By Patricia Regan, BCC
Tony B was the unofficial greeter I first encountered at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica, Queens, NY. On nice days he left the extended care section in his wheelchair and sat out in the sun greeting people and soaking in the sunshine. This was the fall of 1999. Tony was about 60 years old and had experienced a major stroke three years earlier.
It was my first unit of CPE. I was assigned to Tony’s floor, and soon he was proudly showing me his computer and the wall of pictures of his family. I asked him for his e-mail address and it was broT731. He told me it meant “Brother Tony Birthday July 31. I told him my birthday was July 30. We began communicating by e-mail as long as his computer worked.
Soon I met Tony’s wife, Camille, a nurse educator, and every Tuesday afternoon we spent time together. Tony and Camille shared stories about their lives, children, stresses and faith. Their son, Abby, had died a few years earlier. He was in his 20s.
When the couple celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in the hospital chapel, my husband and I attended. Father Benedict Groeschel was the celebrant and there was a reception afterward in the lounge. We met some of the children and grandchildren.
Time went by. On May 28, 2000, our 27-year-old son, David, died in a line-of-duty accident as a police officer in New York City. Camille recognized us in the newspaper. She came to the wake and later shared with us books and things that helped her when Abby had died.
I transferred into another CPE program closer to my home. One Saturday, Father Groeschel was speaking at a nearby conference. My husband, Tom, and I attended. Tom had an opportunity to speak to Father. As Tom came to find me, I saw he was very upset. “Tony’s had another stroke. He’s dying. Camille and the children are with him. Father Groeschel gave me Camille’s cell number and said to call her. She can use any help she can get.”
I called the number and Camille said: “Please come.” I explained that Tom had to distribute Communion at our church but we would come as soon as we could after Mass. Camille said she had not been able to go to daily Mass because she had been staying with Tony. Could we bring her and her son Eucharist? We did.
In the private room Tony now occupied, he was surrounded by his family: wife, children and several grandchildren. Camille and her son took Communion. I spoke to Tony about our sons, saying that Abby and Dave would be there to welcome him into Heaven. Tony blinked his eyes. Then his daughter and I sang some songs for him. He loved music. The last song we sang was “Surely the Presence of the Lord Is in This Place.” There is no doubt God was there.
Father Groeschel arrived soon after we left. Tony died that night. Tom and I attended the funeral Mass.
God works in amazing ways … in and through his people, in song, and by way of technology.
Patricia Regan and her husband, Thomas Regan, are retired chaplains. This article was written July 31, 2013, on Tony’s birthday.