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Divine Mercy in My Life

I began my sophomore year of college in August 2015. People said sophomore year was harder than freshman year. I didn’t recall having it easy as a freshman, so I was worried I’d be overwhelmed. They were right...but not in the way I expected.

It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon: the “Hour of Mercy,” the time Jesus died on the Cross. I had just finished my first day of classes and was feeling confident in my course load.


Maybe this year won’t be so bad after all...


I stepped into the hallway and tapped my phone screen. One missed call from Mom and a text from her that read, “Call me.” Assuming she was checking in to hear how classes went, I didn’t give it a second thought. I found a semi-vacant spot in a stairwell and called her back.


When you’re expecting to have a casual conversation, it throws you for a loop when the first thing you hear is, “Grandpa’s in the hospital.” It doesn’t help when that statement is followed by the phrase, “Things aren’t looking good.” Reeling, I sat down on the window pane and started to shake. People passing by did double takes. Some looked at me with sympathy; others, with scorn. Maybe I should have waited to call my mom back.

 

“He hasn’t been feeling well the last few days, so I stopped by to check on him this morning,” she told me. “He was having a heart attack when I got there. He wouldn’t let me call an ambulance, so I took him to the emergency room.” This grandfather - my dad’s dad - had a history of health scares, but none had occurred during my lifetime. At least, none as urgent as this.


“He’s doing better, but it’s all up-in-the-air. You don’t need to come home…yet.” 


~  ~  ~


I attended a week-long retreat the summer before freshman year. While there, I was introduced to the verse Exodus 14:14, which reads, “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” We spent a lot of time that week being still before the Lord - specifically, in the Blessed Sacrament. This experience was not new to me, but feeling the Lord’s true presence was. After getting the call about Grandpa, I sought refuge in a chapel on campus. I needed to sense God’s closeness in this way. What I found instead was a cramped patch of carpet in the back. 


This chapel wasn’t exactly the most welcoming of worship spaces. A couple pews were placed in front of the monstrance in which the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, but I couldn’t see past the other people. It was very crowded, which - while it didn’t surprise me - frustrated me. It seemed like everyone was trying to get close to Jesus that night. Was I supposed to pull a Zacchaeus and scale a sycamore tree? That wasn’t an option inside the church; and though the building was structurally sound, I wasn’t about to climb the baldacchino. So I sat in the back and cried silently. 


I felt so alone. I thought of Martha and Mary, friends of Jesus who felt betrayed when their brother, Lazarus, died. Jesus hadn’t seemed to fight for His friend then. Would He fight for my grandpa now? I didn’t want Grandpa to die; I wanted Jesus to make him better.


Desperate to dispel the dark thoughts and do something proactive, I decided to write Grandpa a letter. I tried to put into words how much I loved him and how much he meant to me. When it came time to sign it, I paused; I wanted to include a Bible verse but wasn’t sure which one. Then the one from the retreat came to mind: “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” It seemed fitting. Slowly and purposefully, I wrote “Exodus 14:14” across the bottom of the page. Satisfied with my work and exhausted from the emotional rollercoaster I’d been on, I began to pack up my things. 


I heard the chapel door open and glanced in the direction of the sound. In doing so, my eyes fell on a pamphlet propped up on the table next to me. I took the paper and read the bolded caption: PRAY THE DIVINE MERCY CHAPLET. I was somewhat familiar with the chaplet but didn’t know much about it. Curious, I began flipping through the brochure. “To be prayed especially for the sick and dying.” The words were practically screaming at me from the page. I nearly dropped the booklet; I wasn’t used to God speaking so directly. 


According to this source, the most powerful way to pray the chaplet was as a novena for nine days straight. Convinced I’d received a divine commission, I resolved to begin the novena that night. My intention? That God would fight for my grandfather.


~  ~  ~


“And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” (Gen 1:5)


~  ~  ~


“What are your plans for the weekend?” My mom’s question caught me off-guard when I called for an update on Grandpa the following morning. Weren't we supposed to be talking about him?


“I don’t know. Classes just started yesterday, and some people only came back this week. No one’s said anything about the weekend.”


“Well, I really don’t think anything’s going to happen,” she began, “and I can tell Grandpa’s better than he was, but I think he’d enjoy having everyone together this weekend.” 


