The Girl Who Looked Death in the Eye and Smiled

8 03 2019

#InternationalWomensDay

by Chinwuba Iyizoba

People the world over flee illness and suffering and despise death as an evil that must be avoided at all cost. They feel themselves most unfortunate, even unlucky if ever one or the other should overcome them. Yet, there was a young girl who did not despise and fly from suffering and pain, but even looked death in the eye with a smile, accepting and embracing it as a gentle caress full of affection from a God who loved her so much.

Who was this girl and how did she come to have such uncommon attitude in the face of pain, suffering, even death. What gave her mind to understand that acceptance rather than hatred and rejection are the most effective antibiotics against infecting the soul with bitterness. What were the outcome of these her radical ideas?

Her name was Maria Montse Grases, a young Spaniard who lived in Barcelona. She was only 17 in 1957 when she was diagnosed with a rare and painful bone cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma. In the 50’s   Ewing’s sarcoma was a death sentence.


Maria Montse Grases

 Montse loved life and had an infectious smile straight from the heart. Her eyes shown like diamonds, tall and strong, it seems there was almost always a perpetual smile on her face, a smile that came straight from the heart. Her eyes were kind, friendly and filled with playful mischief.  She was neat and tidy and her clothes reflected style and taste. She especially liked a green plaid skirt that reached her ankles

  She liked sport and music as well as traditional local dances. She was a good athlete, playing basketball, tennis, and ping-pong. But her favorite recreation was outings with friends.

In many sense she was like any other girl; yet, she was unlike many other girls because she radiated an inner charm and her virtues and character made her attractive to all who met her. 

She almost never worried about herself but busied herself taking care of others, she showered love and attention on the needy and suffering; and took her friends to visit poor families and sick people, and she regularly gave religions classes to the local children in parishes, and would sometimes bring them toys and sweets.

 She took great care of her spiritual life of prayers because she loved God with a personal love that was both intimate and filled with reverence.  To her, God was a friend with whom she could share everything, the deepest secrets of her soul, she laid bare to him daily in prayer and anything that worried her.

Like every young woman, she had her personal shortcomings.  Impulsive and brusque at times, she however never compromised with her personal defects, wrestling resolutely against them and struggling to control her occasional ill temper, and be friendly and jovial with everyone.

This greatness of heart shone like a brilliant star when she demonstrated a rare capacity to dedicate herself to something greater than herself. 

When she was 11, her parents came in contact with Opus Dei an institution in the Catholic Church that shows ordinary people how to be holy in the ordinary circumstances of each day. They readily understood the message of Opus Dei and within two years both had joined Opus Dei.

Montse’s parents thought her how to deal with Jesus with confidence, they strove to make her stable companion of Jesus sparing no effort to make it happen.  It was her mother who first suggested she visited a center of Opus Dei, where Christian and human formation is give to young girls. In attending the means of formation given in the center of Opus Dei, she perceived one day God was calling her to serve him as a celibate member of Opus Dei. She was sixteen

After meditating, praying, and seeking advice, she asked to be admitted to Opus Dei. From then on she struggled decisively and with constancy to seek holiness in her daily life. She struggled to be in constant conversation with God, to discover the will of God in the fulfillment of her duties and in caring for little details out of love, and to make life pleasant for those around her. She was able to transmit to many of her relatives and friends the peace that comes from living close to God.

Her brother George soon took notice that Montse had changed. Though externally, she was the same, same dress, she still attended classes on cooking and arts, but her brothers noticed that she was no longer arguing with him, and was more affectionate and tactful. She seemed to have suddenly grown up.

What made her so readily generous with God?  Some people attribute it to her parent’s generosity with God in having a large family. Montse was the second of nine children.

“Me and my wife agreed in everything, ready to start a Christian family, accepting all children God wanted to send.” Her father said.

Ewing’s sarcoma

One day on June 1958, Montse went skiing with friends and injured her leg. The pain was excruciating and won’t go away; her parents took her to a clinic. After lengthy investigations, the doctor took her parent aside, and told them she had a rare kind of bone cancer, causing the great pain she had been experiencing. But worse, it was incurable. She was going to die.

