Dorothy is one of the hundreds of persons whose spirit will forever remain as part of our Milwaukee Catholic Home community. She was a single lady in her nineties who moved into our Health and Rehabilitation Center when challenges of immobility and self-care made it impossible for her to safely continue living in her East Side home. “I’ve outlived all my family and friends,” she told me on the day that I first met her. “I feel so alone.”
With her winsome smile and quick sense of humor, Dorothy began to touch the hearts of staff and residents who came to know her as the days went on. She had only a few belongings. Many of the staff who were sensitive to the fact that she had no visitors would bring her small gifts of socks and slippers and headbands that she would proudly don as she sat in her highback chair.
Eventually the terminal illness that had initiated Dorothy’s admission caused a more rapid physical decline. She lost her appetite and no longer came to the Dining Room. She slept at long intervals. Dorothy’s bodily functions were slowing down as the inner work of her spirit was preparing for its journey toward eternal life.
One morning as I strolled down the 3 West hallway, her nurse darted out of her room. “Anne, Dorothy is actively dying and the staff is very upset.” I walked into the room. Dorothy lay so still, her breathing was shallow, her countenance was smooth and devoid of any pain or tension. In the corner of her room four nursing assistants and the housekeeper stood huddled together, several of them weeping aloud. One of them turned to me to tearfully whisper, “She is all alone with no family to be with her while she is dying.” I put my arms around her and replied, “No, Dorothy has all of you here with her. She has so much love with her in this room. I’ve watched how you all care for Dorothy, how you treat her like one of your family. She is with us now and we are her family.”
I asked the staff to gather around Dorothy’s bedside so that she could better sense our presence with her. We all encircled her tiny body waiting to be born into the full realization of the mystery of God’s eternal embrace. I assured them that Dorothy could hear our voices. I closed my eyes as we surrounded Dorothy and held each other’s hands. I prayed, “Dear Lord, please grant our dear Dorothy a peaceful passage from this circle of love here on earth into your circle of heavenly love and all there who await her.”
We all started praying together. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” We continued in unison. “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We prayed together slowly. “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. We prayed together tearfully. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.” Amen. I believe. At that moment we gazed at Dorothy as she softly took her last breath. We stood in silence. We looked at one another. We looked down again at our beloved Dorothy. Some of us wept. Others simply continued with, “Praise God.” God granted our prayers as Dorothy entered peacefully from one circle of love into another.
I have been blessed to be part of a community of caring staff and residents and families whose mission is to sustain the circle of God’s love here at The Milwaukee Catholic Home.