Deacon’s Ministry

“particularly as a servant of those in need” BCP p 856

by Hardison Geer

Sharon met Anthony when they were fellow servers (acolytes) at St. Mary’s. Sharon became a good friend of his, as she did with so many others. He left St.Mary’s to attend a church on Long Island whose rector was a former curate at St. Mary’s, but continued coming into Manhattan to his job as a lawyer for the V. A. Almost a year ago when he was ordained deacon she went to his ordination. In June, when her breast cancer put her in the hospital, she called him in for a conference with her oncologist. I met him in the hallway and took him to where they were. When they emerged they had decided that she should go straight from the hospital to the hospice.

In the hospice Fr. Anthony visited almost daily as did so many others. Who? Fellow servers, friends from all over, relatives close, relatives alienated, half sisters unmet, high school friends from twenty years back and so on. Soon the guards stopped giving her guests visitor’s passes…they ran out of them. The maximum of five visitors at a time meant nothing…rarely, in the evening, did she have so few. Twelve or thirteen was more common. One nice thing about the hospice is that they will supply a bed in the room for visitors who wish to stay the night. Sharon had at least five different people stay the night, some of them more than once. In fact she did something which should not have been possible…she was more visited than all the rest of the patients in the two hundred bed hospice put together. When she could still walk she did something to reduce that disparity by visiting and befriending her fellow patients. At least two of her new friends predeceased her. I was told that the staff were flabbergasted when she ran errands for other patients getting them water or ice. This was not her greatest task while in hospice, she used the leverage her being in hospice gave her to heal alienation in her family. In fact an informal gathering the day after her funeral was attended by a combination of people inconceivable a year ago.

She received pastoral care from St. Mary’s, but, since Fr. Smith was on sabbatical and Deacon Rebecca had health problems, Fr. Anthony took over. He delivered communion and unction and led evening prayer and compline, including the prayers for the dying. Rarely has a pastor had such a diverse congregation. At one time there were present: her Hindu mother, her father of Sikh descent, her mother’s Muslim husband and daughter, and a couple of Buddhist friends. I know there was at least one Jew among her guests but she was not there that day. The rector of the church where Fr. Anthony served had left to become suffragan Bishop over St. Mary’s but he still supplied texting support.

About the end of Sharon’s third week in the hospice her mother became ill and was hospitalized. Despite severe pain she was much distressed to be away from her dying daughter. Fr. Anthony helped calm her distress so that she might stay in the hospital. At this time, it being apparent that the end was near, it was necessary to think about funeral plans. Because Sharon strongly opposed cremation a grave site had to be found. Fr. Anthony suggested there might be a good site at St. Margaret’s where he served every fourth Sunday. A family delegation went with him to the cemetery on Saturday and liked it.

Sunday morning I went to St. Mary’s at eleven and after coffee hour had lunch across from the church. As we were getting ready to leave, my phone rang. It was Father Anthony, he had come directly from his eleven o’clock service to the hospice arriving at two, right after he entered her room, Sharon died. He called for a doctor and at five minutes after two she was officially pronounced dead. We left the restaurant and headed for the hospice. Sharon’s mother entered the operating room at two o’clock for gall bladder surgery.

We gathered at Sharon’s room. A couple of hours after she died her friend Tim arrived. Her death was not too great a shock for him since I had spoken to him on Saturday telling him not to come on Monday, but rather, as soon as possible since she might die at any time. But it was a shock for her next visitor, who came in “bright eyed and bushy-tailed” calling out “Hi Sharon!”…Natasha had to break the news to her. After several hours of conversation we gathered Sharon’s things and left.

Monday we, including Fr. Anthony, met at the undertaker’s to make the arrangements. (Father Gerth commented the next day that the presence of a clergyman might save $1,000) Thence we drove to St. Margaret’s to select a plot and make arrangements. They, not wanting to be left holding the body, insisted on being paid no later than Wednesday for a Saturday burial.

On Tuesday Fr. Anthony and I met with Father Gerth to discuss the funeral service at St. Mary’s. Wednesday I drove a Merrill Lynch check out to St. Margaret’s.

Friday afternoon at four o’clock Sharon’s coffin arrived at St. Mary’s and was placed in the Our Lady of Mercy chapel with the lid up. Numerous people were present until almost seven when the lid was closed and the body formally welcomed into the church. Sharon’s mother, just that morning out of the hospital, became very upset and was calmed by Fr. Anthony.

Sharon’s funeral mass was at ten Saturday morning. The mass setting was by William Byrd. As soon as the procession could be assembled (delayed by understaffing at the garage) we left for St. Margaret’s. Fr. Anthony led the gravesite ceremony. He had to calm Sharon’s mother who had become very upset wanting to see the body again even though she had been informed that the coffin would remain closed after it was formally received into the church.

After the burial, those who wished to (including Fr. Anthony) went to Natasha’s apartment for refreshments.

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