To Her Husband, the Only Thing that mattered was the Arrival of the Priest

Light after Death

By Larry Peterson

Lee and Shirley Mae had moved from Pittsburgh, PA., to Pinellas Park, FL, back in 1984. Lee, a World War II veteran who served in the South Pacific during the war, and Shirley Mae had met at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport years before. Lee, a widower, worked for United Airlines. Shirley, who had never been married, was a waitress at the airport restaurant. They fell in love and got married. A few years after Lee retired from United, they headed south, settling on the Florida west coast near St. Petersburg.  

They purchased a two-bedroom home in a 55+ community called Mainlands of Tamarac. They immediately joined the local Catholic parish called Sacred Heart Church. It was perfect for the happy couple, and they quickly became involved in church ministry. They both volunteered as ushers, and Lee became an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. They also worked together every year during the annual Fall Festival, coordinating all the food court workers.

It was sometime in January of 2020 that Shirley began feeling “not right.” She was having a bit of trouble breathing, had a slight cough, and was experiencing fatigue. Lee and Shirley knew it was time to see the doctor, and they did. Doctors told her she had lung cancer.

Treatments with oral medications began in February. The pandemic resulted in a change of lifestyle, and Lee and Shirley adapted the best they could. They did not dare venture outside their home, and food and supplies were delivered and placed near the front door. Days turned to months, and Shirley’s health kept slipping downward.

Lee, who is a vibrant 96-year-old, could no longer care for his wife by himself. Sometime in early September, Hospice arrived on the scene.  Towards the end of September, a hospital bed was placed in the family room. Shirley was no longer able to sit up or eat by herself. Hospice workers were now coming in several times a day.

Hospice wanted to move Shirley to the Hospice center. Lee was horrified at the prospect. He told the nurse in charge, “My wife and I promised each other we would never let any one take either of us to any kind of home. She must stay here with me. Please, please, do that for me?”  Hospice, realizing Shirley’s time was not far away, agreed.

Lee and Shirley are devout Catholics who attended Mass every day. They are also neighbors and close friends of mine. .I became personally involved in helping them early in summer. My most important function was that of being a Minister of Holy Communion. Nothing was more important to them than my bringing Jesus in the Eucharist, especially on Sunday.

The end of September and the beginning of October seemed to blend together. It was about 5 P.M. on October 8th when my phone rang. Brenda, a close friend of Lee and Shirley’s, was calling to say that Shirley had passed a few minutes earlier. I had promised Lee that no matter what time of day or night it was, a priest would come to pray over Shirley when she passed. I immediately called the church.

The church has a phone menu, and if you press #8, you got the emergency line to the priest. I left a message, and I headed over to Lee’s house. Shirley was lying halfway on her side. Her head was bowed down a bit, and her eyes were half-open. She had a simple smile on her face. I was transfixed at how peacefully beautiful she appeared. I called the church again. Then I gathered those willing around Shirley’s bed, and we said a Chaplet of Divine Mercy for her.

Upon finishing the Chaplet, I called the church a third time. As I hung up the phone, it rang. It was Father Kevin, our pastor. He was out in Tampa at a convocation with priests and the bishop. Father Vijay, our other priest, was with him. They were was almost an hour away. The problem was the funeral home van was on the way to pick up Shirley. I was told they could not wait for the priest.

It is interesting how things can work out. Nothing was more important to Lee at that moment than the priest being there to pray over Shirley. Father Kevin said he could leave right away and, if traffic was light, he could make it in 45 minutes. I said, “Okay, father. Thanks, .” 

Fifteen minutes later, the funeral van pulled up. Father Kevin was at least a half-hour away. One of the hospice nurses came over to me and told me that they had another stop to make and could not wait. It was time to get bold.

I walked over to the van driver and told him the situation. The guy told me he was sorry, but he could not wait for more than fifteen minutes. I told him very nicely that “the only way anyone gets near that woman  before the priest does is over my dead body.” The guy smiled and said, “Okay, okay, I get it. I understand.”

Father Kevin arrived within the 45 minute time frame. We all gathered around, and calmness filled the room as Father prayed over Shirley and blessed her. Lee stood next to him, holding his wife’s lifeless hand, tears coming from his eyes. As Shirley was removed from the house, Lee stopped by the gurney and held her hand one last time.  Sobbing softly, he bent down and kissed her goodbye. She was still smiling.

Her funeral is scheduled for October 31st, Halloween. Ironically, wearing masks will be appropriate.

copyright©Larry Peterson2020

 


Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementias—Time to Accept the Science and Reject the unknowing Pundits

By Larry Peterson

I was married to a woman who had Alzheimer’s Disease. Her diagnosis was determined not merely by her behavior, but by careful medical diagnosis. Today, there are those who occupy a public forum and use it to disseminate medical analysis based on their own dislikes and prejudices held against those they do not like.   They influence many viewers and listeners who may believe their “expertise” and begin doing their evaluations on whom these pundits reference. Publicly accusing folks of having Alzheimer’s Disease based on personal observation is disgusting. They all need an injection of “humility.” (I wish the CDC could come up with that).

