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Saint Faustina's love for the dying and her desire to serve them have brought me here. She wrote, "Oh, how incomprehensible is God's mercy that the Lord allows me, by my unworthy prayer, to come to the aid of the dying."
Just Being There
Volunteers of Many Faiths Bring Mercy to the Dying
At the beginning of our interview, Didi Marcal, the volunteer coordinator for Jansen Hospice and Palliative Care in Tuckahoe, N.Y., asks me again which website I write for.
"But we don't recite the Divine Mercy [Chaplet]," she says.
Hospice volunteer Faith Carney nods from across the table.
That doesn't stop me from wanting to talk to them. Didi and Faith have a ministry that St. Faustina would consider one of the most important there is: visit the bedsides of strangers during the last days of their lives. As Didi puts it herself, "Holding their hands is a work of mercy."
Saint Faustina's love for the dying and her desire to serve them have brought me here. She wrote, "Oh, how incomprehensible is God's mercy that the Lord allows me, by my unworthy prayer, to come to the aid of the dying. I try to be at the side of every dying person whenever I can" (Diary of St. Faustina, 880). No doubt St. Faustina continues her tender and devoted vigil over the dying, aiding mercy workers like Didi and Faith with prayers that are even more powerful now that she is with God.
During her earthly life, St. Faustina usually kept company with the dying by praying the Chaplet for them wherever she was. Didi and Faith, on the other hand, are called to love through their physical presence in a patient's final hours. For five years, Faith has served with Jansen's eleventh hour volunteers, a group of men and women who "sit with the dying," Didi explains. When Didi receives word that a patient is actively dying, she calls an eleventh hour volunteer and provides the patient's name, room number, and whether any family or friends will be there.
Still, Faith says, "You never know what you're going to walk into." The room could be crowded or the patient could be alone; the patient and his or her loved ones could be in relatively high spirits or deeply in need of consolation. If a patient is conscious, he or she may tell Faith what she can do to help: rearrange pillows; stroke a troubled forehead; call a priest, rabbi, or minister. ("I've yet to see anyone turn away their priest or rabbi," Faith says.)
Perhaps the patient will want to give Faith a guided tour of cherished photographs or will find in her a fresh audience for those stories "that the family has heard a hundred and five times." Because of her volunteer training, Faith can also give simple aromatherapy massages, and she likes to bring flowers to patients who might enjoy them. "It's in the little things," she says.
Anyone who does those "little things" for God's children does them also for Him — for Christ, the love of St. Faustina's life — whether consciously or unconsciously. When I picture Faith listening with a smile to patients' reminiscences or soothing them with her warm touch and the scent of lavender, I imagine that Jesus might want to say to her as He did to Faustina, "You are solace in My dying hour" (Diary, 310).
The mercy Faith brings can embrace more people than the patient sometimes. Faith has learned that a person's illness "can be a catalyst" for family reconciliations, either between the patient and his or her relatives or among the relatives themselves. She recalls one patient who was "so happy and so pleasant" but who longed to heal an old breach with his sister. Faith warned the man's niece, "Don't wait," and so she arranged for her uncle to speak to his sister on the phone. God took him home the next day.
Often, Faith has found that it is enough simply to be there. At times, all the patient wants is to rest in silence with a hand to hold. Sometimes Faith comes back for just that purpose when the room is empty of visitors. "We are giving them a presence," Didi says. "We are witnessing what's happening ... The presence of [our volunteers] is like a prayer."
That physical presence can't necessarily last until the moment of the person's death. If the patient is without loved ones, Didi calls several eleventh hour volunteers who take turns visiting as often as possible. Even so, volunteers can't keep a constant vigil, and many patients draw their final breaths in that brief moment when everyone has stepped out of the room.
"We go when we can; we do what we can; and at some point before they die someone came and sat with them," Faith says. "It's not what we say or do. It's that we're there."
When these people of mercy have done all they can and stayed as long as they can, the burning red and cleansing white rays from the heart of Jesus still engulf the dying soul, thanks to the saint who told Him, "I plead with You unceasingly for poor dying sinners" (Diary, 80).
Apostle of Divine Mercy, pray for all the living and the dead.
Didi Marcal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org about volunteering opportunities in the Westchester County, N.Y., area.
Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.