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The Casimiro Family, circa 1970s. Top, from left: Angelo Casimiro, Susie Casimiro, and Ariel Casimiro; bottom from left: Ariel Casimiro Jr. and Cecilia Casimiro.
The Casimiro and Groves Families in 2008. Top, from left: Ariel and Ledda Casimiro Jr. (my brother and sister-in-law), me, Cecilia and David Groves (my sister and brother-in-law); Bottom, from left: Patrick Groves (Cecilia and David's youngest son), Ariel and Susie Casimiro (my parents), and Shawn Groves (Cecilia and David's oldest son).
Me with Br. Rich, Fr. Seraphim, Br. Mike, and Br. James at my mom's funeral.
By Father Angelo Casimiro, MIC (Jan 12, 2010)
In Loving Memory of Susie C. Casimiro
July 8, 1940 — Dec. 1, 2009
The Beginning of the End
"We just need to keep praying, pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, pray at 3 p.m.," my mom, Susie, would say as we ended our phone conversations during the remaining months of her life. After surviving breast cancer in 2004, she found out in late 2008 that the cancer had returned. Mom took chemotherapy treatments again, and she was optimistic the cancer could be overcome. However, other health issues sometimes interrupted the chemo. Thus, we resorted to prayer and asked God for a physical healing. We especially prayed the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy, a prayer devotion that was dear to both of us.
At the beginning of November 2009, my dad, Ariel, called me in Washington, D.C., to let me know that Mom's chemo was unsuccessful and that the cancer had spread to her bones. The doctor said she only had two months to live. This came as a total shock. Dad asked me to come home to California as soon as possible. I got permission from my superior to fly out to California and spend the week of Thanksgiving with my family. Like Mom, I tried to remain optimistic and continued praying that God would grant a physical healing. I asked my Marian community and all my friends to pray for Mom's healing from cancer.
I arrived in California on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Mom's health had already started to deteriorate. She was agitated, and her mind was starting to fade. From what my family told me, I believe she may even have had an experience of the Holy Souls that day. When she was more coherent, Mom asked about my flight and when I had arrived. So I told her. However, she kept asking me, "How did you know that your flight was going to arrive so early?" She wasn't making sense. Then she said, "I love you." I said, "I love you too, Mom," and I kissed her.
Afterward, Mom started to become agitated again, and she prayed several "Our Fathers" and "Hail Marys." My family gathered around her, and we started to pray the Rosary with her. She followed along, but she prayed with such urgency and intensity, especially as she said the words, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death." For the next several nights, we would continue praying the Rosary with her, and later on the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy.
The Final Chapter
After Dad found out that Mom only had two months to live, he chose to take care of her at home, with the help of others, rather than place her in a hospice facility. He fed her and gave her medication. A nurse would come during the day to check Mom's vital signs. During the next few days, her health continued to worsen, and she was always agitated. It was heartbreaking to see her in this condition.
Several relatives and family friends started coming to visit her. My best friend Paul came daily to give Mom Holy Communion, and a Norbertine priest, Fr. Augustine Puchner, O.Praem., gave her the Anointing of the Sick.
Thanksgiving came, and we had a family gathering. However, Mom was asleep through most of it, and I greatly missed not having her physical presence there. It just wasn't the same. I tried to spend as much time as I could with Mom and mostly prayed for and with her. I would take her hand in mine, whether she was awake or asleep, and prayed the Rosary and the chaplet. It had gotten to a point where I didn't think a physical healing would come, and so I started praying for a spiritual healing. If God was going to take Mom, I wanted her to go in peace.
A couple of times during the weekend, my family and I thought Mom was going to die. It was hard for each of us, and we were trying to hold on to her as long as we could. On Sunday morning, she had one last burst of energy. She opened her eyes for the first time in days and looked peaceful. When we would look at her, however, she no longer looked back at us. She would just look straight ahead and say words no one could understand. A child-like innocence radiated from her face. It didn't last long; she became agitated again and had to be given more pain medication.
Mom's illness was starting to take its emotional and physical toll on all of us, especially Dad, who would stay up during the night to watch over her. We agreed to bring her to a hospice facility so she could get proper physical treatment. On Monday, Nov. 30, an ambulance came in the evening to bring Mom to a hospice facility nearby. I felt such sadness as she left our family home for the last time.
God is Merciful
Dad, my siblings, their spouses, and I spent that final evening with her in the hospice facility. Dad and I decided to stay overnight in her room. The nurses said she would probably only last until the following morning, so Dad and I took turns napping. As I kept vigil with Mom, I prayed all four mysteries of the Rosary and then a continuous chaplet. On a shelf near her bed, I placed a Divine Mercy prayercard. Then Dad and I just talked throughout the evening, bonding in a profound way as father and son. We were ready to surrender Mom to God.
By early Tuesday morning, Dec. 1, Mom's breathing had become heavy and laborious. She was using her whole body just in order to breathe. The end was near, so Dad called my brother, Ariel Jr., and sister, Cecilia, to come over as soon as possible. At around 8:15 a.m., Dad and I were by Mom's bed. Dad was stroking her head, and I was holding her hand. Then I noticed that her body was no longer moving. I asked Dad if she was still breathing. As he checked, Mom let out this big breath, stopped breathing for a couple of minutes, and then let out another big breath.
Dad got the nurse to check her vital signs. Mom no longer had a pulse, and when the nurse checked her heartbeat, she told us her heart was starting to slow down. At that point, I just broke down and cried. The nurse said she would come back periodically to check Mom's heartbeat. I knew that death was inevitable, but it didn't stop my heart from bleeding. After I regained my composure, I went to Mom and said in her ear, "Mom, don't worry, we'll all be all right. I'll be all right. When Jesus comes for you, just go to Him."
