Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. // Hebrews 5:8-9
On July 9, 2022, my husband Jim passed away in our home after a sixteen-year battle with melanoma skin cancer. In his last few days, he was surrounded by friends and family and, as I was reminded by today’s First Reading, priests.
For many years, we made a point of getting to know our pastor and the other priests at our parish, as well as local order and prelature priests and brothers. We wanted to offer them friendship and hospitality and community and a home-cooked meal, and to make sure that our sons knew priests and had heard their vocation stories so they could be sure to consider their own vocations.
Over the last two years of Jim’s illness and at his death, those friendships with priests became an invaluable resource for him and our whole family.
During Jim’s various surgeries and hospital stays, we had the contact information of multiple priests in our phones so we could get in touch with them to arrange for a visit and, when necessary, the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Our pastor made sure to remind us that we have a responsibility to keep him informed of family births, deaths, and serious illnesses because he has a special responsibility to care for members of his flock in those times.
The visits from priests to Jim in our home in the last days of his life have been the greatest consolation to me in the months since. On Thursday, we had a family dinner together, then a priest friend came by to visit, heard Jim’s confession, and anointed him. It was Jim’s last conversation. By Friday morning, he was mostly in a sleep state, just barely able to respond to questions. Our pastor came over at midday and performed the last rites. When Father began reading the Gospel, Jim opened his eyes to listen. When Father asked him if he’d like to receive the Eucharist, Jim said, “Yes.” It was the last thing he saw, the last word he spoke, the last food he ate.
He was visited by other priests during the day on Saturday. They talked with Jim, prayed with us and Jim’s other visitors, and brought us comfort. Just after Jim passed away, a priest was there to pray over his body. Our pastor returned to be with us as the mortuary removed Jim’s body. As the men came in, they told us the family usually wants to leave the room for this part. Father said, “No way, we’re staying!” And he led us in singing the Salve Regina as Jim’s body left our home. It’s a beautiful memory that I now cherish.
All of these moments, individually and collectively, have solidified to me the sacred nature of priests as “representative before God,” and, while nothing can take away the pain and hardship of losing someone we love, the consolation of the Sacraments has given us an extraordinary peace.