That was weird. If everything was fine, why was my mom asking me to drive six hours home when she knew I planned to visit in a few weeks? A knot formed in the pit of my stomach.


“Okay. I’ll come home then.”


“Do you want me or Dad to come get you?”


“That’s okay. I’ll be fine.” Is it a sin to lie to your mom?


~  ~  ~


“And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.” (Gen 1:8)


~  ~  ~


I was a mess the next night. I barely had the strength to pack a bag. While my friends watched a movie down the hall, I bawled my eyes out in my dorm room. My mind went to worst-case scenarios. Will this be the last time I see Grandpa? What if I don’t make it in time? How am I supposed to say goodbye? 


I wanted Grandpa to be there when I graduated college. I wanted him to be at my wedding. I wanted him to meet my kids and make his famous popcorn for them. I wanted him to be there for everything, smiling at me from his old maroon chair like he always had.


Pushing away the dark thoughts, I prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet and went to bed.


~  ~  ~


“And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.” (Gen 1:13)


~  ~  ~  


I left early Saturday morning and arrived at Mercy Hospital late in the afternoon. (Yes, the name of the hospital was Mercy. Coincidence? I think not.) I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got there. My grandpa had been older all my life, so his weathered skin didn’t phase me. What struck me most was how small he looked in the hospital bed, and how tired. He said he was glad to see me, and we spent the rest of the day in conversation with family and friends who filtered in and out of the room. I tried to convince myself this was like any other Saturday at Nanny and Grandpa’s. All those times I took for granted...I may never see him again. Forcing myself to pull it together, I took a deep breath. I could not break there.


~  ~  ~


“And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.” (Gen 1:19)


~  ~  ~


“Is this the last time I’m going to see Grandpa?” I was planning to return to the hospital Sunday morning on my way back to school. I would be going alone, as the rest of my family would visit him later in the day. The fears I’d managed to bottle up the night before were threatening to spill over; I didn’t know how much longer I could hold them in.


My mom wrapped me in her arms. “No, Morgan, I really don’t think so. I truly believe he’ll still be here the next time you’re home.” Kissing her goodbye, I held onto her hope.


If Grandpa had seemed tired the day before, he was completely worn out now. Though my grandma was with him, they were sitting in silence when I arrived. It was as if Grandpa had spent every last bit of energy he had entertaining family and friends. Always the giver. I handed him the letter, trusting he would read it later. He smiled and thanked me.


I sat with him for a while, but it seemed neither of us had much to say. Eventually, he broke the silence and said, “You’d better get going. You’ve got a long drive back to school.” I nodded, feeling numb all over. I gave him a hug and a kiss and told him I’d see him in three weeks. He didn’t say anything to that; he just smiled and said, "I love you.”


“I love you, too.” I cried all the way to my car.


I drove the six hours straight through. I did most of my crying at the beginning. I spent the remainder of the drive calling people, still pushing back the thoughts that threatened to consume me. What if…? What if…? What if…? 


~  ~  ~


“And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.” (Gen 1:23)


~  ~  ~


The Book of Genesis says God created man on the sixth day, but on that day of my Divine Mercy Novena, my grandfather died. I was heartbroken. At first, I believed God hadn’t fought for my grandpa since He hadn't healed him and that my prayers had been for nothing. Yet again, God was working things out in a way I never would have expected.


“Nanny said he loved your letter,” I heard my mom say from what felt like a thousand miles away. We were both struggling to keep our composure. “He really liked the Bible verse, too. Nanny wants his funeral card to have a picture of him on it with that verse underneath. Oh, and she asked if you would do the eulogy.”


When someone goes off to college, they expect plenty of sleepless nights spent writing papers. I wonder, though, how many have spent one writing a eulogy. It was a surreal experience. My roommate was a champ; she stayed up with me as I worked, offering advice and helping me proofread until we agreed it was perfect. She also prayed with me, which I desperately needed. Though I felt like I was drowning, that novena proved to be my anchor. 


~  ~  ~ 


And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.” (Gen 1:31)


~  ~  ~


The funeral took place on the last day of my Divine Mercy Novena. There was no doubt in my mind that this was the most beautiful way Grandpa could have been ushered from this life to the next - covered in God's mercy. I was immensely grateful for the part God asked me to play in this and hope someone prays for me in the same way when it's my time. After that, there was only one thing left to do - the same thing God did on the seventh day - rest.


"The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be still.”

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