The bonds of love that the Trinity have formed among us on earth do not end at death, nor do those we have loved on earth abandon us when they die. They are still with us, and more dearly than ever. We can speak to them and enjoy their sweet embrace deep in our souls. We can be comforted by their presence, be guided by their wisdom, and experience their help in our every need.
They are close to us and most of all to the Trinity, who bless their charity by answering in wonderful ways their constant prayer for us. Although we do not see them with our eyes, we can experience the power of our deceased loved ones’ prayers and help, for “in whatever bond of love they finish their lives, that bond is theirs forever.”
Many of the saints tell us of their experience of the invisible, loving presence of their dear family members and other loved ones who died. St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes that after the death of his dear friend St. Basil, he felt Basil’s constant help and counsel. St. Ambrose of Milan gives us a precious account that encourages us to grow in our closeness to loved ones who have died.
In a touching sermon praising his deceased brother Satyrus, to whom he was very close, Ambrose confesses that he very much grieved his brother’s death, but he could not complain or be ungrateful, for his brother was a gift: “I enjoyed the loan entrusted to me. Now, He who deposited the pledge has taken it back.” Every time his brother’s name was mentioned, Ambrose would break into tears, and yet he was not ashamed to weep, for even the Lord wept (John 11:35). Deeper than his sorrow, however, was the comfort Ambrose felt in experiencing the far deeper closeness of his brother.
This sense of his brother’s nearness inspired Ambrose to speak these tender words directly to Satyrus: “I have not lost you; you remain with me, and ever will remain.” As Ambrose grew in his realization that his brother continued to be with him on earth, he himself began to live in some way in heaven, where, he trusted, his brother dwelt: “I begin to be no stranger there, where the better portion of myself already is.” Surely this is true also of us. The death of our loved ones, and our prayers that they are in heaven, help to free us from the fear of death, filling us with trust that they will be with us to bring us gently home.
Sometimes our deceased loved ones may make known their deeper presence with us through dreams. St. Ambrose tells us that his dreams were so consoling to him that he looked forward to sleeping at night, when his brother would visit and comfort him. Thus, the mutual help they enjoyed on earth was not interrupted but rather deepened by his brother’s death.
When he was complaining to his brother that his dreams of him were too infrequent, Ambrose realized that he did not need dreams to experience his closeness. “The enjoyment of each other which we were unable to have in this life is now always and everywhere with us.” Ambrose asked Satyrus to console their sister, in order that she, too, would feel how much her brother was with her. Since they had shared deeply on earth, Ambrose also begged his brother to prepare a place for him in heaven so that they soon would have the joy of dwelling together forever: “Go before us to that home waiting for all, and now longed for by me beyond others. Prepare a common dwelling for me with whom you have dwelt” here.
St. Catherine of Siena also encourages us to pray for deepened faith in the closeness of our deceased loved ones. When her father was dying, she begged the Lord that through her prayer and sacrifices he would be spared the purification of purgatory and would enter immediately into heaven’s joy. At his death, she could only smile while others wept, because she believed that her prayer had been answered.
After her father’s death, Catherine often felt him close to her, thanking her for her love, prayers, and sacrifices, especially to help him enter into heaven. She also experienced him telling her many precious secrets and constantly protecting her. Catherine’s dear friend Raymond of Capua was not with her when she died, but after her death he heard her telling him to fear nothing, since she was constantly caring for him and keeping him safe from harm.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux is another saint who gives us precious insights about the nearness of our deceased loved ones. She was very close to her family and said that she did not understand saints who do not speak about how dearly they love their relatives. She had suffered greatly as a young child because of her moth-er’s death, but when her older sister took on the role of caring for her, Thérèse realized that it was her dear mother in heaven who provided her sister’s comfort and tenderness in her place. Thérèse also grieved intensely because of the painful death of her beloved father, who had suffered from dementia. After his death, however, she experienced the grace of his constant nearness. “I feel him around me . . . protecting me.” Her mother’s and father’s closeness to her after their deaths deepened Thérèse’s sense that, just as they continued to be with her on earth, in some way she also began to live with them in heaven.
Thérèse’s experience is consoling in a special way to all of us who may have suffered the death of a parent, especially when we were young. Freed from all human frailty, our parents in heaven deeply love us and are constantly protecting and caring for us. They are intimately present at every precious occasion, at every celebration, even though we might have thought they were missing. They delight to share in our every joy and to comfort us in our every sorrow. Surely the experiences of such saints as Ambrose, Catherine, and Thérèse encourage us to rely ever more deeply on the constant help and protection of our own deceased loves ones.
This article is an excerpt from Sr. Fatula’s Heaven’s Splendor: And the Riches That Await You There. It is available from Sophia Institute Press.