Local Ministries Religious life

Angels in our midst

People insist the Sisters bring as much comfort to family members as they do to their loved ones

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

Death is the ultimate crisis — and sometimes not only for the one who’s dying.

But it can also be a time of joy and grace.

Cindy Creal knows.

Twelve years ago, her 23-year-old daughter Katie was dying of an inoperable brain tumor. It was made more difficult by the fact that in Katie’s last months she was paralyzed and aphasic.

Creal and her husband Tom were determined to keep their daughter at home,so they contacted the Sisters, Servants of Mary, who agreed to help. All the Sisters asked was that transportation be provided. Friends from Church of the Nativity Parish in Leawood, where the Creals lived at the time, helped.

“She was on a lot of medication at that time and so she never slept,” said Cindy Creal, now a member of Ascension Parish in Overland Park. “She was awake all the time, needing constant care.”

That care was provided, in part, by the Sisters, Servants of Mary. But it was more than nursing care,said Creal, that she will always be grateful to the Sisters for.

“Our daughter was really remarkable,” she continued. “She became very faith-filled in the end, and I think the Sisters were part of that experience.”

One parishioner who helped with the car pool was Marta Buser. Years later,she would have her own encounter with the Sisters.

“Last November, we lost a niece to lymphoma,” she said. “Mother Carmela came to visit our family at the hospital to lend her comfort and support. The next evening, Sister Adriana came to care for her until her death a few days later.

“It was a beautiful experience to have them with us and to be touched by their love.”

Initially, her niece’s husband resisted their help.

“Quite honestly, he didn’t want [the Sisters] to come because he wanted a family member with her all the time,” said Buser.

But the Sisters came quietly and humbly, to extend — not replace — the family’s love. “They were really remarkable — just by their demeanor, their unassuming kindness and the comfort they brought,” she said. “He let them stay with her. It was just very remarkable to see them in action.”

Mary Anne Noonan, of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park,recalls when the Sisters assessed her mother, who was suffering from cancer.

“Mother [Superior] came out with one of the Sisters,” she said. “My mom was really weak and not doing very well. But when she saw those two nuns, she sat right up — just like back in grade-school days.”

The Sisters decided they could help, especially because Noonan was a sole caregiver.

“We would sit on the bed together and laugh, and the nuns would brush my mom’s hair,” Noonan recalled. “They would clean her bed and clean her for the night and listen to her and rub her arm.

“They really made her feel so loved. And then when Mom would go off to sleep, the Sisters would pray.

“And in the night, if she woke up, they were right there.”

Prayer is an important facet of the Sisters’ health ministry. Paul Barrett, from St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee, has been on the receiving end of those prayers many times.

The Sisters were present for the death of Barnett’s grandfather, his mother and, just over a year ago, his father.

“My father was a pretty religious man and obviously close to the Sisters all of his life,” he said. “They would lead us in prayer, and you could sense a relief from him. It helped his passing to be much easier. Certainly a sense of peace came over all of us.”

The Sisters, in their dual role as both health providers and spiritual guides, can be as great a benefit to the family as they are to the patient.

“In addition to the nursing care, there was such a spiritual presence they brought to our household,” said Creal. “It was just as important as the nursing care they gave.

“At the time, our two youngest sons were just entering high school. It was a great comfort to all of us to have [the Sisters] here, and for those boys to see such faith and such humility.”

And they’re very good at their job.

“It was a Sunday night in this cold February when my mom died,” said Noonan. “I had never witnessed death before. I didn’t really know how to walk someone through this.

“And byGod’s grace,the nun was with me. She and I prayed over my mom and she kind of helped me that night.

“It was very sweet; Sister was there to guide me, and yet she wasn’t intrusive at all. She let me have that experience with my mom.”

Barrett shared a similar story about the Sisters bringing the final chapter of his father’s life to a close.

“They helped us embrace that he is in a much better place,” he said. “He’s where we all want to be someday, with our maker in heaven.”

“I hope they’ll be there when my day comes,” he added.

For the Sisters, Servants of Mary, the greatest gift is not in what they do for the patient or for the patient’s family, but in the joy they experience in performing this holy service — of delivering God’s children back to him.

“It’s just unbelievable the joy they have,” said Creal. “And you say, ‘Thank you,’ and they say, ‘Oh, no, thank you for allowing us.’

“And they believe that. They really see the experience as a gift.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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