Those were some of the most difficult words I have ever had to say.
After awhile, my sister and brother arrived with their spouses, as well as my eldest nephew, Shawn. My friend Paul also came to give her Holy Communion, but it was already too late. I asked him to call Fr. Augustine to come as soon as possible. At 9:50 a.m., the nurse checked Mom's heartbeat again, and this time her heart had finally stopped beating. We were all in tears. However, God had answered my prayers by allowing Mom to die in peace. There was no struggle. Dad said that it looked as if she was just sleeping. After a few minutes, Fr. Augustine arrived. We all gathered around Mom's bed, and Fr. Augustine prayed over her body. Before leaving the room, I asked mom to pray for me, that she would help me become a good priest. I was counting on her prayers now. It was both our hope that she would be present for my priestly ordination, but I know that she still will be.
The 10 days between the time when Mom's health started to deteriorate until her death on Dec. 1 were the most intense of my life. Through my mom's illness and death, Jesus allowed me to share in His Passion. I literally felt like I was at the foot of the cross with Our Lady. Like her, I felt helpless as I watched someone I loved go through so much suffering. All I could do was pray. I saw the suffering Christ in the face of my Mom, and I all wanted to do was to console her. Mary, the Mother of Mercy, was with my family and me, and she helped us as only a mother could. Hence the words "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death" never rang so true.
I never realized the significance of praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for the sick and dying until I prayed it with and for my Mom. This prayer has taken on a new dimension in my life, and I will never pray it the same way again. In St. Faustina's Diary, our Lord specifically asked her:
Pray as much as you can for the dying. By your entreaties [that is, insistent prayers], obtain for them trust in My mercy, because they have most need of trust, and have it the least. Be assured that the grace of eternal salvation for certain souls in their final moment depends on your prayer. You know the whole abyss of My mercy, so draw upon it for yourself and especially for poor sinners. Sooner would heaven and earth turn into nothingness than would My mercy not embrace a trusting soul. (Diary of St. Faustina, 1777)
After Mom passed into eternal life, my family immediately began the Filipino tradition of praying for the repose of soul of the deceased for 40 days. On that evening, we invited relatives and friends to come over to pray for the soul of my mom. I was asked to lead the prayers invoking God's mercy upon her soul. Our prayers ended with a recitation of the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. As I lead the prayers, I felt the immense importance of praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, such as I had never felt before. I finally understood the zeal of the Founder of the Marian Congregation, Bl. Stanislaus Papczynski, for praying for the repose of the Holy Souls. As such, I came to realize how all of these things summed up what it meant to be a Marian of the Immaculate Conception: Mary, Mercy, and the Holy Souls.
Brother James Cervantes, MIC, my best friend in the Marians, served as a rock of support all throughout my mom's illness and death. We kept in contact through email and over the phone. He had gone through a similar experience when his younger brother died at the age of 20 from cancer. Brother James wrote me, saying how God was giving my family "intense graces," and he quoted Blessed Teresa of Calcutta when she said that suffering was "God's tender embrace."
At first, I didn't see the graces. Soon after, though, I began seeing them come, one by one. Both my dad and my sister Cecilia have drawn closer to God and have started going to church more regularly. I have been strengthened in my Marian vocation and in responding to God's call for me to the priesthood. The words "Jesus, I trust in You!" have taken on a new meaning in my life. During the services for my mom, God put me in a priestly position by letting me help my family plan, coordinate, and host the events. I was placed in a leadership position, which I never had before. I spoke about my mom at the prayer service during her wake and then before the funeral Mass at our home parish, St. Justin Martyr, in Anaheim. I couldn't have done any of it without God's grace.
My family was blessed in having four of my Marian brothers fly out to California for my mom's services: Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC; Br. James Cervantes, MIC; Br. Richard Mary Dolan, MIC; and Br. Michael Gaitley, MIC. I asked Fr. Seraphim to lead the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy for the repose of the soul of my mom. As he did, I was completely awed by what was happening. Divine Mercy was such a big part of my conversion, and then I became exposed to listening to Fr. Seraphim on Catholic Radio and watching him on EWTN. Now here he was leading the chaplet at my mom's wake. I thought to myself, "God is so good." The presence of my Marian brothers meant the world to my family and me.
Before mom died, Br. James suggested that I read Scripture to her, especially since she was going to soon be meeting the Word. Consequently, on the day before she died, I opened up my Bible to the Gospel of John and read the first three chapters to her. I didn't realize until later the significance of what I was doing. As I read those chapters again after Mom's death, I understood that I was preparing her for eternal life. Since then, John 3:16 has been a recurring theme with me: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."
From Here to Eternity
I believe God was merciful to my mom and my family. I like to believe that she died a holy death. She was receiving Holy Communion every day, was given the Anointing of the Sick, and she had so many people praying for her. Even though Mom did not receive a physical healing, God more importantly granted her a spiritual healing. I was at peace with her death, but that doesn't mean that I don't miss her. I miss her immensely, and I know that I have to go through a period of grieving. My heart needs time to heal.
I would like to end with this. In Mercy Minutes with Jesus(Marian Press), the entry for Dec. 1 (the day Mom passed into eternal life) is titled "To the Full." Interestingly enough, both passages included that day from St. Faustina's Diary talk about eternal life. In the second passage, St. Faustina hears these words in her soul: "I am and will be for you such as you praise Me for being. You shall experience My goodness, already in this life and then, to the full, in the life to come" (1707).
Jesus had finally come for my mom, and she went with Him.
Brother Angelo Casimiro, MIC, is a seminarian living in Washington, D.C.