Dear Friends of Fr. Pilon,
Fr. Pilon died on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph. I apologize that it has taken me this long to post the information here. He suffered very little in the last few months, and he had a peaceful death, with my sister and I at his side, and many family members and friends praying around the world.
My name is Stephen Pilon, and I am Fr. Pilon’s nephew. I was caring for Uncle Mark (along with several others) for several months during his final illness, and I lived with him for the last two and a half weeks. Those are days that I will never forget. He taught me more about death in those days than most learn in a lifetime. And in doing so, he taught me even more about life and how it ought to be lived.
Fr. Pilon entrusted me with many of his writings, and I hope to work through them and perhaps post some of them here in the future. Unfortunately, I do not know how soon that will be.
For those who wish, memorial contributions may be made to Little Sisters of the Poor, St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged,1503 Michaels Road Henrico, VA 23229-4822. Fr. Pilon had hoped to move there and be cared for by the sisters in his final illness. Unfortunately, things progressed too quickly and we could not get him there in time.
Thank you for being a follower of his blog all these years. I will close with a little advice he gave me in the final days. I will use my words to relate the idea of what he was trying to communicate to me about graces we can earn at the time of death.
Being sick is a cross. But it doesn’t mean we have to be cross. In fact, being sick is a way for both the sick one and his loved ones to earn graces. The ailing person has an opportunity, not so much to suffer, but to suffer others to help him. It is not always easy to accept help, especially for one used to being alone and self-sufficient. But to accept that help is to receive the grace of God, as Our Lord said, “when you visited the sick, you visited me.”
But it is also a time for him to be a grace for others. A very few will take the role of Visitor of the Sick. These will serve as the hands of Christ, and also serve Christ at their own hands in the person of the sick.
However, the vast majority of loved ones will not be able to serve the sick in this concrete way. They will rather serve through prayer and sacrifice (and at times, when needed, through alms giving). Yet the hardest service for many, and the often most needed by the sick one, is giving him space. People have a natural desire to visit family and friends at the end. To call, email, text. To be in touch. To say that last word or give that last hug. But this, as well-intentioned as it may be, can be for some an extra burden.
As one approaches death, the focus moves from this world to the next. The cares of this world become less pressing, and the preparation for the next life (which hopefully we have been working toward already) becomes much more important. And so, oddly, as the sick one resigns himself to being helped by others, most of those others must resign themselves to being on the outside, when they long so much to be close. And this is the true grace. Resignation to God’s Will in the moment. Are you called to serve? Then serve, and serve well and humbly. Are you called to step back? Then step back, kneel down, and pray.
These are not his exact words, but I believe it gets the point across. I was blessed to be there with him, and I do not know how those who could not be there bore it. But I have a greater appreciation for all who must suffer that final separation. Not the separation of death, but of the last moments of life.
Uncle Mark told me that he felt terrible that he had to ask people not to visit, but it was just too much for him. Near the end he didn’t want to talk, watch TV, read, even pray. At least not the prayers he had been used to saying all his life. He missed the Mass terribly, but was too weak to say it. He gratefully accept Holy Communion each day (until he could no longer receive in the last few days). He surely missed the Divine Office as well. He loved the Office, and I recall fondly when I lived with him during college and we would say the Office together. It was a great comfort to him.
But I asked him one day during his last week if he wanted me to read the Office aloud so he could listen to it. He declined. His body was tired, and listening tired him. At least external listening. He seemed more and more to be listening to an interior voice. A voice he had longed to hear throughout life. If you have ever been with a dying person, you will know what I mean. And he would at times talk with people I could not see.
Then came the day when he looked up, beyond the ceiling, and said, “The Great High Priest!” I asked him if he had just seen the Great High Priest, and he just turned to me and gave me one of the most innocent smiles I have ever witnessed (and I’ve seen a lot of innocent baby smiles!). He was ready. I hope I will be as ready when my time comes.