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The Brown Scapular

My mother was the epitome of a religious woman. She was a devout Catholic who heard mass every day, practised her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, was devoted to her prayer and bible time, never missed a prayer meeting, commandeered us to pray the rosary at precisely 6 p.m. every single day, and wore a brown scapular. She was a self-sacrificing mother who would never utter a word of complaint no matter how tired and weary she was from doing chores, and again doing more chores when she came home from work.

She was not a materialistic person and her one simple wish was to see where Jesus was born. "When I see the exact place where Jesus was born, I can already die." Even as a young girl, these were words that would echo in my ears over and over again. This was her dire wish. And when I grew older, I'd tell her in retort "be careful what you wish for, you just might get it quicker than you think and you might not be ready to meet your Maker."

In 1996, at age 69, her wish came true. She joined a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and included in the itinerary was a visit to the Birth Cave. This is where Christians gather to see the place where the Baby Jesus was born. On the floor could be seen a silver star with 14 points symbolizing the 14 stations of the Via Dolorosa. There read the following inscription: "Here, of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ was born." As soon as she saw this, she was ready to go home. She grew weary from all the walking and sightseeing that somebody literally had to carry her so that she could catch up with the group.

A week after she came home, she was rushed to the Lung Center and was hospitalized for pneumothorax. This refers to a condition in which air builds up under pressure and usually totally collapses one or both of the lungs. In her case, it was a partial collapse. The pressure that built up in her lung cavity slowed the return of blood to her heart from the veins. Because her heart had little or less blood available to pump into the main arteries, her blood pressure dropped. She stayed in the hospital for about a week. When her medical history was taken, the doctors found out that the main cause of the collapse was not the 'trip' but the harmful effects of 40 years of second hand smoke inhalation since my father was a heavy smoker. The trip only triggered the collapse.

When her condition improved and she was given the go-signal to come home, it was decided that she would come and live with us. We had two helpers and one could be assigned to her for her special needs. Her illness had progressed into emphysema, and she needed to be attached to an oxygen supply tank 24/7 to help her breathe. She couldn't be away from her supply longer than 10 minutes. This went on for 2 years.

On January 28, 1998, she died in her sleep, all serene and peaceful with a smile on her lips, a rosary on one hand with the other holding on to her brown scapular. True to the scapular's promise, I know that at the hour of her death, the Blessed Mother interceded with God for her to obtain the grace she needed to remain in the state of God's friendship and to save her soul. Two hours before her death, a priest came to administer the sacrament of Extreme Unction. She was well on her way to her next trip…….. bon voyage!

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