By Larry Peterson
It was the spring of 2014. Ed and Cathy Carmello had only been my neighbors for a short time, less than a year, I think, but we had become good friends. They had met when Ed was 60 and Cathy was 40. They fell in love and, never having been married, happily “tied the knot.” They had just celebrated their silver wedding anniversary and were simply enjoying retired life together.
There was a problem. Ed’s prostate cancer had returned with a vengeance and was destroying him quickly. Cathy had been diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma. She told me about that when she had ‘maybe’ six months to live. Since I was a prostate cancer survivor and my first wife had died of melanoma, they felt comfortable discussing their cancers with me. They knew I understood.
My daily routine usually starts at around 5:30 a.m. with a two-mile walk. For some reason, on this particular day, I decided to take another walk. It was on a Thursday afternoon around 4 .p.m. I actually tried to talk myself out of taking this walk but finally “talked” myself into it.
Out the door I went and headed down the street. Cathy and Ed’s house is three down from mine. Ed had a Ford pickup with a cap on the bed. As I passed the truck, I saw Cathy standing on her front lawn supported by her walker. I could see she was fighting to hold herself up. A bit anxious, I hurried over and said, “Hey, Cathy, what are you doing? Is everything all right?”
“I was waiting for you, Larry. I need to talk to you.”
I was dumbfounded. “Are you kidding me? I never walk at this time of day and you say you were waiting for me?”
“I just knew you were coming by. I can’t explain it.”
There are times when things happen that cannot be explained. This was one of them. I had a chill run down my back. I really did. I leaned against the pickup as she leaned heavily on her walker. “You know Ed is dying, right?”
“Yes, Cathy, I know. We talked about it. What about your prognosis? Any change?”
She smiled and looked me right in the eye and said, “They told me I only have a few weeks left.”
I tightened my lips, took a breath, and asked, “What can I do?”
They knew that I was Catholic and an EMHC (Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion). She told me that they had been non-practicing Catholics and had not been to church in years. Then she asked me if I could bring a priest over. It was time for them to “make things right with God”. I said, “I will put a call into Father as soon as I get back to the house.”
“Thank you so much. That is why I was out there waiting for you.”
I simply nodded. She smiled and thanked me, and asked me to come in and see Ed. We slowly walked back to her house. She did not mention herself once, only her husband. She told me how she wished she could ease his suffering and how wonderful it might be if they could go for a bicycle ride just one more time. Then she mentioned how she thanked God for every moment they had had together.
I went inside and she, Ed, and I hung out for about ten minutes just chatting. Cathy excused herself and slowly walked back to the bedroom. Ed quickly told me how he wished he could ease her suffering and how God had been so good to him, allowing him to find such a great woman to share his life with. I took in a deep breath. (You know, when God is present, sometimes it is hard to breathe).
I called our newly ordained priest, Father Scott. He came over the next day and spent about an hour with Ed and Cathy. Ed and the young priest both had roots in Roanoke, Virginia, and talked and laughed and had a raucous good time together. Even though the two of them were separated by more than 50 years, it did not matter. It was as if they had grown up together. It was beautiful.
Father heard their confessions, anointed both of them, and gave them Holy Communion. He told them he would come back the first chance he could. Sunday was Palm Sunday. It was the beginning of Holy Week, and he would be busy. They all hugged and said good-bye. On Palm Sunday, I had the honor of bringing them Holy Communion.
Easter Sunday, I was again privileged to bring Ed and Cathy Holy Communion. They were lying next to each other in bed, holding hands. Ed smiled and said, “Larry, we are SO happy. This is the greatest Easter we ever had.”
He turned and looked at his wife, who was smiling lovingly at him. She reached over and wiped his wet, happy eyes. They stared into each other’s eyes, and I thought they were maybe looking into each other’s souls. It was a moment that was filled with a shared spirituality I had never witnessed before. I could actually feel it. I have no doubt that at that moment Jesus was there with them holding their hands in His.
Ed died the week after Easter. A week after his funeral Mass, Cathy moved into Hospice House. Her nephew, home on leave from the Air Force for his uncle’s funeral, accompanied her. She lived another two weeks.
As for me, I thank God for their friendship and for being a part of their final journey. The love they shared together, and the peace and joy in their hearts as they knowingly approached the end of their lives on earth was so beautiful to watch. I was blessed to have been witness to it. Having faith is truly a beautiful thing.
Wishing all couples a HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY and to those who have lost their spouse (me included) hope you have a heart filled with peace all day long.