Mary talks about her experience with a death of a loved one and how it is important to understand it as not an end, but rather a beginning. She finds comfort in Our Lady and reminds us that death is only the end of mortal life, but the beginning of an eternal life with Jesus.
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Reflective Study Guide Questions
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where [I] am going you know the way.”John 14: 1-4
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”1 Corinthians 15:56
- What example did the Blessed Virgin Mary give us for how to continue living in faith when we have lost someone we love? What can we learn from how she lived through her son’s suffering and death?
- God will bless our lives and our loved ones when we ask Him to. He can bring about His glory by doing this through us, through our lives, and even through our deaths. Whether you know someone close to their death now or someone who has already passed, ask the Lord to bless them and to reveal His face, love and mercy in their life and through their death.
- The prayers of the suffering are some of the most powerful. If you are currently suffering, try to remember how close Jesus is right now. You are near to Him on the cross. Offer up to the Lord your pain, suffering and grief. And ask the Lord to show you that death has not won.
- Death has no sting because Christ died on the cross and opened Heaven for us. Death has no sting because God gave His only begotten Son through His life, death and resurrection, for us. So do not despair. Do not think God is punishing you by taking your loved one from your life. We know that death is not the end. Pray for your loved one. Here is St. Gertrude’s Prayer for the Poor Souls in Purgatory: “Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.”
Text: Death is Not the End
Hi everyone. My name is Mary Lenaburg, and I thank you so much for joining me today. The title of this talk is called “Death is Not The End”, and we’re going to be talking about how even though death exists in the world, God has claimed victory to that. And I’ll be sharing some personal stories from my lifetime, and I hope they will encourage you in your walk. But first, we’re going to pray, and we’re going to ask our Lady to come upon this time with us together by offering a Hail Mary to her in her honor.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.
As I said, the title of my talk is called “Death is Not The End”, and the reason I chose to share this talk with you today was to talk about how death affects us. The death of a loved one, someone close to us, and how it affects our relationship with God. So I’m a wife of 28 years to my beloved husband Jerry. Pardon me, I’m battling a cold, so bear with me. We were blessed to have 2 children: Our son Jonathan, and our daughter, Courtney. And 2 years ago, on December 27th, 2014, God called our daughter Courtney home to Him.
Now, Courtney was a special needs child. When she was 5 weeks old she began to have grand mal seizures, which led to a lifetime to seizures every single day of her life. She had an adverse reaction to medication when she was 7 months old, which took her sight, and also swelled her brain and damaged the brain, so she never went beyond 9 months of development. So at the time of her death she was 22 years old, but she was like a baby. She never was beyond 9 months in understanding, or so we know. So we think. She was cortically blind, she was in a wheelchair her whole life, she never spoke. Well, she got her point across. It sounded like Chewbacca from Star Wars, but she never spoke English. And she was a tremendous blessing and a beautiful burden, as I like to call it, in our lives.
Her life, throughout her life with the suffering that happened to her, that was allowed to happen to her, and the suffering that happened to our family as an extent, both financial, physical, emotional, spiritual, my husband and I learned to lean upon the Lord in His understanding of these things. We learned over time who our daughter was in Christ, and how He didn’t make a mistake. He made her full, and beautiful, and whole, and it was the world and the rest of us that struggled with this whole idea of her imperfections, right. That she couldn’t do the things that anybody else could do. And He showed us over the course of her life how to love. What unconditional love looked like in the daily service of this child.
It says in the great book Les Miserables, which is “To love another person is to see the face of Christ.” And that’s what our daughter taught us. She taught us how to love without condition, and without barrier, because Courtney could never do anything to earn our love, right. She just was. She just was loved. She couldn’t play soccer, she couldn’t do ballet, she couldn’t score a perfect score on her SAT. She was just Courtney. So, it’s this beautiful example of how God sees us. There’s nothing we can do to earn His love. He loves us because He created us to be in relationship with Him. He breathes life into us in this very moment so that we are in relationship with Him. That’s His great desire. And when that time comes to an end, He’s the one who calls us home, not ourselves. We don’t make that decision. That is left up to God, who created us in His image and likeness.
