Friday, June 1, 2012

Mamma mia!

The phone rang. 1am. Groan! Could I come to the hospital? Sergio (not his name) was dying. I'll be there in 15 minutes.

It was not an unpleasant walk to the hospital - a warm night, the street busy with students going to or coming back from the pub, heading to their respective colleges. I made my way through the night entry door with my swipe card - silent corridors, a lift which immediately responded to the press of the button, another silent corridor on the 8th floor. I walked quickly to room 18 and knocked, pushing the door open.

Suddenly a hand on my chest - Sergio's wife, pushing me back out. 'Oh, Father, thank you for coming. You can't go in.' 'Oh?' 'Yes, you can't go in, Sergio will think he's dying'. 'Really? So I can't go in? But you did call me, didn't you?' 'Yes, I did, I panicked.' 'Ok, so what do you want me to do? Let me go in and give him the Sacraments.' 'Oooh, no! Please, Father!' 'Ok, so what do you want me to do?' 'I'm sorry, Father, please just go home.'

[I know, you think I'm making this up, don't you? Well, I'm not!]

It was an equally pleasant walk back to the presbytery and I imagined my bed was still warm in parts. Soon I was back in slumber land.

Ring! Ring! Oh no. Hello. The nurse put Maria on. 'Yes, Maria, I'll come at once. Sorry to hear that Sergio is dead.' The clock showed 5am.

Now the street was different - colder, some traffic, no pedestrians except for me.

This time I was met at the door. Maria was in tears. About 15 family members stood around the bed. I gave Absolution and the Plenary Indulgence and anointed Sergio's strangely cold forehead.

On the way out, curious, I asked the nurse to check the chart for time of death. 3am!


  1. Wow ... what a tragically wasted opportunity ... (and I'm not talking about your sleep!) How many of us would long for and pray for the privilege of having a priest at hand in our last hours.

  2. what a strange "story", but pardon for my slow comprehension... why did maria take 2 hours to contact u?

  3. Dear Father, as a fellow priest in the US, I too can attest to similar unfortunate situations. It's too bad it's not understood that the Sacraments were entrusted to us by Christ for the LIVING!

  4. Nick, the point of the story is simply that in some cultures there has developed a kind of 'ministry to feelings' which has taken precedence over 'ministry to the soul'. So Sergio's 'feelings' were more important than the sacraments and later, Maria's 'feelings' probably made her forget the sacraments, till too late. Ironically, I think Sergio would have known he was dying long before that night. The dying usually know. So Maria's protection of his feelings was self-defeating in more than one way.

  5. therese, it is sad. it really is. my brother received extreme unction twice in the hospital before he passed last june. we are relieved he did. i could not imagine not receiving it before i passed!

  6. Very sad and soooo frustrating. Moreover, I am very sure that Sergio knew jolly well that he was dying!

  7. Hmmm, not good...and yes, a waisted opportunity.
    And sadly, I can imagine there would be many stories like this one.
    Well I suppose it gave you an opportunity to say a prayer for Sergio's soul as you left the hospital.

  8. Maria was protecting Maria - not Sergio. What a shame.

  9. I took an EMT class several years ago, and one of the lessons they taught us was that if someone came out and said "I'm dying", we were to listen to them. They of course took a very generic look at it, but did point out that the ambulances carry holy water and for those EMT's who might not be Christian, the words of baptism on a little card. Because, as they said...those who are dying know they are dying, and we were never to argue with them on that point. We were to reassure them that they were not alone, we were to do all that we could and tell them that also...but never contradict them. Because maybe they had something to say, and maybe thier admission of what was coming was a request for a greater "presence" from us.

    I didn't work as an EMT so was never in that position, and at the time I wasn't a practicing Cathiolic. But even then I imagined it to be a graced place to be, with someone who knows they are dying, and in place to hold their hand and see them on.