Frederic’s wife Amelie wrote down her impressions of his dying days carefully. It must have been terribly painful for her to recognize that his life was coming to an end. He still seemed so young to her, just 40. Their daughter Marie was only eight. Amelie herself would live on for another 41 years; Marie would live on into the 20th century. Amelie’s notes merit meditation, especially since “final days” form part of all of our lives. Let me suggest three points.
Frederic spent his last days listening to God, especially as God spoke to him through the scriptures. Amelie states that Frederic “was constantly living in the presence of God.” Earlier in his life, he had struggled to believe. Now, in his later years, his trust in God’s presence and providence was strong. She attests that each morning while he rested in Italy in an attempt to regain his health, Frederic read Sacred Scripture from his Greek (ever the scholar!) bible, “annotating all the passages relating to illness and composing a book for sick people.” She tells us what a joy it was to listen to him as he spoke about the scriptures, even though his body was “completely swollen” and though he was upset at how “very tired he became.” She states that, loving life, “he poured out to God his great sadness in prayers too beautiful and strengthening to be hidden from view.”
He felt peace. In the evenings they used to sit on the balcony, watch the sun set, and count the boats on the sea. One evening, when she asked him what God’s greatest gift was, “he said it was peace in the heart.” He added that, without peace, we could “possess everything and still not be happy,” but, with peace, “we could bear the most difficult sufferings and the approach of death.” Amelie noted that Frederic had always had a great fear of God’s judgment, “but, near the end of his life, this fear gave way to an amazing calm and great confidence in God’s mercy.” One day a priest encouraged him to have confidence in God. Frederic replied, “Why should I fear God? I love him so much!” Amelie wrote: “The restlessness of an ardent spirit gave way to calm; and peace of heart, the sweetest gift which God can give to any of his creatures, was the reward which his entire sacrifice awaited.”
He was grateful to his friends. Throughout his life, Frederic, like many other saints, had the gift of friendship. He thought of Amelie as his closest friend and, shortly before his death, said to her, “I thank you for all the consolations you have given me.” He kept up a lively correspondence with numerous other friends even as his strength ebbed. As he became resigned to dying, he was especially grateful that the prayers of his friends accompanied him. His letters to those closest to him were warm and positive in tone. Just two months before his death, he concluded a lengthy letter, “Goodbye, my dear friend. There is space left only to embrace you tenderly.” To another friend, he wrote: “Goodbye. Please give all those around you my regards, my best wishes, my friendship, and be sure of my tender affection.” Friends were an integral part of his life. Thinking of Frederic, I am reminded of the words of Shakespeare, “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.”
Vincent de Paul lived twice as long as Frederic did. Toward the end of his life, he encouraged his followers to be aware of death as an inevitable reality. Everyone must face it. He told them, “For the last eighteen years I have never gone to bed without preparing myself to appear before God that very night.” Frederic learned that lesson well. Like Vincent, he lived life to the full and gave himself peacefully to God.