Rest in Peace, Joanne McGarry

May 02, 2014

This past Sunday, on the feast of the Divine Mercy, Joanne McGarry passed away in Toronto, ending her battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61 years old and these days, I consider that "still young".

Joanne was married and the mother of three grown children. She had a long career in print media and media relations, and in her later years, she was the Executive Director of the Catholic Civil Rights League.  (To see her photo, click here - I don't have rights to reprint).

A few years back, we had met at conferences, eaten together and had coffee. In person she seemed rather quiet and reserved, despite her years of public relations - she was kind of like me. Underneath the gentle exterior, she was passionate about promoting the worth and dignity of human life, and she was courageous enough to withstand the arrows aimed at the Catholic Church.  

After I stopped working, we kept in touch over Facebook and just last month, we communicated briefly over email about matters regarding the CCRL - clearly, she was working until the end. She didn't mention any personal matters, not even the fact that she was in the last stages of fighting cancer. I didn't know.

Had I known last month, I wish I could have said some kind words to her, some words of encouragement, comfort and gratitude. She probably had no idea just how much I valued her work or appreciated her as a person.

Why is it that we wait until after death to celebrate a person's life? It's really all upside down. We should get together before the funeral. We should speak up before the funeral. Before the person has passed away, they should have the solace and joy of knowing how much they have meant to us.

Joanne McGarry was the same age as my mother, and perhaps that is why I am thinking especially of my own mother, whom I want to appreciate and recognize ever more for all that she has done for us in her hard life. I want to make sure that my mother understands that I love her and that I am grateful for all her toil and all her sacrifices.

There have been times, even in my adult life, when I have given my mother a very hard time and brought her to the point of tears. I hope that she has forgiven me for those times. The truth is that my mother is an inspiring example of strength for me. She still works so hard, and my mission now is just to keep our relationship good and to bring her as much happiness as I can, especially though her grandchildren, whom she dearly loves.

Life is so short. I know that when I pass away, there will soon be hundreds of unread emails in my in-box. My to-do list will be nowhere near accomplished, and those great projects I've been planning will remain forever undone. But all of that will not matter at all, and even I wouldn't miss all those unfinished tasks, which are really more of a burden than a pleasure in some ways.

Since we can't possibly accomplish everything we want in life, we need to focus on what truly matters and put our energies there. As St. Alphonsus de Liguori makes clear in his Preparation for Death, the greatest treasure we have been given here on Earth is time, which so many people fritter away in silly ways.

It is hard to use our time well. There are innumerable distractions, a never-ending parade of things that seem important in the moment but are insignificant and forgotten soon afterwards.

Whenever we need help to evaluate what matters in the long term, nothing is better than thinking about our own death. We don't need to get depressed over it and snorkel in a pool of self-pity. We can use it to snap ourselves into focus.

Think about your concerns and pursuits from the perspective of your final hours. Death, the great certainty, should not be an afterthought; it should be our guide to living life.

In the words of St. Alphonsus de Liguori:
"My brother, if you wish to live well, spend the remaining days of life with death before your eyes."
Based on the work that Joanne McGarry carried out for the Church here in Canada, and seeing how she stayed active at the helm of the CCRL until the very end, I can see that she did just that.

Rest In Peace, Joanne McGarry, dedicated defender of the Church and fighter for the most important goods in life: for freedoms, for truth, and for justice.

May you receive your eternal reward now in the arms of God, where you will surely be welcomed not only by His Divine Mercy, but also by those two wonderful popes, St. John XXIII and St. John Paul the Great.

Photo: Sidereal via photopin cc

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