The Soft Twilight of a Long and Beautiful Life

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Dona Lucilia cast a glance filled with sweetness, serenity and kindness over her long past. She had lived, suffered, and struggled with all of life’s adversities, without holding grudges, and without bitterness. Her death marked the end and the summit of a peaceful and unwavering ascension.

Providence reserved the harshest trial of Dona Lucilia’s existence for the final  months  of her  life.Old  age had  perfected her  charity, and the resignation  of her soul had reached a sublime apogee. She was only five months away from her particular judgment.

At this juncture, Dona Lucilia had a clear notion, owing to her sharp maternal intuition, that something very grave was happening to the “very beloved son of her heart,” although fam- ily members   and  friends  sought  to hide from her the diabetic  crisis that befell him towards the end of 1967.

Obliged to spend a long period convalescing  within the confines of his apartment, Dr. Plinio soon began to receive an influx of visits from disciples and friends. The physical blow that Dr. Plinio suffered, then, resulted in Dona Lucilia becoming better known and – why not say it – admired.

   Gentle manners, filled with kindness

   Anyone who had the pleasure of visiting that apartment and spending time in the company of Dona Lucilia during the final months of her earth- ly existence was in a good position to evaluate the high degree of consideration, gentleness and esteem inherent  to her noble manners,  even in their simplest expressions. Endowed with a respectful and affectionate character, she was a master in the difficult art of treating others with af- fable dignity, in a way which always made them feel at home.

   Because of her supernatural sense of compassion, it caused her acute suf- fering to see someone – even a strang- er – saddened or slighted. The skill with which she immediately sought to apply the balm of the right word, the fitting  expression,  a good counsel  in a difficult situation,  solace in sorrow, and alms for those in need, was admirable.

   Dona Lucilia’s own happiness de- pended  on  that  of her  neighbour… Her  soul  was moved  by the  desire to make each person happy, which explains her deep regret when she could not do so. It was the affection of a totally and essentially Catholic heart. Her soul’s joy consisted in loving others  for the love of God,  and being loved by them. However, when her goodwill was not reciprocated, she never succumbed  to sentiments of  bitterness,   for  she  did  not  pur- sue personal benefit or advantage  in these relationships.

   Seen through the “brise-bise” fingering her rosary

Dona Lucilia’s age never  caused her to leave off her habit of praying the Rosary every afternoon. She car- ried out this important activity seat- ed in her wheelchair, in the dining room, as she contemplated the tree- tops of Buenos Aires Square and en- joyed the sun’s last rays which pen- etrated through  the window. Those were wonderful  sunsets, rarely seen in the greyish megalopolis of São Paulo today. Those evenings harmonized admirably with Dona Lucilia’s thoroughly Brazilian soul.

To those  fortunate enough  to ob- serve  her  through   the  folds  of  the brise-bise on the  door  of the  adjoin- ing room,1  she was a true monument! It was impossible to separate the no- bility from the religiosity of this lady of ninety-one  years. To speak of her virtues is to speak of nobility, and vice versa. In fact, there was something more  than  nobility in Dona  Lucilia; she was blessed with an august soul.

 She assumed such an upright and composed posture and prayed with such  piety  and  devotion   that   the sight was stirring.

   In the throes of ill-health, manners imbued with kindness

   As far as her strength  permitted, Dona Lucilia carried out the social duties of a housewife to perfection. We have already observed this in a special way, as she prayed  her  evening prayers.

   Upon   noting  the  presence   of  a friend of Dr. Plinio in the apartment, she took an interest  in learning from her maid who was waiting for her son.

   — Mirene! Who is there?  – she would ask, already entirely disposed to receive the unexpected visitor.

   Regarding   this  exceptional   way of  being,  a  certain  youth  recounted a beautiful episode that serves as proof of this eminent Paulista lady’s elevated virtue:

   “Dona Lucilia bid me enter the dining  room,  as  soon  as  she  fin- ished her pious recitation of the Rosary, and, after having given me the customary  explanations  of the  reason for Dr. Plinio’s delay in receiv- ing me, she had me sit down to after- noon tea in her company.”

