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

 


For Valentine’s Day–A Love Story Embraced by God (This is a true story)

 

pineterest.com

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