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Why Catholic Hospice Matters

An interview with Dick McCormick, former CEO of US West and founding contributor to Emmaus Catholic Hospice.

My brother, Fr. Jim, died in 2013. He was a Catholic priest for 51 years. He was battling cancer and came to Denver to live with us. That way, family could surround him, and we could give him personal support.

He had excellent care, and for a while, we thought maybe he was on the verge of beating it. But then he took a turn for the worse.

LAY MINISTER PRAYING OVER A PRIEST

We had priests come by the house in the last month of his life and give him Last Rites, including Archbishop Aquila of Denver and Bishop Hannifen from Colorado Springs. So, he had plenty of people visit him and pray with him!

In the last week or so, we called in hospice services. The irony is that when he did die, a lay minister from the hospice came. It was appropriate, but it was ironic, too: Here was a priest of 51 years who had given his life to the Church—and an unordained layperson was praying over him a few hours after he died.

And I just thought, “It would have been nice if he had been surrounded by a hospice team rooted in the Catholic faith, taking care of him and taking care of those final needs.”

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We thanked the hospice people profusely, but it was a fairly impersonal experience.

I believe that had we been with Emmaus Catholic Hospice, if it had existed then, there would have been a greater quality and a more personal quality of care.

THE UPSIDE OF A MISCONCEPTION

A misconception I had when I first heard the word ‘hospice’ in the mid-eighties, and for many years, was I thought it was more of a 24/7, hands-on service.

We were left with the medications, and they instructed us how to administer them. But there wasn’t necessarily going to be a staff of nurses there every moment. Maybe everybody knows that, but I didn’t realize it.

They told us that their objective was to make Jim pain-free. They showed us how to do that, and they didn’t need to be there 24/7.

It was nice not to have outsiders always there, just Jim and his family and close friends.

“A BEAUTIFUL DEATH IN ALL RESPECTS”

To their credit, the hospice staff were able to predict within a day or so when Jim was going to pass away. They knew the vital signs, the blood pressure, the breathing changes, the color—all the indicators. They called it very well, and they had us well prepared for the time.

Our daughter Meg sat with him all night that last night because we knew that was probably going to be it. He passed away in our living room, surrounded by family.

It was a beautiful death in all respects and one that I felt was appropriate for the life that he lived and the contributions he made. More than 20 of his 51 years as a priest were spent doing missionary work in Tanzania, India, and the Philippines.

Jim had a beautiful funeral back in our hometown in Iowa. He had recruited 25 African and Indian nuns to work in Catholic nursing homes in Iowa.  Also, through Jim’s efforts, three priests from India are now pastors in Northwest Iowa.  All of them were at his funeral. We had African singing; we had Indian singing; we had the church choir singing. I mean, he went out in style!

SUPPORTING EMMAUS CATHOLIC HOSPICE

My wife, Mary Pat, and I support Emmaus Catholic Hospice because it aligns with the values and tenets of the Catholic church. That’s important to us.

We are strong Right to Life people and very much against assisted suicide. I will not be associated with any organization that condones or conducts that.

Mary Pat and I will probably need this service ourselves in the next ten years. So, we’re interested from that standpoint, too.

I’m hoping that Emmaus Catholic Hospice gets off the ground in a big way—that it becomes the source for anybody Catholic who needs hospice services.

We must communicate to the Catholic community that this is now available and needs our support.

–as told to Katie Morroni, Communications Manager of Emmaus Catholic Hospice. Interview edited for length and clarity. To learn more and support the mission of Emmaus Catholic Hospice, please visit EmmausCatholicHospice.org

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