Devastated, her parents wept inconsolably, unable to speak or break the news to her.

Finally, they told her.

“Would it help if they cut the bad leg?” she asked.

“I am afraid my daughter, that will not help.” her sad father said.

To her parents surprise she brightened up and began singing a Mexican song and that night, as her mother recalled slept soundly.

Little by little, her illness got worse though, and she spent many a sleepless night squirming in pain; the treatment made her suffer a lot. Her pain increased to the point of being almost unbearable. From February 16th on, her leg was so swollen up to the hip that her skin began to crack.

Treating the leg was terribly painful. But instead of complaining, she hummed a song. She always had an affectionate word for those who treated her leg, even though they couldn’t help hurting her.

She couldn’t eat. To take anything was a real torture. Since she couldn’t swallow anything, she sucked on a piece of ice for refreshment. She usually commented that she was a coward because she was afraid the suffering would come.  

Jesus was afraid to die?

At first, she naturally was afraid to die. One day she said to a friend: “I’m afraid of dying, because I’m afraid to be alone.”

Her friend tried to encourage her by mentioning the scene of Jesus in Gethsemane was afraid to die.

“Jesus was afraid to die?” She exclaimed, astonished that she hadn’t thought about that before. Joy flooded into her heart.

“What joy to find myself afraid together with Jesus,” Montse exclaimed ecstatically clasping her hands, her face radiant with peace and joy.

 “Together with Jesus I will face death happily!”

The end drew to a close rapidly however.  At the beginning of March they had to call the doctor quickly because. Montse had such a weak pulse that it was hardly noticeable.

The doctor, when he took her pulse couldn’t hide his concern that was noticed by all. Montse broke the anguished silence by picking up the doctor’s bag from the bed and saying: “Mama, have you seen this strange bag?”

This made everyone smile.

She grew much worse. They thought the moment had arrived to give her the Blessing of the Sick. She also thought it would be good to have it as soon as possible. A priest of Opus Dei administered this sacrament. Montse followed the ritual with great devotion, showing no sadness. Every once in a while she smiled at her mother who knelt at the foot of the bed.

On March 18, eve of the feast of St. Joseph, it seemed that the hour of her death had arrived. Montse was very happy.

“How do I look,” she asked those who were staying with her.

 “All right,” someone answered. Montse wanted them to say, “Worse.” And when asked, “How do you feel?” she answered unenthusiastically, “Me? Fine; just look.” The clock struck eleven, and she asked, “What time is it? Am I still here?”

At twelve she was asked, “Montse, do you want to pray?”

 They said the Angelus. At that moment she was more awake, and she said: “Do you know what I think? I’m not going to worry any more. When God wants, he’ll take me.”

Soon to Heaven

St. Joseph’s day passed, and her general condition improved somewhat. The doctor came to see her and Montse asked later: “What did he say? What’s happening? Aren’t I going?”

“He said you might go at any moment,” they answered.

 “Can you imagine? Soon to Heaven, soon to Heaven! Will you let me go?” she exclaimed happily, hugging the person who had told her the doctor’s comment.

Little by little she weakened. The nights were the worst. A continuous sweat left her exhausted. She became very thirsty and felt suffocated. The night before her death, Montse wanted to say something. But in spite of the effort she made no one could understand her. Early in the morning of that Holy Thursday, March 26, 1959, the directress of the Opus Dei house that she attended was close to her bed, and Montse asked her to say aspirations since she herself couldn’t talk anymore. About ten o’clock she tried to sit up to see the picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary that she had in front of her bed.

She whispered: “How much I love you. When are you coming to take me?” These were her last words. Her life ebbed away little by little.

At noon, those who were with her prayed the Angelus. She must have followed it with her heart. It was her last glance toward the One she loved so much, and to whom she had said so many things during her lifetime. Those who were with her began to say the Rosary in a soft voice, and they had just finished the first mystery when Montse died

Montserrat Graces, an 18 year old girl when she died on March 25, 1959 and was recently declared venerable by Pope Francis. She is a model for all women on women’s day. 


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