By Larry Peterson
I am Catholic and have been an EMHC (Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion) for over 25 years. I have had the honor and privilege of bringing Holy Communion to many people in many places who are unable to attend holy Mass on Sunday. These people are either hospitalized, in nursing homes, hospice centers, assisted living facilities, or homebound because of age or infirmity. I love being part of this ministry. It has brought me in touch with some amazing people.
This happened on a Sunday in 2016
I want to share a story about one of these people. Please note that this is from almost seven years ago. I came across this prayer card for John Allen. When he passed, he was 90 years old, and I had been bringing him Holy Communion every Sunday for several years. For some reason, when I looked at his prayer card with his name on it and the picture of the Risen Christ in the background, my head swelled with memories of this man, and the keyboard began following my prompts.
John was an Army veteran, spent almost 30 years in the Far East, and was married for 60 years. His wife, Mary, had passed away several years earlier. He loved her dearly and missed her greatly. John was not delusional or suffering from dementia or anything like that. His mind was sharp and clear. Physically, John was deaf (hearing aids helped a tiny bit), and he needed a wheelchair.
Flashing strobe lights alerted John that someone was at his door
When I arrived at his front door, I pushed the doorbell. I heard a chime; he did not. Inside, several strobe lights began flashing, notifying him that someone was at the door. He wass expecting me, and the front door was unlocked. I walked in, and he gives out a big, "Hey, hey, good morning." I more or less holler back, "Hey John, how are you doing today?" He is always wearing a smile. He says, "Well, I'm still here." We both laugh.
a newspaper story about cremation had created a dilemma
John was facing a problem. He picked up a newspaper from a few days before and pointed to a story. "Have you gotten any feedback on this?" I looked at the paper and he had it opened to an article dealing with the Church's newly revised guidelines on cremation. I shrug and tell him I have not. He says, "I have a problem, and maybe you can help me out. I need some guidance."
Ask the Holy Spirit to help me out
I am not "Father Larry" or "Deacon Larry".I'm just Larry. I immediately feel a bit insecure because I do not like telling folks what they should or should not do when it comes to their personal faith issues. I quietly ask the Holy Spirit to help me out quickly. Then I say, "I'll try, John. But I may not be able to. I will go to our pastor and ask him if necessary."
Being part of this ministry can have unexpected rewards. God was about to bless me with a glimpse into the hearts of two Catholics, a man, and a woman, one living and one passed. They were people of faith who married in the faith and lived it and who shared a love that did not die upon the death of one. Instead, it simply continued and still existed. John says to me, “You know, I am upset about this article. It says we Catholics must bury the ashes of loved ones in sacred ground."
I said, "That isn't anything new. Some folks are scattering ashes over the Gulf of Mexico or off mountaintops or sharing them among family members. Those kinds of things are not approved."
I talk to her every day
“Look", he says. "I have Mary's ashes here with me. I talk to her every day. I'm all alone. With her remains here, I feel she never really left. I get such comfort from that. Do I have to get her over to the cemetery?”
I was looking at him, and tears were filling his eyes. He wants to remain a GOOD Catholic man, loves his wife and wants to be loyal to her. He will give her up if the Church requires it even though the pain he will feel is unimaginable. It did not matter. He would be true to his faith no matter what. I was looking at a man who would have gladly embraced a martyr's crown if he had been called upon to do so.
I knew that cremated remains are supposed to be kept intact and placed in a proper vessel. Nervously, I began to answer, but he continued. "I have a spot down at the VA cemetery for both of us. I made arrangements with the funeral home, and when I pass, they are going to take us together down to the VA and bury us next to each other."
I breathed a sigh of great relief. Casting doubt to the wind, I told him, "John, that is great. She can stay here with you. She is encased in a vessel and is scheduled for burial. You will make the trip to the VA together and be interred together. Don't worry about a thing."
All in order with Church protocol
I will never forget the smile that broke out across his face. I was not sure if I gave him proper 'guidance'. However, it turned out all was okay. Since arrangements with the funeral home had been made for John and Mary;s joint internment, all was in order.with church protocol. John passed several months later and he and Mary traveled together in a limo to their final resting place in the VA Hospital Cemetery at. St. Petersburg, FL.
Copyright Larry Peterson 2023