John 14:16 “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever.”
Christmas Eve 2012 Celebration at our home
(Written 02/25/13 @ 2 a.m.)
My dearest friend’s sister, who was diagnosed with ALS less than a month ago, died a little after midnight this morning.
My friend Pat, I believe (and I’m not alone in my opinion), is the closest thing you will ever find on this earth to the Blessed Mother. Although her now deceased sister Maureen permanently resided in Georgia, Pat, at first clueless to her sister’s failing state, had opened up her Connecticut home to her on and off since 2010 after her younger sister had become a widow. Her last “visit” stretched on for months. This past month, 75-year-old Maureen’s health declined rapidly. Over the last couple of weeks, Pat spent the core of the day pureeing foods and hand feeding her sister.
Prior to the official diagnosis, Pat had exhaustively researched the condition after another doctor, who had evaluated Maureen, had suspected the condition. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is the most common degenerative disease of the motor neuron system. As motor neurons die, patients lose the ability to control their body and, eventually, become paralyzed. When the muscles in the throat deteriorate, ALS patients begin to choke.
It is a fatal condition; median survival is 3-5 years. According to Medscape Reference, “Aspiration pneumonia and medical complications of immobility contribute to morbidity in patients with ALS.”
Upon final diagnosis, Pat confided to me that she realized that her sister would likely choke to death on her own saliva. Leaving the neurologist’s office, even though she knew the sad reality of the situation, she still uttered these three words: “I’m at peace.”
In fact, Pat’s second set of words was “God will take care of it.”
“God?” I wanted to say. “I mean, really? I mean this is a job for professionals. Big time professionals.”
I was the fear talking. Pat was the faith. When crisis arises, that’s how it is; the pendulum can swing either way—faith/fear/faith/fear…sometimes repeatedly, erratically back and forth. In Pat’s case, there is only one way to swing, faith. This woman, among many other things, teaches me that religion and spirituality can live in the same house. She also teaches me that, despite some bad press in the past, some practicing Catholics rock. I am one hundred percent certain that if everyone in the world were living as unselfishly as Pat, her acts of kindness would bridge heaven and earth so much closer.
When I first met Pat some thirty years ago, she was part of the Catholic Charismatic movement. Outside of the church’s door, she, along with her now deceased husband, inspired me to step back into the church—first with one foot, then two. Over these many years, the way most people work at their jobs, Pat works at her faith. Now well into her seventies she still goes to daily Mass and takes on numerous commitments at her church with the stamina of a thirty year old. In her mid-seventies, she formally became a Third Order Carmelite, a layperson who is committed to God through daily, prescribed prayer, retreats and religious meetings while living an active life in the world.
When she first started her venture as a Carmelite, I was a little irked. So much going on, I said to her and here you’re wasting all this time praying; despite my critical response to her decision, I have watched in awe Pat’s progression in her spiritual life.
Any battles that she has had in life, she has surrendered to God; just like the one with Maureen. In these last few weeks and months her calm is rare in our world. A few hours before I found out about Maureen’s condition, which had taken a complete downhill turn within twenty-four hours, I spoke to Pat over the telephone. She was at the hospital at her sister’s bedside, awaiting her nephew, Maureen’s son, to arrive and give permission to stop life support.
“I’m at peace.” I heard her familiar words again.
About an hour later, around 11:30 p.m., spontaneously moved by the Holy Spirit, I picked up Pat’s other sister and drove to the hospital’s ICU. Pat, who stood next to her sister’s son, radiated when she saw her other sister, the eldest surviving sister in the family.
“I had just wished you could be here.”
From that point on, we prayed; near the end, the Catholic chaplain arrived and jointed us. Afterwards, he said it was nice to hear such faith-filled people pray so loudly. When you have faith, I guess hard rock stars aren’t the only ones who can shake the house down.
Shortly after he left, in the eye of death, during a time of crisis, I witnessed the Holy. The family let their sister and mom go with the unquestioning, unfailing faith, certain that she went over to an eternal life with God. They had let go and let her step gracefully home. The transition was so flawless that I knew that all there was beyond the confines of this world was heaven, and, so it was, the perfect finale to a story that was so faithfully lived.
Until next time….Faith forward!