Godspeed, My Friend

Yesterday we buried Bill.

I met Bill over two years ago when we formed a men’s Rosary group at our church.  It’s been a dogged, determined little band that has been meeting every Wednesday morning at 6AM; during Lent we met every weekday at 6AM.  Bill immediately impressed me with his reverence and obvious deep love for Our Lady and her son.  He was a guidepost to me along my path of returning to understanding and fervor in my faith.  His soft but rich, baritone voice conveyed great warmth and gentleness; he was always quick with a smile and a hug.

I didn’t know then this smiling, gentle man was in the midst of remission for renal cancer.  But it wasn’t long before he had a new challenge in his life: a 30+ year veteran of AT&T, he was being switched to the night shift for an interim, and this meant he couldn’t attend our Rosaries during that time.  I worked those hours for about two years in my early 20s, and I can attest that for those diurnal by nature, it’s a cross.  When he told us at the last Rosary he attended before going on that shift, a shadow of sadness crossed his face, but he never overtly complained about it.  I’m sure that in a tough economy – especially tough for men our age – Bill was grateful he still had a job, because gratitude was ingrained in Bill’s nature.  If Bill had been “down-sized”, he would have been grateful for his life and his wonderful family, and humbly and prayerfully accepting what life had in store.

When Bill came back to us after some months, we rejoiced, but it wasn’t long before they switched him back to nights again.  And then it wasn’t long before we heard from Bill himself that his cancer had returned.  The treatments left Bill in such a weakened state that he couldn’t make it to the Rosary, but he prayed with us from his home faithfully.

We prayed for Bill, he prayed for us.  I saw Bill twice in his home after the recurrence.  Although it was obvious his body was being devastated, his spirit was indomitable.  Both going through the challenges at work and the challenges of his disease, I never saw a frown on his face or heard a disconsolate word from Bill.  Our Rosary group leader Bob took Communion to Bill in his home, and called me one day in tears, having just visited him and shaken by the acceleration of Bill’s decline.  He expressed sadness and regret to Bill for his suffering, and Bill reassured Bob that he wasn’t suffering, he was just having a new experience.

The beauty of the Catholic faith is the paradigm that suffering is an invitation to come to a deeper relationship with Jesus.  One of the things we all wonder about is the disposition of our loved ones upon their death.  A terminal illness can seem cruel – I lived it with my own mother’s 5-year battle with cancer – but viewed through the eyes of faith is actually a great gift, the gift of purgation in life.  Bill experienced what we Catholics call a “happy death”, right with God, in the arms of Jesus and Mary, and surrounded by loving family.  The story of the Good Thief is one of great hope.  A man who led a life of iniquity in the last hours of his life turned to Christ, and was told – not “someday” – but “This day you shall be with Me in Paradise.”  That Bill is this moment in the Communion of Saints and praying for us a thought I hold with great confidence.


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One Comment on “Godspeed, My Friend”

  1. Bob Says:

    well stated, Tom…

    and well-lived, Bill…


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