I got the call when I was at work. I'd never realized before the wisdom behind making sure that someone's sitting down first. She didn't make sure. She just told me: he's dead. My knees went weak, but fortunately I managed to wobble to a stool behind me.
On my way home, in shock and sadness, I asked the Lord why He hadn't given us any sign. We had been praying for this dear relative—an agnostic but very ethical man—for years...for decades. My childhood was spent in the charismatic movement, followed by reading lots of saints' biographies. Signs were par for the course. I was hoping for a clear-cut conversion, but fully expecting at least some sort of sign that he'd had some encounter with the Lord.
I often ask the Lord “why?” and other questions, but don't usually get an answer. Sometimes, upon reflection, I have an insight, the truth of which makes me think it's the Holy Spirit who gave it to me. Sometimes the insight doesn't come for a very long time. But this was one of those rare times when I felt that He answered me: words came into my mind as if from outside me. “Because if I had, then you wouldn't keep praying for him. Not enough.”
A wonderful realization struck me then (that I later confirmed with a knowledgeable priest). It wasn't too late to pray for his dying hour. God is outside of time. At the hour of my loved one's death, the Lord could look into the future and see me praying and praying for my dear one's dying hour, and answer those prayers. Obviously, one can't pray about past events that have clearly happened: I can't pray now that World War II didn't happen. But the mysterious state of someone's soul, wrapped in the secrecy that only God can penetrate—even if it's in the past—is not beyond the reach of our prayers in the present.
So I prayed. And had Masses said. And offered up little sacrifices for his dying hour and for his soul, possibly in Purgatory. And I remembered that no prayers are ever wasted.
Then, a few years later I had a dream.
I was looking out my front window and I saw him. He was standing in the street, just setting down two suitcases. He was younger than I had ever known him, and full of joy, with the biggest smile I'd ever seen.
Now since my father-in-law and my best friend died nearly twenty years ago, my husband and I have both noticed that when we dream of either of them, they are alive in the dream—they might be very ill or the report of their death was a mistake, but they'd be alive. This dream was different. I kept saying to the others in the room, “That's So-and-so, and he's dead!”
Two blocks up from that house, on the real street, was a cemetery at the top of a hill. By the time the street reached my house, the hill had subsided into a slight decline. It left the small neighborhood behind and led to the wider world, especially to an enormous park. But in the dream the street was sloping up instead of slightly down. He was on his way somewhere, going upward, and he'd stopped to see me first. I felt that he wanted me to know that he was on his way and how happy he was and to thank me.
He stood there in the middle of the street, with that huge grin, and waved and waved at me. He who in life had been such a dignified stoic.
Anyone else can say, of course, that that was just a dream. But I believe it was more. It was so different from my usual dreams, and it came with such a sense of peace and joy. And even now, years later, whenever I think of him, that peace returns. I believe it was my sign at last.
And you know what? The Lord was right. (No big surprise there.) Though I do still pray for my beloved relative, just in case he still needs my prayers or it was just a dream, I must admit, I don't pray as fervently or frequently as I did before.
Praise you, Lord, for your wisdom and mercy.