The text was short and clear: “Amy, we have an eleventh hour request for the Father.” HIPAA laws prevent us from using hospice patients’ names in such communications. But “the Father” was the only identifier you ever needed anyway.
The first time I met you, you glanced up at me from your wheelchair. “What can I do for you?” you asked. “No, Father. I am here for you.” You paused, entirely confused by my answer and replied, “How about a blessing then?” And you raised your arm robed in burgundy terrycloth (the vestments of the sick rather than those of your lifelong vocation), and you made the sign of the cross at my forehead.
We danced these same steps weekly for months – you asking me how you could serve me and me continually befuddling you by replying that I was there to serve you.
But one day you paused before raising your hand in blessing. That time, you looked into my eyes with your weary watery ones and said, “Could you please pray for me? I’m dying of cancer.” In that pause, I witnessed you release the role and the identity that you had held for over seven decades – the role and the identity that had held you for over seven decades.
But you never were able to release the blessings. So, as I settled into the recliner by your bed, pulled out my strand of rosewood beads, and began to recite the chaplet of Divine Mercy – your favorite – the blessings began again.
Your nurse kept increasing your medication to “keep you calm”, to stop the continual movement of your hands. Didn’t she see? How could she not recognize all the blessings? The gnarled fingers that had lifted up the communion bread during countless masses, the leukemia-stained purple arms that had held so many babies during baptisms – they never stopped blessing.
You ripped the tubes out of your nostrils and flung them aside, filled with some heavenly breath and in no need of oxygen tanks. When your nurse tried to reinsert the tubes, you blessed her.
The patient down the hall groaned in agony throughout the night. And each time his voice rose, your hand shot up in response.
You pulled off your pajamas, and the two nuns singing to you grew embarrassed. “Father, you need to keep your clothes on,” they said. They did not know they were witnesses to this personal sacrament, the presentation in the temple called deathbed. You heard their scolding, paused . . . and once again came the blessing.