The pathway down
By John Sturgeon C.Ss.R.
When that time comes a whole variety of emotions are released in each dying person. Witnessing a person’s approaching death is always a privilege. It is like being taken into the inner room of a person’s life and asked to sit down with them as the blinds are drawn, and share their most personal stories – stories still playing out within themselves, within their families, with the Church, with God, with life.
I am chaplain at a hospital for the dying in Sydney, New South Wales. It was at this hospital that I accompanied my dying confrere, Fr John Fitzgerald C.Ss.R. When we realised his inoperable condition, I relieved him as chaplain at the hospice. That was nearly 20 years ago. I’ve seen a lot of dying since. Amazingly, in all that dying, I have witnessed the most remarkable living.
Prior to taking up this chaplaincy role, I was preaching parish missions and leading school retreats up and down the land. A country boy, I grew up on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, and later, on Queensland’s Darling Downs. While at school I met the Redemptorists who came to lead our student retreat. Their life seemed to be where God was calling me, so I followed.
The Good News I preached on those many parish missions I now share more quietly with the dying. It is the same Good News. It is the same loving Redeemer anointing our humanity.
I would like to conclude with a few lines from a woman I will call Joan. The mother of three, Joan has had a hard life. Her mother’s death, and her own cancer brought to the surface in Joan’s life, all her many sorrows. As often happens around death, Joan had a powerful dream through which she found healing. Afterwards she wrote a poem:
A day beautiful and solitude brimming over.
Pure light, the sun full-shining, when
along the pathway I saw him draw near
and in him all goodly qualities.
No mortal with him could compare,
yet by his simple glance
those goodly qualities were mine.
Towards the end, Joan was admitted to the hospice. Her cancer was terminal. A team of carers accompanied Joan at many levels as she set out on her final journey into eternity.