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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I Believe in Angels

Ms. Conroy, as you know, is a hospice nurse. For the past three months, she has been taking care of a little boy named Israel in his home.

When the pediatric neuro doc referred him, he told the parents and Ms. Conroy that he would probably last a week, maybe two.

Did I mention that was three months ago?

The father of the child was told that when you are on hospice, the nurse comes in and sets up an IV of morphine, your child starts to go to sleep and then they die.

Not quite.

Israel had a bit more time left on this earth to spread his love. In the past week, however, we knew that that time was coming to an end. What we didn't know was how powerful that love is.

Last night, around 5:30, I got a call from Ms. Conroy. She had been to see Israel, had spent most of the afternoon with him, and figured that he wouldn't last the night. She was coming home, she said, to get some rest, in case she was called out at 2 AM.

She was half way home when the call came from his social worker that all signs were that death was imminent. We organized the evening's activities so she could return to his side.

At 6 PM, Ms. Conroy called me again. Israel's mother had been watching her son taking slow, deep breaths - about 4 a minute (normal is 12-16), and feeling completely helpless. So, Ms. Conroy suggested that she might want to get in bed with her son and hold him. It took her seconds to do just that.

As soon as she took her son in his arms, his breathing rate increased, as did his pulse. She spoke softly to him, telling him of the relatives he would see when he got to heaven, and some things to say to them. She sang him his favorite songs, stroking his hair and kissing his forehead.

Ms. Conroy might be accused of being a wimp, but she could never be indicted, much less found guilty - even if the jury were not of her peers. She had to leave the room and call me.

We talked about heaven. We talked about angels. We talked about Jesus. At the end of which she sighed and said, "Okay, I can go back in there now."

Israel's dad came home from work around 6:30. He and his wife are 'illegal immigrants' and he had lost the job he had held for the past 7 years just last week. He got another job on Friday as a laborer. Monday was his first day back to work.

It was clear that Israel had been waiting to say goodbye to his Dad, who also crawled into bed with his son, telling him of his love for him. Telling him how proud he had made him. Telling him that no father could ever want for a better son. Telling him it was time to go to heaven and be with Jesus.

His younger siblings then came in to say their last goodbye to their big brother. Ms. Conroy stepped out again to talk with me. She said, "I just have to breathe for a few minutes."

"Sure," I said. "Just breathe."

She described the scene to me. I let her talk. I told her I was praying. She thanked me and said, "Okay, I can go back in now."

Israel drew his last breath a little after 7:30 PM. He was peaceful. He was surrounded by his family, his books and toys, and more love than anyone could possibly ask for or imagine.

Because they are very poor, the family opted for 'direct cremation'. But, Ms. Conroy had set up a 'private viewing' for the family. The father went out to call the relatives. Ms. Conroy and the nurse's aid and Israel's mom bathed him and then dressed him in a brand new white suit, complete with tie and a 'brown scapula' one of our parishioners had picked up for her which he had been wearing at the time of his death.

Actually, Bill had bought a whole bag full of brown scapula and had given them to Ms. Conroy. The 'old school' Catholics believe that, if you are wearing a brown scapula at the time of death, you will go directly to heaven.

Don't ask. I have no idea.

Ms. Conroy said that, as they bathed and dressed Israel, his mom seemed to get lighter by the moment. The color returned to her face. Her shoulders were no longer slumped.

Ms. Conroy asked her how she was doing. She smiled broadly and said, "My son is an angel now. He is in heaven. No more pain. No more suffering. He is with Jesus."

You know, I can't provide an argument about the existence of God that would hold up in a court of law. I can't prove that there is anything called "The Trinity". I can't prove that there are angels.

But, I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Mystery of the 'three in one'.

I believe, in the words of one of our Eucharistic Prayers, that "life is changed, not ended."

I believe that this belief is the comfort of our faith.

I believe in The Mystery of our faith.

And, I believe in Angels.

Of your kindness and mercy, please pray for the parents, family and friends of Israel. Please pray also for his care givers, including the incredible Ms. Conory.

Pray with me that Israel's soul, and the souls of all the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, may rest in peace.

Israel, my little friend, into Paradise may the angels lead you. At your coming may the martyrs receive you and bring you to the holy city Jerusalem. May the choirs of angels welcome you, and with Lazarus who once was poor may you have peace ever lasting.



Jayne said...

As a nurse, and someone who also embraces the mystery, I'll just say a big AMEN. May light perpetual shine upon Israel.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, this is truly what it is all about. All the legalisms pale in comparison to the love of God made real in this story. Thank you for supplying my meditation for today.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Prayers ascending!

Kirkepiscatoid said...

...and I believe some of those angels are in human your dear Ms. Conroy.

(And I can TOTALLY identify with the "I'll put bamboo shoots under my fingernails before I lose it in front of this family"...then sneak off and get my secret fix of "gut courage" while no one's looking...)

susankay said...

I will pray although it seems likely not to be necessary. Whatever an angel is, I think Israel is. Whatever comforting is, I think has come to those who mourn him.

Thank you for retelling this miracle to us.

June Butler said...

May Israel rest in peace and rise in glory with the angels.

Prayers for strength, courage, consolation, and peace for Israel's family and friends, amongst whom I include Ms Conroy.