So when I chose the talk title “Death is not the End”, I wanted to share with you, because I know many of you are going through the same thing that I went through. You have lost a child. You have gone through a time of great suffering. It is not a normal thing for a parent to bury a child. It is outside the norm. Maybe you haven’t lost a child. Maybe you’ve lost a spouse. Maybe you’ve lost a parent. Maybe you’ve lost a best friend. Loss comes because we live in a world of sin. And maybe through that loss, you might have realized or rallied against God saying “Why would You take this person from me? Why would You allow this suffering to happen in my life?” And you might be feeling “Well, God’s not really listening to me. I haven’t really heard any answer.”
It’s Just the Beginning
Well, I asked that question, you know, I asked it. It’s an honest human question to ask. And I haven’t really heard the answer either other than to know that death is not the end of my daughter’s story. As a matter of fact, it is just the beginning. I know you’re thinking “What? This lady… I don’t know.” You know. But it is. It says in scripture. First Corinthians chapter 15, verses 54-58. I’ll read this for you. “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, when this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? Oh death, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is in the law; And thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the world of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
Now, you might be thinking “Well, Mary, you know, that… That’s all about sin.” Well, sure, so is death. Death exists because sin is here. We live in a fallen world. My daughter, if we were in the Garden of Eden, she’d still be alive. She’d be running around happy and free. But we don’t, and so she died. So what’s the lesson in death for us? Well, I think that’s a multi-layered question, and I’m hoping that what I have to offer today will encourage you if you are walking this path of grief after losing someone that you love, and that you will realize that in the season of Lent all of that grief, all of that longing is answered in the resurrection that’s coming. “Death, where is your sting? Death, where is your victory?” Death has no victory, because Christ has risen.
How Do We Survive?
So, how do we survive death? How do we survive this deep loss of another human, who we’ve loved, and cared for? Who we’ve scarified for? Well, we look to our Lady for that example. Here she was, standing at the foot of the cross, her Son broken, battered, bloody, dying, feeling abandoned by His own Father, and she’s standing at the foot of the cross and she’s still praising our Lord. She’s still praising God. She doesn’t abandon her Son, she stays with Him. She suffers with Him. She is loving God through Him and in Him. She has come to understand that her sorrow is only temporary, for one day she hoped and she is with God, because she was assumed into heaven, body and soul. So she’s up there in the court of our Lord, praising Him, loving Him, for an eternity.
But what does that do for us who are still here on earth and our loved ones are gone? How do we come to terms with that? Well, like I said, our Lady, there’s that beautiful image of The Pietà, where she’s holding her Son, who has died, and she is looking out into the world, and her hands are open. I don’t know if you can see that. They’re open to the world. “I give you my Son. His life is offered for you, and for me.” My daughter had a difficult life, but God blessed it, as He does all of our lives if we simply but ask Him to. God used my child to speak words of love to people who didn’t have any understanding of what that was. And in her death, He has brought about even more glory.
December 27, 2014
So let’s go back to that night. December 27th, 2014. It is 1:51 in the morning, and we have been waiting by my daughter’s bedside – My mother, and my husband, myself, my son – for 3 months now, in a hospice-like situation, waiting on our Lord and His timing, because Catholics, remember, we believe that life begins at conception and goes to natural death. So there was no speeding of this process, there was no despair over the process, there was simply a holy waiting. That’s what we called it, a holy waiting. And people had come knowing our daughter as an innocent soul, knowing that when she closed her eyes here on earth and when she opened her eyes in heaven, she would be looking upon her beloved Lord. She would be looking upon the face of Jesus. And so they would come and they would pray with her, they would pray for her, and then they would ask for her prayers, okay. This is how you honor a life.
This child could never speak. It’s not like she could say to you “Okay, I’ll pray for you.” But her life was one of an example of the holiness, of that purity of innocence in being a special needs child. And people understood that about her. So they would come to our home and they would spend time with us, and spend time with her, and it was almost like they were loading her up for heaven. Like “Please Courtney, would you take this prayer to heaven? Would you intercede for me in this way?” And she had a smile on her face. I can only imagine her physical suffering. I really don’t like to, but I can only imagine how difficult it was toward the end of her life, before our Lord brought her home, but she was filled with such joy, and such peace, and such beauty, because she knew. First of all, I think she knew she was soon to be with Him. Secondly, she knew this was part of her job, and she still needed to do her job. She was still breathing here on earth. When she took her last breath, she was in my arms. I had asked God, and begged God many times before. “I was the first person to hold her Lord. Let me be the last one. If You would please just honor this prayer.” And He did. He honored that.
