On one level, it was a simple assignment. The metro desk at The Rocky Mountain News had received a call about a wedding that was sure to be poignant. The bride had cancelled her church rites several months in the future so that a simple ceremony could take place beside the deathbed of her father, whose cancer had taken a sudden turn for the worse.
My editor's instructions: Make me cry by the third paragraph or you're fired. His advice: Look for crucial details and let their voices tell the story. One symbolic detail was the copy of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" on the father's nightstand.
I thought about that story, which generated more letters from readers than anything else I wrote in Denver, when I read the Los Angeles Times feature that ran the other day with this headline: "People don’t want to die alone. With Sister Maria standing vigil, they've got company."
There isn't much I can say other than this: Listen to the voices and pay attention to the crucial details in this very human, yet deeply spiritual, story. Here is the overture:
Esperanza Calderon stared at Sister Maria Socorro with half-closed eyes. The nun hunched over her as she reclined in a living room chair, wrapped in a blanket and slowly but inexorably dying.
As the 70-year-old woman’s sister clasped her hand, Socorro held a book open across her palms. Together the three women prayed.
“Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof,” the woman followed along in Spanish, her voice fragile. “But one word from you would be enough to heal me.”
At the heart of the story is the humble work of the Servants of Mary.