In a new book that was recently published, On Consolation, the author, Michael Ignatieff, who says he does not go to church and is not a believer, listed what he believes to be necessary components of a good death: relief from pain, a quiet contemplative space, the presence of loved ones, time to reflect on life and the end of suffering.
His words were shaped in part by the experience of his parents dying in hospitals without the presence of their children.
When we consider his words, but from our faith perspective, we can probably still agree that these would be realities we would want in our final days or hours.
“Because we all must die, we must cherish a special devotion to St. Joseph that he may obtain for us a happy death” — these are the words of the great saint Alphonsus Liguori.
We do not know how St. Joseph died. Our tradition is that he died before the passion of Jesus, and probably before Jesus began his public ministry.
Some of the mystics have proposed that Joseph died a wonderful death, in the presence of Jesus, Mary and the angels. Some believe that Joseph was assumed directly into heaven!
So, little by little, a tradition developed that associated Joseph with a happy, beautiful death, and so he became the patron saint for a happy death.
But what is called a “happy death” in our tradition may be more similar to the “good death” that Michael Ignatieff mentions.
And when we look at his list, especially the importance of a quiet contemplative space and the presence of loved ones, we know that Joseph was in good company with Jesus and Mary. And we know that his silent life was probably a contemplative one, and it helped him in his final moments.
There are things we can do in preparation for a good death: cultivate contemplation, remain in steady contact with family and friends. And what is beyond us, we can entrust to Saint Joseph. In the words of Blessed Bartolo Longo: “Saint Joseph, my dear father, gaze upon me from heaven. Detach me from the things of earth, obtain for me love of God, purity of heart, and final perseverance.” Amen.