girl invoked their name when praying over me at a Healing Prayer Session just before my life took a sharp turn for the worse. I asked Archangel Michael to please stay here until it was over and try to explain things when Jesus showed up, because Jesus wasn’t going to be happy with my failure. I asked Archangel Gabriel to try and smooth things over with the Virgin Mary, because I was desperately afraid of the Virgin Mary. Most everyone who’s abused me has been fond of the Virgin Mary and used her as a cudgel. I explained to Saint Teresa of Avila that I hadn’t stopped going to confession because I was being obstinate, it was because I had severe religious PTSD from all the horrendous things that happened in the Charismatic Renewal, and the thought of a confessional gave me panic attacks, and indeed I was starting to panic thinking about it just then. And then I panicked so hard I ran to the bathroom, and the worst possible thing happened again.

I think, at some point, Michael brought me another glass of water, and it stayed down.

At some point I found myself talking to the Virgin Mary. If I look at her icon and see her all modestly dressed up like a queen, I panic. But I closed my eyes and thought of her as a nurse in blue scrubs, with freckles and a ginger ponytail, and for some reason that worked. I mentioned that I hoped the Church was much, much bigger than I’d been taught, and that by the mystery of the Incarnation and the Passion and Death of Christ, the souls who had been mauled and torn apart by the institutional Church would find themselves in the Heart of Christ while the popular celebrity Catholics were sent away empty. Except that I didn’t say that in anything like such beautiful words.

I thought about Christ.

I thought about a question someone had asked on social media a few weeks ago. He’d asked, “When you see Jesus face to face, what will He say to you?” and I didn’t know what to answer. I couldn’t imagine Him saying “well done” when I failed so miserably, but I couldn’t bear the thought of Him saying “depart from me,” and I certainly couldn’t imagine Him saying “come in among the saints you’re so afraid of.” I realized that all I wanted, with all of my heart, was for Him to come running to me like the Father in the parable and say “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry they did that to you. I didn’t authorize them. I don’t know them. They are not my people. I denounce them before my Heavenly Father. I know you are so angry, and so afraid of me you can’t even bear to look at me right now.  Here’s the quiet place of healing you’ve been longing for your entire life. We’ll rest here together until you’re ready to meet the family. I’m just going to stay here with you and keep reassuring you that I am good.”

I think I fell asleep at some point after that.

At five o’clock Thursday next evening, I was finally able to sit up and scroll on my phone.

By one in the afternoon today, Friday, I was able to stumble out to the garden, just for a minute.

The peas had weighed that pole down to the ground; they were all knotted like a bezoar near the pumpkins. There was a bud on one of those volunteer sunflowers that grew out of the compost. The potato plants were almost tall enough to be buried again. The watermelons were getting their big leaves. The tomatoes I’d transplanted were taking to the soil just fine.

Life goes on and on.

I believe that God is good.

I can’t explain it any better than that.


Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.











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