Five Insights From Dorothy Day on Death and Dying

Dorothy Day was the founder of the Catholic Worker movement. She wrote an autobiography, The Long LonelinessLoaves and Fishes, her history of the Catholic Worker movement; Thérèse, a life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux; and other books. Cardinal John O’Connor opened her cause for canonization in 2000 and the American bishops unanimously endorsed it 2012. Her thoughts on death are taken from her diaries, published as The Duty of Delight


My mother used to say when she was dying . . . “Do you really believe we will see those we have known in life — your father, for instance?” And when I said yes, I do believe, she said, impatiently and almost petulantly, “I don’t know whether I want to see your father again.”

I laughed with joy at her frankness. “You will know him as you first knew him, and you will love him as you loved him then,” I told her. What assurance! But I felt no shame at this presumption. I was sure.

—29 April 1968

Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard what God hath prepared for those who love Him.” But do I love Him? The only test is am I willing to sacrifice present happiness and present love for Him.

—Epiphany Thursday, 1966

Always when I waken in the morning it is to a half-dead condition, a groaning in every bone, a lifelessness, a foretaste of death, a sense of “quiet terror,” which hangs over us all. A sense of the futility of life and the worthlessness of all our efforts. It is, as one of our retreat masters said, as if we rowed a fragile bark at head of Niagara Falls and all our efforts are to keep from going over into the chasm below.

I turn desperately to prayer. “O God make haste to help me. Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.” And there is always Matins or Lauds, those magnificent psalms, the official prayer of the church, prayers which thousands, tens of thousands are saying each morning all over the world. And I am saved.

— 14 April 1968

Thinking about the loneliness of death today I suddenly thought how when I was traveling rather fearfully thru the clouds on my first air flight I was not lonely. It was too thrilling to be up above the clouds, in the sunlight.

I thought of those I left behind, but also of those I was going to see, and it will be the same at death. I will look forward to seeing those family and friends who have gone before me, besides innumerable others, the saints, the writers like C. S. Lewis, etc. We will know and be known.

— 15 August 1968

One of the five insights is someone else’s. A prayer card inserted in her final journal:

O Lord and master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, lust of power and idle talk. But give to thy servant rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love. Yes, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed from all ages to ages. Amen.

— St. Ephraim the Syrian’s Prayer of Penance


For more information about Dorothy Day and her life, as well as her cause for canonization, see the Dorothy Day Guild. For her story of the death of her mentor and friend Peter Maurin, see here.

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