The Death of a Mama

A glimpse inside the holy death of St.Zelie Martin

In the evening of August 26th, 1877, Louis Martin went to the Church of Our Lady to find the priest, and he himself wanted to escort the Blessed Sacrament. The whole family was assembled around the deathbed. Their hearts blended in one and the same prayer. Thérèse recorded this souvenir: “The touching ceremony of the last anointing is also deeply impressed on my mind. I can still see the spot where I was by Céline’s side. All five of us were lined up according to age, and Papa was there, too, sobbing.”

The Sacrament was administered, and the patient’s sufferings quieted down a little. Madame Martin fell into a kind of coma. She was as though destroyed, her arms and legs swollen, unable to move her body, unable to make herself heard. It was necessary to try to interpret her thoughts by the imperceptible movement of her lips. But her eyes still spoke. When, the next day, summoned by a letter from her daughter Marie, Monsieur and Madame Guérin (Madame Martin’s brother and sister-in-law) entered her bedroom, she welcomed them with a smile, then fixed on her sister-in-law, for a long time, a deep and pleading look, as if she wanted to tell her all the hope that she put in her and her infinite gratitude.

After she had a hemorrhage, it was at the very beginning of Tuesday, August 28, 1877, at exactly thirty minutes after midnight, after a very short agony, that Madame Martin died gently. Her husband and her brother, summoned by the nursing sister, rushed into the room in time to receive her last sigh.

They immediately told the older girls, who, reassured by the nursing nun, had left the dying woman at nine o’clock in the evening. Pauline, who had taken refuge in a little room in the garden above the laundry, went in tears to the two little girls (Céline and Thérèse), but she did not want to disturb their sleep. She delayed giving them the harrowing news until the next morning.

M. Martin led Thérèse to the funeral bed. She recounts this scene herself: “Papa took me in his arms and said, ‘Come, kiss your poor little Mother for the last time.’ Without a word I placed my lips on the forehead of my dear mother.”

She seemed to sleep. Although she had reached almost the end of her forty-sixth year, she looked much younger. The face, emaciated and sculpted by suffering, had taken on, in death, a moving expression of majesty and youth. A moving atmosphere of recollection and supernatural calm enveloped the temporary mortuary. M. Martin and his daughters did not grow tired of contemplating the physiognomy of the one who, having worked so hard, at last knew rest.

As for the youngest, she gives us, in her autobiography, her testimony about these dark days. She was then four and a half years old:

I don’t recall having cried very much, neither did I speak to anyone about the feelings I experienced. . . . . I looked and listened in silence. No one had any time to pay any attention to me, and I saw many things they would have hidden from me . . . For instance, once I was standing before the lid of the coffin . . . which had been placed upright in the hall. I stopped for a long time gazing at it. Though I’d never seen one before, I understood what it was. . . . I was so little that in spite of Mama’s small stature, I had to raise my head to take in its full height. It appeared large. . . . and dismal. . . . .

I loved Mama’s smile.

Her deep gaze seemed to say: “Eternity overwhelms me and attracts me. I’m going to go up in the blue Sky

To see God!”

~Therese of Lisieux