Last week, I received word that a friend of mine had entered hospice care. He had been sick for quite some time and had began frequent dialysis for his failing kidneys, but his heart had grown too weak to continue the treatment. Unfortunately, that meant that the end was nearing for him.
His name was Malcolm and I knew him through my involvement in the Knights of Columbus, in fact he and I received our Fourth Degree on the same day. Last year he had volunteered to be our Council Warden and our Assembly Purser, so we frequently worked together in our respective duties as officers. As he grew sicker, I stopped seeing him at Mass and he had to be absent from the Knights meetings. One night I called him up to see how he was, and he responded that he said “honestly, I’m doing good but I’m starving for air.”
That was the only time I ever heard him come close to complaining during his illness.
As the end grew closer, several of my fellow Knights had gone to see him. I was having a very hectic week, but I had a persistent concern that Malcolm and his wife were having to suffer alone. I don’t know why I felt this way, so I decided to visit him last Thursday night. As I was driving down to the hospice facility, strange thoughts kept wandering through my head. Malcolm was my friend, yes… but we always corresponded about Knights activities, Mass, or his health… none of those topics seemed appropriate given the situation. What do you say to someone that is nearing the end of their time on Earth? How do you comfort his wife when you have no idea the ordeal she must be going through?
My head was swimming by the time I arrived. Malcolm’s wife met me at the front of the hospice facility and took me back to his room. I was impressed at how tough she seemed. She explained to me that he had a bad turn the previous night and they had him on persistent medication now. He was sleeping, but I was welcome to come and spend some time with him and his family. I was relieved to see that my concern about her being alone was unfounded, the room was full of his family. She quickly explained to them that I was a friend of Malcolm’s from the Knights of Columbus.
I stayed for a half hour, Malcolm was asleep the entire time. His family asked that we all pray together, so we did. His wife encouraged me to talk to him, so I took my rosary out and said a mental prayer for the grace of a happy death for him. I told him that he was an exemplary officer and that I would miss him. I thanked him for being there for me in the Knights and for being my friend. I asked him to say hello to the Lord when he saw him. One of his family members was next to me and remarked that his breathing changed when I talked, but I didn’t perceive a difference. I stood with them as they said another prayer before making my exit.
Malcolm passed away at 5:20 am the following morning.
His wife requested an honor guard for his funeral Mass, so I had the privilege of standing guard for him. In addition, my responsibilities as Faithful Navigator required me to read a Decree of Condolence to his family during the Mass. I had attempted to practice, but the raw emotion of having to read a heartfelt decree while standing in front of a mourning family proved to stiff of a task. I made it halfway through before making the crucial mistake of thinking about all of Malcolm’s family, his peaceful tolerance of a long illness, and his contributions to the Knights. I knew I was in trouble when my voice cracked at the start of the third paragraph, and let’s just say the rest of the decree was extremely challenging to get through.
I’m not ashamed of showing those emotions. Malcolm was my friend. I have it easy compared to his family and close friends, but I think it helped his family to see how much Malcolm meant to us too. Our priest said that it always means so much to have the Knights of Columbus present at funerals, especially when we are close to the person that passed away. I understand a little better now how powerful that can be.
Everyone can take some solace in the face that Malcolm is now enjoying his eternal reward, and that is an encouraging thought. He will be missed.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. –Matthew 5:4