When Augustine was a sixteen years of age, Patricius his father died, but Augustine made a small account of this in his Confessions. When Augustine was twenty-two years of age, however, he lost a dear friend, and then in his adulthood as a Christian his loving mother, Monica, died. Both of these deaths affected Augustine.
Whereas in his Confessions, the death of his father was merely mentioned, their two deaths were covered in some detail. The death of his close friend in Tagaste in the year 376 was significant in that it made Augustine realise that life is temporal. Looking back reflectively on his life in his Confessions, Augustine wrote that the death of this closest and dearest friend had positively influenced his own process of conversion to the Christian faith. Augustine discovered how deep the bond of friendship ran very deeply within him when he lost this un-named dear friend. He later wrote, "For I thought that my soul and his were but one soul in two bodies." (Confessions 4, 6, 11)
For Augustine the mystical "bond of love" that thoroughly binds community members together is the work of the Holy Spirit. As reported in the Confessions, Augustine and this unnamed friend had known each other for a short time when his friend died, yet Augustine felt that he was losing someone he had known all his life. "You [God] took the man from this life when our friendship had scarcely completed a year. It had been sweet to me beyond all sweetnesses of life that I had experienced."
This friend is not named in the Confessions. This young man had a bad fever, and he was baptised while not conscious. Augustine felt as if this baptism would have no effect on him, and that he would carry to eternal judgment all the evil actions of his life. When his friend briefly regained consciousness, he and Augustine had a minor conflict over a joke Augustine made concerning the baptism. The friend was upset because he did not find it a matter for laughter. But they resolved the conflict before Augustine departed. Augustine was then absent for a few days, and his friend died. Augustine was stricken with constant grief. In his sorrow over his friend's death, Augustine moved from Thagaste to Carthage.
The next significant death that Augustine had to confront in his life was that of Monica, his mother. The year was 387. Augustine had already prepared for baptism in her company, received the sacrament from Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, and was with Monica, his mother, at the port of Ostia during a naval blockade while awaiting a ship back to North Africa. In a garden at Ostia, mother and son shared a mystical experience. Monica then told him that, as far as he was concerned, she had nothing more for which to live now that he was a Christian. Within five days, Monica was deathly ill with a fever. One day she was unconscious, and regained consciousness the next day, but then she died.
When he wrote his Confessions, the death of Monica was the most detailed account of death in that book. He described the last two weeks of her life, and then gave his intimate reactions to her sudden death from a fever (possibly malaria). He did not feel the need for weeping for over her death, unlike he had done years earlier on the death of his unnamed friend.
Death played a large role in the Confessions, yet with death of his mother Augustine no longer wrote about it strictly in an autobiographical fashion. Rather, he used the incident more to reflect on his philosophical views of life. Death is a especially prominent theme of Book 9 of the Confessions. In the first half of Book 9, Augustine mentions the deaths of three members of his circle. All three deaths are presented out of time sequence with the plan of the Confessions. They interrupt the chronology of the narrative.
The first death mentioned there is that of Verecundus, his rich friend who owned the estate at Cassiciacum that Augustine used for half a year prior to his baptism. The date of the death of the second person, his friend Nebridius, is uncertain. He died relatively young, was a cleric like Augustine, and evidently remained a close friend to Augustine until the end. Finally, Augustine mentions his son, Adeodatus, who died in the company of Augustine at Thagaste about two years after the baptism of the both of them had happened in Milan.
Augustine reports all three deaths with an air of wistfulness, but not sorrow. He is confident that all three of these people died in the embrace of God. Their deaths prepare the reader for the longer discussion of the death of Monica that occupies the last half of Book 9. The coverage of these four deaths in Book 9 of the Confessions emphasises the theme of change. It is figuratively the death of the old life and the beginning of the new - just as the life of Augustine was to be so radically altered spiritually by his conversion and baptism.