The meaning of living in companionship, following our hearts’ deepest desires and receiving what is given was revealed to us through our friendship with Fr. Joe in Rochester. Upon our return from Rimini 2011, my husband Mark and I visited Father Joe in a nursing home. Father Joe was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in May 2010. When we saw him, he told us he was looking for companionship and three meals a day. I told him we could provide that! A few days later, he came to live with us. The first few weeks were an “adjustment period,” as we began to understand what it meant for us to really live in community. As a physician, I was struggling, watching Fr. Joe practice an elaborate cure-based medical regimen for an incurable disease. Listening to my heart and confronting Fr. Joe with my concerns was a great risk. Fr. Joe, after listening to my concerns, made a decision to continue living with us and to accept the disease that he was given. This was a watershed moment. We all became more alive. Fr. Joe celebrated Mass for the first time in months, we prayed together. We united as a family. As Fr. Joe’s disease progressed, some of our needs were provided for by the members of the Catholic community. We never felt alone. We adapted our living to accommodate Fr. Joe’s loss of function. My husband called this our “new normal.” Our diets changed to foods that could be pureed. We moved to eat in a location in the house that did not require ascending stairs. We became more aware of God’s infinite mercy in particular on the final day of Fr. Joe’s life on earth. Our illusion of the “perfect death” revealed itself to be a man-made creation. The event of the hours prior to his unexpected (at that moment) death, wearing bi-pap, provided the opportunity for family and friends to share Communion, a meal, and prayers, and to witness a final anointing by the Bishop and Fr. Jerry. After the Bishop left and Fr. Joe was being tucked into bed, he rapidly declined while surrounded by his family. His wishes for his passing were fulfilled: to die at home surrounded by companions in prayer and song. His ultimate passing validated the certainty that we are constantly being made by another.
Sidna, Rochester (USA) in Traces 14(4):2012 letters