   Almost three hours of conversation passed  by as if they were a few minutes. Three decades later, this young man still remembered with emotion the utter gentleness and the enveloping affection of Dona Lucilia towards him on that occasion.

   He related:
   “She endeavoured to entertain me the  entire  time,  discussing the  top- ics most agreeable  to me, within an atmosphere of serenity  and benevo- lence. I remember leaving that  conversation so delighted  that it seemed that  I had  been  in the  company  of an Angel more than a human  being. She communicated such an impression of well-being, that  I even imagined Dona  Lucilia to be a lady who had never suffered the least discomfort in her life, for at no moment  did she show even the slightest degree of malaise  or  fatigue,  disposed  as she was to do good for my soul, as far as the limits of time would allow.”

   He then continued his narration, describing  Dona  Lucilia’s facial ex- pressions, her small and elegant gestures, her voice, her gaze and her hands.

   On that same day, after this conversation, Dr. Plinio called him into his office to arrange a telephone call with Dona  Lucilia’s  doctor.  It  was 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday.

   The youth was astonished  to over-hear Dr. Plinio telling the doctor that Dona  Lucilia  had  spent  the  whole day feeling very indisposed,  and was in such discomfort  that  she certainly would not be able to sleep. After de- scribing all of her symptoms to the physician in detail,  Dr.  Plinio asked his assistant  to take  down the name of the injection prescribed.

   Since the young man  had  some  knowledge  of this  particular medication,   he  real- ized what Dona Lucilia’s real physical state was – she who had so cheerful- ly entertained him at such length. He recalls: “Kindness was second nature in Dona  Lucilia. This episode  made it clearer to me that she had spent her life doing good to others – ‘pertransiit benefaciendo’ (Acts 10:38).”

   Seeing that  there  was no one else to buy the injection, this same young man volunteered to run the errand. Then, owing to the absence of the medical assistant  on duty, he himself was invited by Dr. Plinio to administer it to Dona Lucilia, since he was qual- ified for this. It would be the occasion of another episode which would mark the life of this happy youth. When he was led into Dona  Lucilia’s room, he was filled with admiration and emo- tion to see her lying on her bed with such dignity. He narrates:

   “‘Dona Lucilia, I am here  to apply an injection prescribed  by your doctor,’ I said when I greeted her.

   “Dona Lucilia’s instinctive con- cern  for  others   was  extraordinary, even if she was feeling unwell, as on that occasion. In addition to the tran- sient symptoms she was experiencing, she was just a few months away from her death; nevertheless, her attention was focused on her neighbour.

   “In that atmosphere of composure and respectability, under the soft light of a small lamp, her first reaction was to look at me attentively and say:
    “‘To think that it is on a Saturday night that I am putting you to all this trouble! I beg your pardon for dis- rupting your plans.’

   “Without showing the slightest dis- pleasure  during  the  injection,  which caused some discomfort, Dona Lucil- ia said right afterwards:
   “‘I really regret having put you to all this trouble.’
   “‘Not at all, Dona Lucilia. It is rather  I who am sorry that  you had to undergo this injection.’
   “‘But I thank you very much,’ con- cluded Dona Lucilia, in her manner of unsurpassable sweetness.”
   This episode once more brings back the remembrance of her limpid gaze, and her smile…

The last day of her life, spent in calmness and tranquillity

  Despite her advanced age, her features  and her expression seemed to suggest that  she might live for a long time yet, especially since lon- gevity was a family trait. No one imagined  that,  within a short  time, she would depart from this world for eternity.

   Approximately  one month before her death, she experienced a sudden deterioration  of  health.   Her   final days had arrived. Dr. Plinio recalls:

   “I remember that  on  April  20th, the eve of Mama’s death,  I saw that her heart  was much worse, and I lit- erally spent the entire day in her bedroom.  Whenever  I  had  to  step out,  I  returned promptly.  She  was so oppressed by shortness  of breath that  she  could  not  speak,  and  she felt the agony, the angst which a lack of air naturally causes. But she re- mained calm, tranquil, and serene.”

Entreaties of an anguished son

   Dr. Plinio continues:
   “Not  long  before,   I  had  asked Our Lady to show me the maternal kindness of having Mama’s death occur at a moment that would be the least painful for her and for me. This seemed  to me a reasonable request and one that would be well received by Our Lady.

