Last year, my mother lost a three-year battle with cancer. For her last few months, when she knew that time was running out, she became terrified of spending time alone. We bought her a calendar with a big, square box for each day, and we divided the days in three so that she could see that there was barely a morning, afternoon or evening when one of her five children or 14 grandchildren would not be with her. It didn’t really help. She was enfolded in love, but she was anguished. What she suffered, facing death, was perhaps the ultimate loneliness.
Recently, my sister sent me a passage that Pope Benedict had written about Christ’s descent into the underworld, and I immediately thought of Mum’s final stretch.