A Catholic Monthly Magazine

All Soul’s Day

hospitalThe priest was working as a chaplain in a New York hospital. One of the patients never received any visitors. She told the chaplain to stop bothering her with his visits: ‘Look, son, I don’t need professional mourners. Don’t be doing your duty on me. There’s plenty of people to exercise yourself on – go to them and leave me alone.’

The nurses and doctors were more than kind to her, but they met with a rebuff that was not as delicately phrased as the one the chaplain received. They felt hurt and helpless. The other patients in the ward received regular visitors, but ‘Iron Annie,’ as she was called, liked to boast to the others that she needed no one. She had played hide-and-seek with God whom she claimed had lost interest in the game long ago. She would die as she had lived, neither looked for nor remembered.

The chaplain continued to stop by her bed; she continued to swear at him for his ‘cussedness.’ He explained that he was Scottish, and stubborn. At 2:20 am three weeks later, the chaplain woke to the sound of the phone ringing. The nurse apologised for the lateness of the hour, but Iron Annie wanted to know why he never wore a kilt and would he care to explain? She added that the explanation would be too late if it were given in the morning.

The hospital was only a few minutes’ walk from the rectory and when the chaplain arrived, Iron Annie greeted him with a well-rehearsed curse. They both laughed in relief. Under cover of darkness, they talked of kilts and Scottish cussedness, of night wards and rectories and loneliness. Iron Annie unloaded an old grief that had been part of her baggage for too long. The two exchanged blessings and said no more. There was nothing more to say. The divine game of hide-and-seek had ended with a find. Iron Annie died just after eight o’clock that morning.

Two nurses came to the funeral; they made up the congregation. Neither of them was asked to come; they came to show their respect and because they believed that no one should make their final departure alone. Their simple gesture of kindness gave the funeral an enormous dignity: as they cared for the living, so they cared for the dead. The chaplain and the nurses lived an ancient truth: it is good to remember the dead and to pray for them.

Denis McBride CSsR, Seasons of the Word,
All Souls’ Day, 2

+Liam S. MacDaid, clogherdiocese.ie


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