Journey of a Crucifixby Dorothy J. Laux
Patricia and I first met when I visited her in the hospital as a Eucharistic minister. I was a volunteer serving the needs of the home- and hospital-bound members of my parish church. Starting on my usual rounds after Sunday Mass I found her name on my list.
Patricia was sitting up in her bed wearing a bright red and orange floral bonnet tied under her chin. Her bright red lips matched her bonnet perfectly, I thought, as if she had planned it. There was a twinkle in her eye and a jovial mood in her room. She was easy to talk to and we became fast friends immediately.
Since I was a fairly new volunteer and rather clumsy at it, we both had a good laugh when I accidentally kicked her waste basket clear across the room causing it to sail into the wall with a loud crash! It became an ongoing joke. Every time I entered her room she would reach down and move the waste basket out of my reach.
Pat and I shared many moments together over the many months that she remained in the hospital. At times, I would just sit in the chair beside her bed, the two of us gazing out the window, comfortable in the silence. Sometimes we prayed the rosary together. Pat was devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Years Before
Pat told me about her cancer -- how despite a radical mastectomy nine years earlier the cancer had now metastasized through her body.
Her 21-year-old daughter Jenna, was soon to be married. Desiring so much to attend Jenna's wedding , she had made a deal with God. If God would only allow her to watch her then 12-year-old Jenna and 9-year old son Scott to grow up she would happily say good-bye to her family.
She really thought she had beaten the odds. In only one more year she would have reached the 10-year mark which was to be the magic number for her cure.
But it didn't turn out that way. One day, walking across a busy intersection with her now 18-year-old son Scott, she was hit with a sudden pain in her back -- so severe that she fell to her knees in the middle of the street. Her son managed to help her to the safety of the curb.
Pat learned that she had a recurrence of cancer. The new disease was spreading fast and she had to resume chemotherapy.
A Larger Cross
Each time I visited Pat to give her Holy Communion I noticed changes in her. They were subtle at first, but it gradually became obvious to me that she was slipping away.
On one of my visits, she asked me if I could find her a larger cross so she could hold it underneath her pillow on the long, lonely nights. She kept losing her rosary beads and didn't have the strength to search for them all the time.
Her face lit up when I told her I would bring her my special "Good Friday Cross" which had been given to me by a priest years ago for just this purpose.
Worries for a Son
She worried about her son Scott. He had moved out of the house and now slept in a small trailer on the back of their lot. He had avoided her whenever he could while at home and now seldom came to see her in the hospital. She didn't know how to reach him. It seemed to her he felt his mother was taking too long to die and he couldn't stand the pressure. But then he was young. And he was afraid.
On a later visit, Pat was no longer wearing the brightly colored bonnet. Her head was bald. Her long nails bore no polish anymore. Pretending not to notice her bald head, I commented that she no longer had to curl her hair every night. We both laughed and cried at the same time. She no longer moved the waste basket out of my way. Somehow I tip-toed around it.
Pat held the crucifix against her chest when I walked into her room. "Feel it," she said, holding the cross up to me. I took it in my hands, and the metal corpse, instead of being cold, felt warm, like real flesh. She was delighted.
The Unusual Rose
On the evening of December 7th I took Holy Communion to Pat. I had a heavy schedule on the 8th and didn't want her to miss receiving on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Amazingly, she was sitting up in her bed, once again wearing her lovely bonnet.
She smiled and pointed to a most exquisite long-stemmed dark red rose encased in a lovely crystal vase beside her bed. It was the most beautiful, perfect rose I had ever seen. It certainly hadn't been purchased from the downstairs gift shop!
Pat bubbled over, "Oh, a beautiful lady brought me the rose in the middle of the night! She was wearing a long blue gown and a white veil! She just smiled at me and set the rose on my table. She was so lovely ! I thought it was you at first!"
"No, not me," I replied. "This is the first time I've been here today."
I gave her Holy Communion and left. I had many patients to see that day.
The next day, December 8th, I found that after all I still had time to take Communion to Pat. Hurrying into her room, I found her bed empty. The bed was made up fresh --- and the rose was gone. Pat had died at 3 am that morning. It was at that point I realized who her "beautiful lady" was. I thrilled at the miracle I had just experienced.
The Missing Cross
But that wasn't the end of the story.
The cross which I had given Pat, very special to me, was not among her effects. I had asked the hospital staff to return the cross to me when Pat was gone, but it had accidentally been packed among her belongings and sent away. I sent a condolence card to the family, with a note requesting the return of the cross, if at all possible.
Two months went by. Then, one day, at about 4:30 pm, my door bell rang. Opening the door, I looked up into the eyes of a young man who was holding my cross. I knew he was Pat's son Scott.
"Can you stay awhile, Scott?" I asked him. Surprisingly, he came in. And stayed until it grew dark. We talked ---rather, I should say, he talked and I Iistened. We both cried. We both missed Pat.
Scott poured out his anguish on me and I feel the Lord healed him at that moment. I was an empty vessel and the Lord allowed me to be the occasion to pour out His healing balm on Scott.
Somehow, I know Pat is happily looking down on her family and takes delight in the fact that her little family she left behind are all "right" with God!
Pat made an indelible mark on my soul. I was part of her life and am now part of her death.
As for me, I know God has given me a gift far more valuable than I could ever imagine.
(Dorothy J. Laux writes from California)
- Mary, a special issue of Compassion devoted to the Mother of God
- We are all aging, winter 1996 Compassion topic
archives of the Passionists Compassion Magazine
© 1997, 2007 - all rights reserved - Passionist Missionaries of Union City, NJ USA