Her “Angels” Sang Her Home:
The Loving Ministry of the Ukrainian Sisters of St. Joseph
– Submitted by Deb Larmour
My mother went home to heaven in 1999. We were close. I could not really imagine life without my mom. She had ovarian cancer 20 years before but with prayer and treatment she recovered. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer that had metastasized into her bones, treatment was an option but she declined. She had been through so much already after a mastectomy and her previous chemotherapy; further treatment was more than she could take.
My Dad had a lot of health problems and when in the summer of 1998 we received my Mom’s terminal diagnosis it was very clear my Dad could not, even with family and home care support, care for our mothers needs as well as his own. Neither my sister nor I were in a position to take them into our homes, as much as we would have liked to. We approached the Sisters of St. Joseph about a place for both of them at their care home at 33 Valens Drive in Saskatoon so that they could be together during our mother’s last days. It was always our thought that our Dad would likely move out afterwards—little did we know that he would have such difficulty coping with the certain loss of our Mom that his health would rapidly deteriorate and he would die before she did.
Throughout the year that my Mom was a resident at St. Joseph’s Home, as her health declined, there were ups and downs. There was the difficult adjustment to the loss of independence that she and my Dad had previously enjoyed. This was very difficult especially for my Dad. Then, my Dad who had suffered for years with Emphysema and Asthma, contracted pneumonia and died rather suddenly, so there was the loss of our Dad. They were together for over 50 years of joys and sorrows. This was very difficult. On the up side she was able to hold her last grandchild, my son John, in her weakened arms and attend his Baptism. This was a great grace.
In all of this our Mom received incredible love, support and care from the staff and Sisters of St. Joseph. She called them her ‘angels’. As my Mom grew weaker, on one of my many visits, a Sister pulled me aside and said, “Your Mom is hanging on because she thinks you need her, maybe it is time to tell her that you will be okay and she is free to go to God.” I was shocked at this. How could I do that? I didn’t want her to go. As her condition worsened I began to see that Sister was correct. I struggled. Then one afternoon as spring was turning into summer — as I held my baby—I clearly saw my Mom’s suffering. I was able to say the words. “Mom, when you leave me… when you leave us… we will miss you more than words can say but we will be okay. We will be alright.” Her response was a simple “I know.” I was not yet ready to say that final goodbye.
Short weeks later the dreaded call came. “Your Mom is not going to be with us much longer, you should come.”
When I arrived my sister was already there. But to my surprise so were several of the Sisters of St. Joseph. They were singing, the Jesus Prayer in Ukrainian. “Jesus, Lord Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy, have mercy on us.” (If you go on to youtube you can hear what it sounds like—I would highly recommend it if you have never heard this prayer sung: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7UmcdTQ2x4&list=RDQ7UmcdTQ2x4#t=2 )
These were the women who cared for my Mom (and Dad’s) physical needs in their last days, and they did it extremely well. But they also cared deeply for their spiritual needs. They were our Mother’s ‘earthly angels’ who sang her into the presence of the heavenly host. Momentarily, all of us in that room touched eternity as my mom took her last breath. If I ever doubted it, I knew heaven was ‘for real’, my Mom and Dad were together. All I could do was pray with all my heart that someday our whole family could be united with them in the ocean of God’s love and mercy.
Year’s later when I heard Sr. Theodosia (former director of the Home, now deceased) speak about the tragedy of so many of our people dying without someone to pray with and for them, her words pierced my heart. What if there were no heroic women who were willing to give their lives in the service of God and His people? What if there was no St. Joseph’s Home to care for the whole person—body and soul—as they prepare to enter eternity? I could not fathom it. Yet as I tearfully, all these years later, recall these events I know we face a situation where institutions such as theirs, are at profound risk. They work in the service of love and life. Would anyone want institutions with this level of care for body and soul—to face extinction because of their conscience? Clearly I would hope that in the face of an aging population that more such institutions were available to usher us from life to life eternal, with the best of holistic care.