Monday, January 15, 2007


His name was Wilf. He was a Yorkshireman, in his early sixties and he was dying of cancer. He was also a Catholic, though he hadn't practised for a number of years, since the breakdown of his first marriage. One of our wonderful Catholic nurses picked up on this and told my Parish Priest. He went to see Wilf and reconciled him with the Church, giving him the sacraments. He then asked me to go and bring Wilf communion every day.

At the Seminary, we do a fair amount on death and dying, so I've read Kübler-Ross and know a bit about the process. By far the best thing we've done was a day with a Sister who'd devoted much of her life to accompanying the dying, and was a quiet source of tremendous wisdom. As a result of meeting her, I've learnt the importance of simply being present, of making sure that the presence lasts as long as the person I'm with wants, not how long I feel comfortable with. I learnt to value silence, and not to try to fill it with pious platitudes. I learnt the importance of touch, of how much people can value simply holding your hand.

As ever, I really started learning when I started actually doing, and I've now had the privilege of being with a number of people who were approaching death. My experiences have had very different effects on me. Sometimes these have been wonderful, grace-filled times, when I've really sensed God's presence. Others have been terrible, leaving me feeling completely helpless and inadequate. All of them have brought me closer to Christ.

All of the ways of dying have been different too. Some have taken me by surprise, with someone looking ok when I went to see them in the morning, and suddenly dying in the evening. Others have been long and drawn out, with the person often longing for the release of death. Still others have been very much at peace, quietly fading out.

Wilf wasn't like any of these. He didn't want to die. He'd rediscovered his faith, and he wanted to go out and evangelise. He wanted to tell everyone about the joy that he'd found in Christ. He wanted to go to Mass. He wanted to be a catechist. He wanted to make up for lost time.

What really struck me the most about Wilf was his love for the Eucharist. He'd always be delighted to see me, but the one he was longing to receive was Him. His emotion on receiving Christ's body was so great that he would cry. An articulate man, a former English teacher, he was completely lost for words in describing his feelings on receiving communion. He'd say "I can't tell you how much it means to me to receive communion". He may not have been able to express himself verbally, but his eyes told me.

He lived for another ten days after my Parish Priest first visited him. I was there when he received the last rites. His first anniversary is rapidly approaching. Would you say a prayer for the repose of his soul?

1 comment:

JNM said...

Yes, of course. I will remember him in my prayers.