When my mum could remember almost nothing else, the Psalms gave her peace in her last days

By David Mills, 16 September 2022
Image: Katherine Hanlon/Unsplash


At the end of “The Waste Land,” T. S. Eliot writes, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”

This line has meant a lot to me, has been a kind of life rule, because I misremembered it as “fragments I have stored against my ruin.” Life is precarious and unpredictable, and anyone could, like Job, lose everything in the blink of an eye. It is wise to have things you cannot lose.

Some years ago, my mother went into hospice, her mind almost gone. She had attended church as a child, like most children her age. She had stopped going when she left home, started again a few years after her children were born, and stopped again when she was older, after her pastor displeased her. She preferred traveling around the countryside, eating in little restaurants and shopping in little shops. Yet, my mother never stopped reading her Bible, especially the Psalms.

When she was more fretful than usual, tossing back and forth on the bed and complaining about being where she was, I finally thought of reading the Psalms to her. I began with the 23rd Psalm, because it’s the 23rd Psalm. The moment I said, “The Lord is my shepherd,” she stopped tossing, stopped complaining, and laid there quietly with a look I can only call contemplative. It was like driving through a thunderstorm that in an instant turned to blue skies.

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David Mills is a former executive editor of First Things, husband and father of four. He is now an editor on the editorial page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

With thanks to America and David Mills, where this article originally appeared.


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