Sister Immaculata

I wanted to thank you all for your sweet prayers for my mother-in-law.  She is still hospitalized, and is growing weaker by the day.  We’re all waiting anxiously for a couple of biopsies to come back.  But what with the weekend and subsequent New Years holiday, time seems to come to a standstill at the hospital.

We’re hearing the term C A N C E R bantered about by the health professionals, but we are instead choosing to stick our fingers into our ears and holding onto the hope of a miracle.

I’ve had the blessing of being among those family members who have been able to stay at the hospital over the last number of days caring for Natalie.  We’ve been trying to take shifts so that she always has a family member by her bedside from early morning until the last seconds of visiting hours.

I was in the hospital room on New Years Eve when Natalie received a visit from Sister Immaculata, a tiny Irish nun from my mother-in-law’s parish.  The family has known her for years.  After a sweet prayer and blessing, the Sister administered communion to my mother and father-in-law.  She then asked each of us in the room if we’d like to be anointed with oil from Lazarus’ tomb, and we jumped on that.  You just can’t go wrong with Lazarus on your side.

Please understand, this is a family with a wonderfully warped sense of humor, which is why it was a match made in heaven when I caught the bouquet at my sister-in-law’s wedding way before Fiddledaddy and I were even engaged.  It should be noted that Natalie insisted I be included in the family picture, so Fiddledaddy had no choice but to marry me.

Then the Sister began with the story telling.  She noticed a poster of Michael the Archangel that one of my sisters-in-law taped up onto the wall beside Natalie’s bed.  This reminded Sister Immaculata  that one of her former kindergarten students had grown up to become a Chippendale dancer.  He thought so much of Sister Immaculata that he sent her one of his beefcake posters with a personal inscription to her.  As she described the picture to us, she added that it did very little to cover his credentials. And from what she could tell, he had some major credentials.   She then placed the picture into a poster frame.  On one side was her former student.  However, when the Mother Superior was expected for a visit, the poster was turned around to display a dignified picture of the Pope.

Some years went by and the poster was stored in a cylinder.  Sister Immaculata was clearing out some things, aided by other Sisters.  Those Sisters discovered the poster, with the inscription: To Sister Immaculata, who inspired me every day.

Needless to say, the Sister has a rep.

The visit was a breath of fresh air, and I soaked up other Sister Immaculata stories after she left.  If I ever write a book, I think she will be my subject.

This afternoon I was at the hospital.  Because timing is everything, all the other family members had left and I was alone with Natalie.  Just then one of her doctors made an appearance to report that the test results were not yet back.  He beckoned me to the hallway, wherein he wanted to prepare me that the situation did not look good.  He felt strongly that we are dealing with cancer, and in Natalie’s weakened condition, it likely would not be treatable.

I could feel the blood drain from my face and I stared at the floor.  All the well phrased questions and thoughts that were written in our Nana Notebook completely left me.  I was catapulted back to my own mother’s hospital room 14 years ago when her doctor asked me to step out into the hall, so that he could tell me that my mother was dying of cancer.

I think from now on if any doctor asks me to step out into the hall, I’m just going to say no thank you.

I gathered my wits about me, and walked over to the door leading to my mother-in-law’s hospital room, and pointed to a picture of her that I taped up just moments before.  I said, “This is Natalie.  This is what Natalie looked like just a few weeks ago.  Her eyes are shining and her smile lights up a room.  Right up until Thanksgiving, she has been delivering meals-on-wheels to people much younger than herself.  We will not give up hope.  We want her back.”

He stared at the picture of this woman who looked far different from the frail woman lying in the hospital bed fighting for her life. Then he quietly said, “I didn’t know that. I will be optimistic as well.”  With that he shook my hand and walked down the hall.

I went back over and sat beside Natalie who was deeply sleeping.  I reached over to her bedside table and picked up her well worn rosary beads.  For the first time in 45 years, I prayed the rosary.  I held each bead in my hand, and every word came back to me as if no time had passed.  It brought me great peace.  I finally had an understanding of the purpose of the rosary that I’ve never had before.

I don’t know what tomorrows test results will bring.  Until she draws her last breath, we will be holding onto the hope of a miracle.  But I rest in the comfort and firm knowledge that Natalie will one day, in His timing, wake up in the glorious presence of Jesus.

And Heaven will be a whole lot more beautiful.