By Larry Peterson
It was the spring of 2014. Ed and Cathy Carmello (not their real last name) had only been my neighbors for a short time, less than a year I think. 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 was in her final battle with Stage IV melanoma. Since I was a prostate cancer survivor and my first wife had died of melanoma, I was able to discuss their cancers openly with them. They knew I understood.
It was a Thursday afternoon around 4 .p.m. when I left to take my daily walk. I headed down the street, and there was 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’s going on? 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.”
A bit unnerved, I leaned against her SUV as she leaned heavily on her walker. “You know Ed is dying, right?”
“Yeah, Cathy, I know. We talked about it. He’s an amazing guy. What about your prognosis? Any change?”
She smiled and looked me right in the eye saying, “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). Cathy asked me if I could bring a priest over. She told me that they had been non-practicing Catholics and had not been to church in years. 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 here waiting for you.”
I simply nodded. She smiled and thanked me and I walked her back to the 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.
We 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. In so doing, an unexpected sight was forever etched in my mind. 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 kept looking 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 seen before. I could actually feel it. I have no doubt that at that moment Jesus was there with them holding their hands in His.
As for me, I thank God for their friendship and for being a part of their final journey. Sometimes I like to think that I took two people in love to the airport and watched them get on a plane for a a true flight to paradise.
copyright©Larry Peterson 2014