This is about a love story and, I have no doubt whatsoever, God has been involved. Why I was allowed to be a small part of this story is beyond me. But I was and I thank HIM for it. Anyway, please allow me to share my experience(s) of the past several months. I was witness to the love shared between Ed and Cathy, husband and wife, both dying from cancer, together, holding hands, smiling at each other and at peace as the days passed by.
Ed and Cathy Caramiglio had only been my neighbors for a short time, less than a year I think. Ed was a retired commercial painter and also a master wood carver who had his magnificent creations all around his house. Ed and Cathy were simply enjoying life together. I guess the two of them might be considered an unusual couple. They had met when Ed was 60 and Cathy was 40 and neither had ever been married. Now, after celebrating their silver wedding anniversary, Ed’s prostate cancer had returned with a vengeance and was destroying him quickly. Cathy had been diagnosed with Stage IV Melanoma. She told me about that when ‘maybe’ she had six months to live. ( It was the exact same thing my first wife had died from 12 years earlier.) So there they were, three houses down, spending their last months together and making the best of what still was.
They had no children and it was just the two of them. How did I fit in? Well, besides being a neighbor, we were all Catholic and they knew that I was an EMHC (Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion). They asked me if I might bring Holy Communion to them if they could not make it to Mass. I told her I would be honored and to “just let me know when.”
A few more months went by and Ed moved slower and slower. Then he began using a walker to get around. He would come over and we would just joke around about silly stuff, like how many cream donuts he had eaten that morning or how much money he lost one night at Yonker’s Raceway in New York. The guy was only about five feet four but he loved to talk and laugh and had a sparkle in his eye that caught your attention instantly. I would ask if they could make it to Mass and he would always smile and say, “Thanks, Larry, Cathy will let you know if we can’t.” Unable to push that walker for more than ten feet it quickly became necessary for me stop by and see how they were doing. Hospice was now there on a daily basis but they were still managing to function okay.
My daily routine usually starts at around 5:30 a.m. with a one-hour walk. A few weeks ago, I inexplicably decided that I needed to take another walk. It was around 4 p.m. I actually tried to talk myself out of taking this walk but finally “talked” myself into it. (I guess I do talk to myself a lot.) Out the door I went and headed down the street. Ed has an F-150 brown Ford pick-up with a cap covering the truck bed. As I walked past the truck I was dumbfounded to see Cathy standing there on the front lawn supported by her walker. I stopped short and said, “Oh, Cathy, hi. Wow, I did not expect to see you standing here.”
“I was waiting for you. I need to talk to you.”
I was dumbfounded. “Are you kidding me? I never walk at this time of day and you say you were waiting for me.”
“I just knew you were coming by. I can’t explain it.”
I had a chill run down my back. I really did. I leaned against the truck as she leaned heavily on her walker. She could hardly stand up. “You know Ed is dying, right?”
“Yes Cathy, I know. And how about you? How are you doing?”
She smiled and looked me right in the eye saying, “I have a few weeks left.”
I tightened my lips, took a breath, and asked, “Do you want a priest?”
“Oh yes, please, can you do that for us? That is why I was out here waiting for you. We need a priest right away.”
It was not necessary that a priest come at that very moment so I told her I would bring a priest over ASAP. She smiled and thanked me and I walked her back to the house. She did not mention herself once, only her husband. She told me how she wished she could ease his suffering and how wonderful it might be if they could go for a bicycle ride just one more time. She mentioned how she thanked God for every moment they had had together.
I went inside and she, Ed, and I hung out for about ten minutes just chatting. Cathy excused herself and slowly walked back to the bedroom. Ed quickly told me how he wished he could ease her suffering and how God had been so good to him allowing him to find such a great woman to share his life with. When God is present sometimes it is hard to breathe. So I took a deep breath, exhaled, and gave Ed a hug and left.
We have a young priest at our parish, Father Scott. He just turned 32. I saw him Monday morning of Holy Week and told him about Ed and Cathy. He had to preside at a funeral at 10 a.m. and then go to the cemetery. He said he would be free in the early afternoon and would then come over. I headed to the church office and registered them as parishioners, something they had never done. I went home and told my neighbors Father would be over later in the day and that they had been registered as parishioners at Sacred Heart Church. Ed started to cry. Cathy hugged him and joined him crying. Next thing I knew my forefinger was swiping itself under the bottom of my right eye. I told them I would be back later with Father Scott and left.
Father Scott spent about an hour with Ed and Cathy. Ed and the young priest both had roots in Roanoke, Virginia, and talked and laughed and had a raucous good time together. Even though the two of them were separated by more than 50 years it did not matter. It was as if they had grown up together. It was beautiful. Father anointed* both of them and told them he would come back the first chance he could. It was the beginning of Holy Week and he would be busy. They all hugged and said good-bye
Easter Sunday I was privileged to bring Ed and Cathy Holy Communion. They were lying next to each other in bed, holding hands. Ed smiled and said, “Larry, we are SO happy. This is the greatest Easter we ever had.” He turned and looked at his wife who was smiling lovingly at him. She reached over and wiped his wet happy eyes.
Ed died last week. Cathy is now a patient in Hospice House with little time left. I will never forget Ed and Cathy because the love between them shined so brightly and was a beautiful, inspiring, God-given thing. As for me, I just want to thank God for allowing me to be their friend and a part of their final journey, albeit for the briefest of moments. I have been blessed.