In my professional life I often encounter people like Fr. Joey Lirette, who is the Associate Pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Cut Off, Louisiana. I thought I’d share his story with you because it describes the same kind of peace that Five Wishes brings families and how faith and death are inexorably linked. Here’s Fr. Lirette:
Before I became a priest, I worked for a hospice for a number of years, so I am no stranger to death. So much of my experience – especially now as a priest – has confirmed my belief that faith and death go hand-in-hand – that the full meaning of death is beyond our comprehension. A recent experience confirms my belief.
I received a call that a woman was in the hospital and she didn’t have much time left in this world. As I approached the hospital room, I prayed to the Holy Spirit to join me in the room so I could minister his word, and not mine, to the patient.
After arriving at the hospital, I knocked on the door and entered. As I gazed around the room, I saw a great number of friends and family gathered around her bed. I thought to myself I must be too late, she has already died. No, they were gathered around her, praying. This surprised me because this was not a regular church-going family. I didn’t think religion was a great priority for them.
The room had a bed, a small sofa, a recliner and one window. It was very dark and rainy that day, almost seeming to be nighttime even though it was midday. When the family saw I was there, they asked me to join them in prayer, and I did. They continued to pray over her, and once they were finished, I asked for the prognosis. They told me she could pass into the next world at any time. I asked if I could offer her the Anointing of the Sick, and they agreed. I had just begun the prayers when suddenly she woke up. This amazed her family and friends, who told me she hadn’t been awake in days. They were all able to speak to her. A nurse came in and checked on her. The nurse pulled me aside and said that given her condition and her vital signs, she should not be awake, much less alert.
After the woman spoke to her friends and family, she turned to me and said, “I really need confession, could you hear mine?” I agreed and the family stepped out into the hallway. It had been many years since her last confession, and afterwards she told me it felt like a weight had been lifted off her soul. Now she was ready to move on. The family came back into the room and she told them that she was now ready to join her family that had gone before her.
A ray of light
I resumed the anointing prayer, but this time something very strange happened. On such a gloomy rainy day, a beam of light shone through that hospital window and fell upon just me and her. As I anointed her forehead and her hands, she closed her eyes. I looked at her and told her, “Not yet, you need food for the journey.” I broke a very small piece of the Eucharist, which I had brought with me, and placed it on her tongue. She then looked at her family and said, “They (her ancestors) are here for me. It is so beautiful! Is it all right if I go?” The family said, “Of course you can go.”
She went on to the next part of her journey in death so peacefully and beautifully that no one could shed a tear.
Faith and death go hand-in-hand.