At the very end of Return of the King, there are two major events that happen for Frodo and Sam. Frodo goes off to Valinor with the Elves because the wound that a ringwraith inflicted upon him hasn’t completely healed, even after the adventure is over. Meanwhile, Sam stays in the Shire and lives out his life there. However, at the end of his life (according to the appendices in the book version of Return of the King), Sam goes to Valinor to be with his lifelong friend. Although Tolkien didn’t intend to have any allegory in his works, the place of Valinor represents the idea of dying peacefully, also known as the grace of a happy death.
There’s a huge difference between the despairing thoughts of Tobit and Sarah when they begged God to take their lives and the happy death that actually occurs for everyone. For Tobias and Sarah, life goes on and they get to see God’s promised fulfilled. Eventually, when it comes time for Tobias to pass on, he happily accepts it.
One of my favorite shows is Doctor Who, a sci-fi series about someone named The Doctor who is part of an alien race called Time Lords. He travels throughout time and space having all sorts of adventures with his companions. One part of the show is that when the Doctor ends up in a near-death situation, he has the ability to regenerate or change into an entirely different person. The first time that I saw a “regeneration” was when I watched the finale of the Ninth Doctor’s season called “The Parting of the Ways.” The Ninth Doctor explains the regeneration process to his companion, Rose Tyler and then tells her “You were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And you know what? So was I.” He accepts his death with a smile and regenerates into the Tenth Doctor.
Another person who was given the grace of a happy death was St. Joseph, Mary’s most chaste spouse. Not much is known about St. Joseph aside from the fact that he was chosen to be the foster father of Jesus and accepted God’s will even though he was initially afraid. But given that he chose to fulfill his vow of marriage to Mary shows that he was devoted to her. He was also willing to make the long journey to Egypt to keep his family safe.
Like Tobit and Anna, Joseph and Mary lived for a while in a land where they were refugees, foreigners, and worked together to raise their child in their faith. Not much is said about the life that the Holy Family led during their time in Egypt, but it couldn’t have been easy for them, especially when after a certain amount of time, they had to leave Egypt for Nazareth. I lived in California for three years after spending my entire childhood in New Jersey and then moved to Texas, where I still live. Nowadays, though, I consider the times I moved to be a blessing. I learned new things from the places I lived in. I find it surprising whenever I find someone who spent all their lives living in one place because.
There’s a song by Carrie Underwood called “Temporary Home” which reflects different ideas on what home means to different people. Ultimately, the song reminds us that this world that we live in is just a temporary home. As St. Therese of Lisieux said “The world is thy ship and not thine home.” When it comes to my life, I don’t wanna go down with the ship and follow the ways of the world. I pray for the grace of a happy death, which means sailing with my ship towards home: Heaven.
STUDY QUESTIONS: Think of a time when you lost a loved one through death. Did they die peacefully or was it filled with suffering? Or was it sudden? How did you deal with it? Are you afraid of death? How has today’s passage changed your perspectives on death?