One scholar wrote that in all of Flannery O’Connor’s stories, “the preparation for death or, more often than not, the lack thereof, figures significantly.” For a writer whose stories so often included death, and who wrote while battling a terminal degenerative disease that killed her at 39, Flannery O’Connor said surprisingly little about it in her non-fiction. She did say something, however.
One of her first comments was a diary entry about her father’s sudden death when she was fifteen. “The reality of death has come upon us and a consciousness of the power of God has broken our complacency like a bullet in the side,” she wrote. “A sense of the dramatic, of the tragic, of the infinite, has descended upon us, filling us with grief, but even above grief, wonder. Our plans were so beautifully laid out, ready to be carried to action, but with magnificent certainty God laid them aside and said, ‘You have forgotten — Mine?'”
Sickness as preparation
I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s always a place where there’s no company, where nobody can follow. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don’t have it miss one of God’s mercies.
— The Habit of Being
“For me it is the virgin birth, the Incarnation, the resurrection which are the true laws of the flesh and the physical. Death, decay, destruction are the suspension of these laws. I am always astonished at the emphasis the Church puts on the body. It is not the soul she says that will rise but the body, glorified.”
— The Habit of Being
Writing about death as a Catholic writer
I’m a born Catholic and death has always been brother to my imagination. I can’t imagine a story that doesn’t properly end in it or in its foreshadowings.
The Catholic writer, in so far as he has the mind of the Church, will feel life from the standpoint of the central Christian mystery: that it has for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for.
— Conversations With Flannery O’Connor
Preparing for Death
The creative action of the Christian’s life is to prepare his death in Christ. It is a continuous action in which this world’s goods are utilized to the fullest, both positive gifts and what Pere Teilhard de Chardin called “passive diminishments.”
— Introduction to A Memoir of Mary Ann
The most significant position
The heroine of this story [“A Good Man is Hard to Find”], the Grandmother, is in the most significant position life offers the Christian. She is facing death. And to all appearances she, like the rest of us, is not too well prepared for it.
— Mystery and Manners