Husband and Wife(s)

I have been widowed twice. My first wife, Loretta, passed away seventeen years ago after being attacked by Stage 4 Melanoma. We had met in grade school, connected in high school, and were married 35 years. Yes—we were together until death parted us. Being a man of faith, I am sure I will see her again.

I met Marty at church a few years later. I was president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and she was interested in joining. Her husband had died four years earlier, and we had something in common. In need of a secretary, she volunteered. We were in frequent contact because of our positions, and about six months later, we went out to dinner. Two years later, we were married. It was something I had never considered. I believe God helped us meet.

Loretta suffered from Lupus, Chronic Pancreatitis, Type 1 Diabetes, and Liver disease. The Melanoma came last. I had become her caregiver and even learned how to administer her IVs and give her injections. I became pretty good at it. However, she never fell victim to the demon known as Alzheimer’s Disease. That was a world that I had only heard of but never experienced “up close and personal.”  I may have been a caregiver to Loretta, but I was not expecting what lay ahead, nor was I prepared for it.

“Newlyweds” and Cancer

You never know what life might throw your way, and we hit our first real “bump in the road” during the winter of 2007 when I was diagnosed with Prostate cancer. However, it proved to be less of a challenge than what we had anticipated.  In May, I had a radical prostatectomy. I was blessed because they told me my Gleason Score was an “8” and I would have been dead in two years if I had not taken care of it. My recovery took several months but it has been thirteen years since the surgery, and I am still cancer free.  Praise the Lord; I can still talk about it. 

But it was not long before a different situation unexpectedly reared its ugly head. It all began when Marty walked up to me, raised her right arm, and ponted to her armpit. She asked me, “Feel this lump. It keeps getting bigger. What do you think it is?”

Marty had never been sick a day in her life. She had noticed the “lump” but had never said anything, expecting it to go away. But it did not go away. Instead, it got bigger; so did the one in her groin. I convinced her to to see our primary care doctor who, upon examining the “lumps”,  referred us to a surgeon. The “lumps” were surgically removed, biopsied, and the diagnosis was; Large Grade B-Cell Lymphoma. Chemotherapy was to be her next challenge. Amazingly, she was not concerned at all. She told me, “This is nothing. I’ll be fine.”

After the diagnosis, we again met with a surgeon. This time it was to discuss having a mediport implanted in her chest.  A mediport is an access point for IV treatments. It replaces the need to always access an IV line by using a person’s veins. The patient can avoid all that by having their port accessed with a Huber needle, designed especially for that purpose. After the infusion is complete, the Huber needle is removed, and a  band-aid is placed over the site where the needle was inserted. The patient never has to be stuck and, in my opinion, it is a wonderful thing. Marty had the surgery in January of 2011  She began chemotherapy treatments in March of that year. 

Time for Chemo

Marty’s cancer was found in her lungs, her liver, spleen, and various other places. A year and a half later the cancer was 50% less than originally seen by the PET Scan. (The full name for   PET Scan is Positron Emission Tomography. It is an imaging test that can show how your tissues and organs are functioning.  A radioactive dye called a tracer is used to show the activity).By 2014 her cancer seemed to be in remission. During this time I did notice a change in Marty’s cognitive state. She seemed to be forgetting things, not much but enough that raise some red flags. For example, she was redundant, constantly asking the same question over and over;  “are we having dinner tonight?”  “are we having dinner tonight?”

The one that always tore me up was when she would look at me with a frightened look and ask, “Are you going away now?’….Are you going away now?” While she was in the hospital, it was always her fear that I would not come back. It was awful to see her fear-filled face. I simply began taking her with me when I had to go out for something.

She had always baked “made from scratch” chocolate chip cookies, and truthfully, they were fabulous. So one day, I am watching as she goes about the kitchen getting out the necessary ingredients to make some. Acting as normal  as can be, she takes out flour, eggs, sugar, brown sugar, butter, and other things (I do not know all the ingredients she used to make these cookies) and places them on the counter. She has done this same thing hundreds of times.

I continued to watch from the TV room, and it was as if everything was perfectly normal. I can remember thinking that maybe she was OK and that they had made a terrible mistake. Then she stopped and stood there looking at all the ingredients and the big stainless steel mixing bowl in front of her. She kept looking, and then she began to cry. I got up and slowly walked over to her. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

She was sobbing now, and I did not understand. Then she blurted out, “What is all of this stuff doing here? What is it doing here? Am I supposed to do something with it?”

I hugged her, and I told her that I would put the stuff away. She smiled, I kissed her on her cheek, and then she went in and sat down on the sofa. I was not sure if she remembered what she was even doing a few minutes earlier. That moment in time was a reality check for me. Unexpectedly, Marty’s cancer went into remission as the Alzheimer’s exacerbated.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia; the difference

It is important to remember that Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia are two different things. Alzheimer’s is a form of Dementia, while Dementia is a syndrome or a symptom of a cognitive disorder. There are many other causes of dementia besides Alzheimer’s Disease such as Vascular Dementia, Huntington’s Disease, Dementia with Lewy Bodies, and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia, to name a few.