And of course there is a breaking that happens to a mother’s heard when you lose a child, whether it be in utero, or you actually get the privilege of holding them in your arms. There is a breaking that happens with death to a spouse who… we just lost my father-in-law. He and my mother-in-law had been married for 61 years. To know “Who am I without this person I walked besides for 61 years?” There is a breaking that happens to us, which is the result of sin being in the world, and death being in the world. But God is with us in the breaking. You have to remember our Lady, her Son’s body was broken and bloody, and she held Him. There was a breaking within her. There was a literal breaking of our Lord’s bones. But, again, we are an Easter people. This is not the end of their life. But at that moment, you have to walk through this valley of the shadow of death. And we’re asked to fear no evil, and look to our Lord for the answer.
And as I held her physically for the last time, I offered up that breaking, and I asked our Lord to show me the glory. “Just give me a little bit. Could You please, in this moment, show me a little piece of her life? A little piece of her legacy?” And God, being a good and gracious, wonderful God, did so. Because what happened next in the next few hours really are nothing short of miraculous, in my opinion. The EMTs had to be called because, you know, she was in our home. She took her last breath in her home. And so they had to be called to assess the body, and do what legally must be done in these situations. And this beautiful doctor friend of ours, Dr. John, we called him first, being a physician, so that he could walk us through this time. We had talked about it beforehand, and he was a great encourager to us and a wonderful gift to our daughter.
And so he came. And the first thing he told us was “You know what today is, right?” And we’re like “December 27th”. And he said “No, it’s the feast of St. John The Beloved.” God’s beloved feast. God’s beloved saint. The one who never abandoned the Lord, who stood by our Lady and was with her at the foot of the cross. And I thought “Lord, Courtney did all You asked her to do. She never left You. She never abandoned You. And even if her parents sinned and abandoned You, we sought out reconciliation with You. We came back again and again and again, loving, repenting, asking for strength, receiving strength. So how beautiful that You would choose to bring her home on this feast day of St. John The Beloved.
So, as the EMTs arrived, the first one came in, and his name was Jack. John was his given name. And he’s asking me questions, and doing what needs to be done. He goes over to my daughter’s bed and he says to her, she’s passed, she has a smile on her face, she’s laying on the bed. He says to her, whispers in her ears “Courtney, when you get to heaven, please give my wife a hug.” His wife had died 3 months prior of breast cancer. Now, what made him think that Courtney could do that? He’d never met us, he’d never been in our home. Well, her room was filled with icons of pictures of the family, and with pictures that people had sent us. Her room was filled with joy. It was palpable to go in and to see.
And so he asked this of my daughter. It was beautiful. Then the others started to file in and do what they needed to do, and I, like I said, remember, I had asked God to show me her legacy. Just a little bit. “Show me that death has not won here.” And there was a gentleman named Simon, a gentleman named Jude, a couple other John’s. I mean, it was just… it was kind of funny how all of these people surrounded in this moment of death were… their names were even connected to the apostles and to the Lord’s ministry. And so each one of them, there were 4 EMTs, before they left, they went over and they kissed my daughter, one on the hand, another on the forehead, several whispered into her ears prayers. They don’t know who she is, but somehow they knew she was someone special. Well, that continued, that type of moment over the course of the next few days as we prepared for her funeral.
We had a wake in our church, a 24-hour wake – the Irish used to do it for 24 hours. That’s how my ancestors did it, and so that’s how we chose to do it with Courtney. And throughout 24 hours from… or 12 hours, it was overnight, pardon me. So we started at 7, I think yeah, 6:30, 7, and we went until 7 the next morning. So over the course of the night we were never alone. There were always people with us. People out the door. Some people we had never met in person, but had been praying for our daughter for years through… they had heard it through friends and family, and they wanted to come and share their love for her and for our family. Total strangers. God was revealing her legacy.
