There are moments that occur in parish life that stick with you forever. Two in particular have remained in our hearts and minds. One evening Jack and I were sorting clothes for the annual clothing drive. Everyone but the two of us had left and finally I had to leave to cover the rectory. Jack continued to sort out the clothes when a young woman came into the room and called his name. As he turned to greet her she lit a match and her entire body exploded into flames. She had doused herself with gasoline. Jack reacted immediately and threw a blanket over her but she was severely burned. She had a history of mental difficulties and came from a wonderful family that had tried day in and day out to reverse the constant effects of her illness.
The effects of the incident were dramatic and she literally hung to life by a thread. We visited the hospital every night after hours, and it was soul draining to see her on an apparatus where they changed the angle every two hours. Her family was magnificent, and despite the emotional pain was there in the hospital day and night. She finally succumbed after two weeks.
Another one that lingers is the memory of two brothers coming home from their brother’s wedding. Somehow the car went out of control and they were both killed instantly. It is difficult to imagine adjusting your mind from the joy of a wedding to the realization that two of your sons are dead. It was a most difficult time to stand by the family through this ordeal. The irony for me was that I had a few weeks earlier had a delightful conversation with the older brother. He was so vibrant, full of questions about faith and life. When he left I mused that he would be one that would positively impact the lives of others.