A football player may develop dementia from years of head trauma received while participating in his sport. A retired fighter may be deemed as being “punch drunk” because dementia has taken hold of his brain after thousands of punches to the head. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease requires a special evaluation by doctors and trained psychologists in the field before the Alzheimer’s label is officially given to the patient.

My wife first exhibited “forgetfulness’ during her chemo treatments in 2011. I had heard of “chemo-brain” and asked her oncologist about her chemo treatments being the cause. He could not answer and said we would have to wait and see. It was not until the summer of 2014 when medical professionals gave an official diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. That was after an MRI, evaluation by a neurologist, and having her and the family interviewed by two psychologists who specialized in the field.

She lived three years after diagnosis. Some Alzheimer’s patients live up to fifteen years, especially those diagnosed in their early fifties. The course of the illness is unpredictable, but the results are very predictable. Alzheimer’s Disease cannot be slowed or stopped. It just keeps at it until its mission is accomplished.  Here are a few facts:

  • Today, 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s Disease
  • It is the 6th leading cause of death in the USA
  • One in three seniors dies from Alzheimer’s or another form of Dementia

Lastly, from a man who has lived with  Alzheimer’s  and watched it erase his wife’s memory and kill her:  

I wish to say to all those uneducated “experts” who proudly use their “bully pulpit” to place labels of Alzheimer’s disease and other Dementias upon those they do NOT like; you are making a mockery of the profession you are practicing. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

And please, never forget to ask the Patroness of those with dementia and mental illness for her intercession. Her name is St. Dymphna  Click on her name and say “HI.”

Copyright©Larry Peterson 2020

 


Born paralyzed, this future Saint became a Media Celebrity at the age of 57. Meet Gaetana “Nuccia” Tolomeo

Venerable Gaetana “Nucci” Tolomeo
public domain

By Larry Peterson

Gaetana Tolomeo was born in Catanzaro, in Italy’s Calabria region, on Good Friday, April 10, 1936. Father Teodoro Diaco baptized her on July 12, 1936, in the local Church of Our Lady of the Rosary. This was quite providential since baby Gaetana would devote her life to prayer and hold a Rosary in her hand for her entire life. As time passed by, she became known to everyone as “Nuccia.”

Nuccia suffered from a progressive and deforming paralysis that attacked her when she was just a small child. It stunted her growth, leaving her disabled. Her parents took her to local doctors, but they were unable to help the youngster. They also had a sickly son, Giuliano, who was born on October 30, 1940. He would die sometime in 1944, but between Nuccia and Giuliano, they had been through a  heartwrenching and challenging time. Now it was just eight-year-old Nuccia, but circumstances seemed no better.

With no local help available, they sent Nuccia to an aunt in Cuneo for medical assistance. However, doctors in Cuneo were unable to help, and after a short time, she returned home. As time passed, Nuccia’s condition worsened, and she became confined to either her bed or a chair.

The Holy Spirit was indeed working within her because Nuccia never felt sorry for herself. Instead, she embraced her illness and the suffering that came with it as a way to reach the hearts of those that were living sinful lives. It was not long before she began to draw pilgrims who were coming to her for advice. These included priests, nuns, and laypeople. And they were coming for words of wisdom from a disabled woman with a fourth-grade education. They, too, must have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit when they approached her.

Nuccia saw in her illness a way to participate in the Passion of Jesus. She even alluded to this in her spiritual writings. The people that came to see Nuccia noticed that Nuccia always clasped a rosary in her hands. She also attended Eucharistic Adoration as often as possible. And she managed to become a part of CatholicAction, formed in the 19th century to counter anti-Catholicism.

In 1994, Nuccia began to be a guest on the local radio station, Radio Maria. Her primary objective was to spread the Gospel message to the suffering with whom she could identify. Those that were drug addicts, prostitutes, and the needy, especially families, going through financial struggles. Her program became very popular. She began to be heard on “Il Fratello,” a program where folks called in with problems, and Nuccia would answer their questions. The host, Federico Quaglini, would ask her spiritual questions. Nuccia, a great devotee of a St. Pio of Pietrelcina, would answer them.

Gaetana “Nuccia” Tolomeo suffered a pulmonary embolism and was admitted to the hospital. She was given blood transfusions, but her health continued to decline. She passed away on January 24, 1997, at the age of sixty. The following morning Radio Maria announced her death to thousands of listeners. Sadness at her loss and Joy in her life was the theme of the day.

This is the Easter message given by Nuccia in 1995: “… In his infinite mercy and wisdom, the Lord has prepared a weak body for me, for the triumph of his power of love … I praise and bless the Lord for the cross, of which he adorned me, because by crucifying my flesh, he also crucified my thoughts, my affections, my desires, and even my will, to make me his welcome abode, his satisfaction, his living tabernacle. Thanks to the cross of Christ, today, I can affirm with the apostle Paul ‘It is no longer I who live, it is Christ who lives and works in me.’ 

Gaetana “Nucci” Tolomeo was declared a woman of “heroic virtue” on April 6, 2019. She now wears the title of Venerable, and a miracle attributed to her has been approved. A date for her beatification will soon be announced.

Venerable Gaetana “Nucci” Tolomeo, please pray for us.

copyright©LarryPeterson 2020