Then, on the day of her funeral mass, there were 8 priests on the alter, several of whom had never met Courtney, and they never met Jerry or myself. But again, they had known of her, had been praying for her, and wanted to honor her. And as one said, “There was no way I was going to miss the funeral of a saint.” Which is beautiful. We found out later that there were 2 more that were sick and couldn’t be there that day, and 2 more that got stuck in traffic. So had they all been there, there would have been 12 priests on the altar. A little bit of a legacy. For a young lady who could never speak, who was cortically blind, and could, you know, without ever saying a word, she witnessed the love of God to her community. And to so many through social media and other ways, so many throughout the world.
The Power of the Mass
And so as we ran her funeral mass, of course there were tears. I, you know, wanted nothing more than to hold her in my arms again. But what I realized in that moment, and what I encourage you to really think about and really allow to seep in, is that the closest place we can be to our loved ones who have gone before us is the mass. There is that moment where heaven meets earth, where the priest puts his hands over the chalice and he brings down heaven to meet earth. And in that moment, my daughter is present. She is right there standing right beyond the veil. She is praising our Lord with me. We are in prayer together.
Now, I may have to wait until I die to be able to be with her, to hold her again, but until then imagine the power of that moment to be in mass and to know you are with your daughter, son, spouse, grandparent, sibling, neighbor. They’re there, praising our Lord with you. Death, where is your sting? Where is your victory? You have none, because our Lord offered Himself up on the cross. He offered up all that He had for us so that we could have eternal life with Him. So that we could spend forever and forever and forever with Him. How awesome is that? Death is not the end. Yes, there is pain. Yes, there is loneliness. Yes, there is suffering. But my friends, wherever the Lord is, in adoration, in mass, our loved ones who have gone before us are.
Just the End of Mortal Life
We pray for them, we intercede for them, we beg God on their behalf. Their story is not done. Our story is not done. Our relationship still exists. We ask for them to pray for us. I imagine my daughter, she is free. She can walk, she can talk, she can eat steak and chocolate pudding. All of the things she couldn’t do on earth. Imagine, “St. Courtney, please, your momma needs you right now. Can you intercede for me on my behalf with our Lord for this?” My girl does not mess around. I mean, things get done. Well, that’s the same for your child. That’s the same for your spouse. Death is not the end. Death is just the end of this life, of this mortal life. We go on into eternal glory. So we pray. We ask their prayers for us, and we pray for them that whatever sin was committed on this earth be forgiven, so that they’d be allowed into eternal glory. And we pray for ourselves as well.
So if you are in this moment of loss, of great loss, or you’re anticipating this moment of great loss, I encourage you to remember that we are an Easter people. Death has no sting, because Christ died on the cross and opened heaven for us. Death has no sting, because God gave His only-begotten Son through His life, death, and resurrection for us. So do not despair. Do not think God is punishing you by taking this person from your life. We live in a world of sin, these things happen. But know that death is not the end. Pray for that person. Ask that person’s intercession in your life. Continue that relationship that existed here on earth, and allow God to reveal Himself to you in that relationship. My daughter is gone, and I miss her with every fiber of my being, but she is with God, and that makes all of it bearable. So, know that in this season of Lent my friends, we are an Easter people. God knows all things, He redeems all things. Take this hurt and pain that you have and offer it back up to Him, and watch how His glory is revealed in death. Death is not the end, for eternal life waits for us.
So, let us end in using the prayer that Jesus Christ Himself taught us.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Do not despair my friends. God is indeed with us in all things. Death is not the end.
About Mary Lenaburg
Mary Lenaburg is a writer, speaker, wife and mother sharing her witness and testimony about God’s Redeeming love. After suffering a miscarriage, she gave birth to her son Jonathan in 1989. After another miscarriage, her daughter Courtney arrived August 1992. On September 27, 1992, while being baptized, Courtney had the first of many grand-mal seizures. Going from the church to the emergency room, Mary’s world changed forever. For the next twenty-two years Mary and her family took a spiritual journey that led them to Lourdes, France, numerous hospitals and specialists with their daughter and finally to home-based hospice. Courtney took her last breath this side of heaven on December 27, 2014, the feast of St. John the Beloved, while in her mother’s arms. She is now her parents and big brothers most powerful intercessor. Mary lives in Northern Virginia with her husband of 28 years and her grown son. She continues to embrace her father’s advice: Never quit, never give up, never lose your faith. It’s the one reason you walk this earth. For God just this time and place just for you, so make the most of it. Mary can be found on-line at www.marylenaburg.com