 “I asked myself what the most fa- vourable conditions would  be for this.  Evidently,  my desire  was that her death would be tranquil,  serene, with that grandeur which, in the midst of so much kindliness, she had never lost for a single moment;  and with proof  that  her death  was unit- ed to the Sacred  Heart  of Jesus, to the Immaculate Heart  of Mary and to the Holy Catholic Church.

   “I also asked that I not be sur- prised   during   the   night  with  the news of her death,  but that  it come during the day, in this way avoiding the  terrible  shock of being awoken in the middle of the night with some- one telling me:

   “‘Dona Lucilia is dying…’

   “That  would be horrible. I want- ed to be spared that.

   “I expressed yet another desire to Our Lady: if Mama were to expire in the morning, I would hope it to be at an hour after which I had read the newspaper,  because  after  her death I would not  have strength  for that, and  I  could  miss  a  piece  of  news that  was important for the Catholic Cause.

   “It was exactly in this manner that everything unfolded. Just as I finished reading the paper, the nurse came into my room and said to me:

   “‘Dona Lucilia is dying, you must come quickly.’

   “Point by point, everything that I had asked for came about, except one detail: I would have liked to have witnessed the final moments of her life. But Our Lady was kind even in that, sparing me something which would have been extremely  painful for me. From Mama, Providence asked one last trial: the absence of her son in that supreme moment of her life.”

Sustained by confidence in God up until the very last moment

   Dr. Plinio concludes: “She conserved, in that extreme of weakness, the surety of an ordered spirit and intelligence, and a good conscience. She walked through the shadows of death with all serenity…

   “Up until her final moments, she was sustained by confidence, which gave her the certainty of attaining that towards which her entire life seemed to be aimed: that people open up to her and let themselves be fully enveloped by her kindness.

   “A part of this light was unveiled to Mama near the end, when she became acquainted with the many youths who would go to my apartment, partly to visit me, but even more to see and talk with her, especially certain ones who had more contact with her. It was also during this time – more than throughout her whole past – that she spread that Christian sweetness and goodness of which her heart was overflowing. This was the apex.

   “During those days, I had a vague notion that she spoke with the people who waited to see me. I could not have imagined, however, that the understanding between them had been so deep. I would see her enter the office or my bedroom, with a vibrant and joyful look, and I asked myself: ‘But, why?’ Only after she died, speaking with one or another, I discovered that
they had talked with her, asked her questions, taken her photograph… 

   “And so I thanked Our Lady, because her final days were filled with marks of kindness, the starting point of a relationship that would continue, later on, at her tomb…”

Glory, light and joy

   Most certainly, on that 21st of April of 1968 – the soft twilight of a long and beautiful life – Dona Lucilia cast a glance filled with sweet- ness, serenity, kindness, a sense of observation, and a touch of sadness over her long past.

   She had confronted everything. She had lived, suffered, and struggled with all of life’s adversities, without holding grudges, without bitterness or recrimination, but also without yielding or giving in. It was the end and the summit of a peaceful and unwavering ascension.

   Those who saw her on her deathbed had the impression – to the degree befitting the housewife that she was – that the light of heavenly glory was already somehow illumining her features, so affable, so amiable and so peaceful up until the very end.

   It was the peacefulness of one who felt protected by Divine Providence, and who knew that the only thing wanting was to render her soul to God, next to whom would be reserved a threefold happiness: glory, light and joy.

  Thus, on the morning of April 21st, with her eyes wide open, fully conscious of the solemn moment that was approaching, she raised herself slightly, made a large Sign of the Cross, and with utter peace of soul and trust in Divine mercy, fell asleep in the Lord… 

   “Beati mortui qui in Domino moriuntur – Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Rv 14:13).

    Taken, with small adaptations, from “Dona Lucilia”. Città del Vaticano-Nobleton: LEV; Heralds of the Gospel, 2013, p.617-654.

   1- During Dr. Plinio’s convalescence, after his severe diabetic crisis in 1967, the Author of these lines took on the role of assistant in his apartment, so as to help him with any problems that might arise. As a result, he had the opportunity
to get to know Dona Lucilia more intimately, as well as her routine.

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