A beautiful tribute to Israel and his parents and to Ms Conroy. Thank you, Elizabeth.

Brother David said...

Has anyone ever ruined a keyboard with spilt tears?

Prayers for all.

Fran said...

I sit here weeping - what a story. Angels speed Israel to paradise, undoubtedly they already have.

Many prayers for one and all - including the beloved Ms. Conroy. That is a gift that she has, a real gift.

Elisabeth said...

You always cut straight thru to the emotions EK. Not fair to leave me sitting here bawling like a baby. I'm a fan of direct cremation but not because of cost, merely because I find it most kind to the family left behind. I pray that this family is comfortable with their need for direct cremation.

suzanne said...

May this child of God rest in blessed peace.

Thank you for sharing his story.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Can you tell how proud I am of Ms. Conroy? Do you know how fortunate I am to have shared our family life with her for the past 33 years?

Oh, I just told you, right?

Never mind.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

No, Elizabeth, we can't tell a bit. (big eye roll)...

David@Montreal said...

Tears and prayers offered here too

and a fierce fraternal hug for our beloved Ms. C


PseudoPiskie said...

Angels come in all forms, some of whom we can see, like one named Conroy, and some we can't. We all can be angels but all too often don't recognize the opportunity. sigh.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

BTW, did y'all look at the picture? It's called "Angel with small boy". Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's clouds. I know. I had to look at it off and on for five minutes before I saw it and then it was like, "OMG! There it is."

Do you see it?

JDB said...

Hospice is a special vocation - I have experienced so much grace, love, and purposefulness in being with those who are walking the last part of their earthly journey. Peace to Ms. C, to Israel's family, to all who share in the grief and sorrow and hope and love that you have shared with us - and prayers for Israel as he grows from grace to grace in the love and presence of Jesus Christ.

Thank you Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Lis. I want direct cremation, too. I think it makes the most sense from lots of angles. I think it works best, however, if you allow the family a coupla hours to have time to visit one last time. I think, if this family had had the money, they would have gone the traditional route, but I think, given the fact that they planned for it, they embraced it and, with the four hour "wake/visitation" at home, immediately after his death, it was the best of both.

In my experience - which is quite a lot, actually - it takes careful, sensitive planning, but it works quite well.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Pseudo - You know, I think my favorite angels are the ones with muddy feet. (Waves at Ms. Conroy). Wasn't that a popular song? Ummm . . . Sort of a C&W sound? Hmmm . . .

Jim said...

May the Spirit come to his family and comfort them with the confident hope of a reunion in paradise. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

I am typing through my tears too.

IT said...

I cried too.

You write so beautifully of your ministry. I would love to see a volume (on line, or on paper) of the essays you write like this. At least put a label on them.

Grandamie said...


Thank you for reminding us what it's all about. In my simple experience there is nothing more awe-inspiring, except perhaps birth, than being present in the moment of death, especially when it is surrounded by love.
And Hospice nurses? They're the angels. Thanks, Ms. Conroy, for taking on what must all too often be a burden of love.

Paul said...

Amen. Que descanse en paz.

walter said...

Once upon a time on the upper East Side of New York, not that far up -between the 60th and the 70th - there was a Zen Buddhist Monastery. Are we ready to visit?

As I sit down in a Zeen position in the public meditation room, we are graced by the presence of the Head Abbot. Seeing the face of a child curios and with a lot of potential, he grants his understanding of 'deep breathing': Deep breathing is not the mimicking of respiration that gives the impression of struggle in the process of breathing. Deep breathing is the space between one inhalation-exhalation and the other (or the next if you prefer). That is deep breathing.

We learn I imagine from Ms. Conroy with no patronizing on my part, that the normal rate of breathing per minute is between 12-16 inhalation-exhalation per minute and the one of Israel was 4 inhalation-exhalation per minute. It seems to me that we are still talking about human breathing, ok?

Now the Head Abbot tell us anew that deep breathing is the 'space' between one inhalation-exhalation and the next(or the other if you prefer). OK? Does it make sense? Yup, it sounds like it does make sense. So where do we go from here? Straight to Heaven. Elizabeth believes in angels, doesn't she?

Walter Vitale, Buffalo Shepherd

RENZ said...

Beautiful, Elizabeth. Thank you for sharing. Your Ms. Conroy is a special lady. Some of the most profound moments I've had in nursing have been the one birth I was able to witness and the deaths at which I was privileged to be a witness. Both the birth and the deaths were all holy. And, yes, your love and pride of your spouse permeate your writing. Thank you again.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

It did slip through somehow, I believe, dear Elizabeth...

Blessings to you both!


episcopalifem said...

So beautiful and loving. Tears...thank you Elizabeth - I'm so glad Ms. Conroy was there for them, and so glad they were all there for each other.

May Israel rest in peace and rise in glory.

Brian R said...

Prayers of thankfulness that Israel left his parents and siblings in such a beautiful way and that Ms Conroy was able to help so wonderfully and that you were able to both help her and tell us all and so help our faith.

Muthah+ said...

You folks are always in my prayers. Israel camina con los angelos, ahora. Thanks for the story.

JCF said...

It's all been said, so I'll just add an "Amen".