The call came to me in my study at the Synagogue from a young Catholic Priest friend of mine. Father Jim of St. Paul’s was asking me to please visit his parishioner who was critically ill in Intensive Care. He said the doctors held out little hope for Mary. Her children knew this and they were keeping a faithful vigil at her bedside.
Father Jim prayed for me during my battle with leukemia and I knew immediately what he was asking . He was aware of what I went through and how in thanks for my own life I visited critically ill cancer patients to comfort them and pray with them in their final days.
I said, ” Father, just tell me Mary’s room number and I am on my way.” He knew that this difficult challenge had become my highest calling and that I was prepared to do this on his behalf. Soon I joined her daugters in Mary’s room and I realized they were at a loss as to how utter the most important words they would ever say to their mother in the precious time remaining.
Mary was very weak and frail and I strained to hear her, but she recognized me and looked up and asked, “Are you the Rabbi who had cancer?” I said, “Yes Mary I am.” Then she said, ” Rabbi, did you have to wear a mask like me and have chemotherapy and transfusions and all these painful treatments?” When I answered, “Yes Mary I did”, she said, “Then you know…you understand….you know, Rabbi… and I am so tired and all I want is peace and I just can’t fight, anymore.”
At that very moment I knew that we needed to honor Mary’s wish to let go and not endure more suffering, and that her daughters could not bring themselves to speak these words to their mother. Then I leaned close to her and asked gently if she would like me to pray with her. She nodded yes and I said, ” Mary we are here with you and you are not alone. We know of your goodness and you shine a light on us now and always.”
“Mary you are a blessing to your daughters and you have shown them the way…May the God of mercy bless you and be kind to you and release you from all pain and fear. If you feel it’s time to let go then you can find the freedom and peace that awaits you.” I motioned for the children to draw near and and they stroked her and kissed her. Many tears of love were shed before Mary drifted off to sleep.
Mary did not have to struggle any more. She denied more treatment except pain medication to make her comfortable, and she passed away peacefully with her daughters by her side.
May Mary’s soul and the spirits of all of our loved ones be bound up in the bond of eternal life and dwell in our hearts forever.