I asked her family if she was still able to hear. “No,” the older child said, “she’s been unresponsive for a few days.” Nevertheless, I bent to her ear and said “my name is Fr. Joseph. I’m a Catholic priest and I’ve brought you the sacraments.” She made no movement. When the woman’s sister arrived I began the sacramental liturgy.
As I was praying the litany of saints, she gently stopped breathing. The older child looked at her mother, confused. She couldn’t believe what was happening. I glanced up at the monitor to see that all her vitals were flatlined. An alarm went off softly, and two nurses came in. They nodded quietly and I kept praying the litany. I pronounced the Apostolic Pardon with an unsteady voice, and I administered the Holy Oils with an unsteady hand. I began to cry myself as her family dissolved into uncontrollable weeping.
The younger child exclaimed, through his tears, that it was a miracle. God had provided the priest just in time! Her husband grasped my arm: “She held on until you brought her the sacraments! She made it to heaven!” And indeed, I’ve seen this four or five times over the last 30 years. Twenty years ago I was anointing a man when he flatlined, and the nurse came in to turn off the alarms. I expressed concern, but she replied matter-of-factly that he had “died” three times earlier that day, but each time he had revived. “This time,” she assured me, “he would not come back. We often see patients who will simply not die until they get the sacraments.”
Back in the ICU room on Monday: I stayed a few more minutes in respect for the family and for the dead. Then I quietly slipped past the nurses. Both were Filipinos, and I suppose both were believers. They thanked me with their eyes, and I thanked them with my eyes, and we all thanked God that Sister Death had come so gently to this woman. It would be very hard for her husband and children, but God would be with them. Back on the street outside the hospital, I climbed onto my scooter for home. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. “Take this mother’s hand and lead her safely over the waters of death, into the presence of God!”