Facing Terminal Illness with Mercy, Part I

January 9, 2015

By Catherine Walsh, Northeast Communications Specialist

This is the first in a series of profiles of sisters living with serious illness. Read the entire series.

Sister Patricia F. was sent home from the hospital to die in early August. She had metastatic ovarian cancer compounded by bowel and stomach blockages and opted for hospice over chemotherapy and other invasive treatments. The local funeral director and three priests came to see her to help her prepare for her final journey.

But then something happened. Sister Pat had no sooner made peace with her illness and surrendered to the God with whom she has walked in Mercy for 63 years, when she began to feel better.

(Blog continues below)

Sister Pat relaxes by her “wall of love” while wearing a special feather necklace. “This feather reminds me of what it is that I strive for, to be a feather on the breath of God,” she says. Photo by Catherine Walsh/Northeast Communications.

Sister Pat relaxes by her “wall of love” while wearing a special feather necklace. “This feather reminds me of what it is that I strive for, to be a feather on the breath of God,” she says. Photo by Catherine Walsh/Northeast Communications.

Four weeks after she left the hospital, Sister Pat walked into her surgeon’s office for a follow-up appointment and watched him do a double-take. “He kept saying, ‘Look at you! Look at you! What’s happening with you?’” recalls Sister Pat with a laugh. “He said, ‘Even though I was born and brought up Catholic, I’m not a very good one at this point. But this looks to me like this could be divine intervention.’”

Sister Pat’s first reaction to her newfound wellness was to celebrate her 80th birthday with friends at two elegant luncheons and a three-day trip to Ogunquit, Maine. So what if she had to eat pureed food at first and depend on others for her care? “When I first came home from the hospital, I thought it was my responsibility to prepare to die, and that’s what I did for about three weeks,” she muses. “Then when I realized that death wasn’t imminent, I decided to engage myself in living.”

Her doctor’s new instruction to her—“Keep doing whatever it is you’re doing!” —was one she took to heart. When friends offered to treat her and Sister Chris, her roommate and friend, to a trip to Bruges, Belgium, in October, she accepted and had a wonderful time. Since then, she’s tried to do one new, out-of-the-ordinary activity a month, including going to plays in Boston, Massachusetts, and New York City, New York, and going on a retreat at Mercy Center in Madison, Connecticut.  

Sister Pat (left) and Sister Chris smile at a birthday luncheon for Sister Pat. Photo courtesy of Heather Bent.

Sister Pat (left) and Sister Chris smile at a birthday luncheon for Sister Pat. Photo courtesy of Heather Bent.

Sister Chris, who is 20 years younger than Sister Pat, credits Sister Pat for helping her to become a Sister of Mercy and making her “a better Sister of Mercy” over the years. Sister Pat’s faith-filled response to her illness inspires her. “You wonder when you get really sick, will your faith be able to carry you through? Will it really be there for you?” asks Sister Chris. “It has been such a privilege to see how Pat’s faith continues to carry her every day.”

Although Sister Pat doesn’t know how long her wellness will last, she says that being immersed in Mercy helps her prepare for death while living as fully as possible. “I feel very blessed that I didn’t die when I went into the hospital,” says Sister Pat. “To not to have known that I was coming close to the end of my life would have been a great privation.” After a lifetime of being Mercy for others, Sister Pat says receiving it from friends and caregivers “is humbling and powerful.” She adds, “I think Mercy is a two-way street. My circumstances right now give me the impetus to allow other people to be merciful to me.”

This receiving and giving of Mercy takes concrete form in the 849 cards (and counting!) that cover the walls of Sister Chris’s dining room—a room that has been turned into Sister Pat’s bedroom—in a great “wall of love,” as a social worker called it. “Probably 75 percent of these cards are from Sisters of Mercy,” says Sister Pat. “I am overwhelmed by the many people that are praying for me. Overwhelmed!”

The cards’ handwritten notes tell her what a gift she has been to those who love her and how she was there for them during difficult times in their lives. “People are saying things in these cards that we don’t usually hear about ourselves, things that they would say at your wake or funeral,” reflects Sister Pat. “It’s very powerful to me that people are free enough to tell me why I matter in their lives.” The “circle of Mercy” that has enveloped her since her illness began enables her to live with uncertainty, she says.

In what now seems preordained to her, she participated in a retreat in California last spring whose theme was “praying lucidly, living lucidly, dying lucidly.” More recently, a friend encouraged her to decide who she wanted to help her “cross over” when the time comes. Sister Pat chose her father and Jesus. “They are the ‘midwives’ who will bring me to a safe birth into eternity,” she says with a soft smile. “What I’ll be crossing over to is a bigger, deeper, stronger life. I feel very confident in that.”

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  1. Renee Yann, RSM

    This so powerful! Thank you much for allowing us to be graced by Sister Pat’s faith-filled story.


  2. Assunta M Riley

    Thank you Sr. Pat for sharing your powerful story and your journey.


  3. Diane Brousseau-Pizzi

    Beautiful! And so inspiring!


  4. Dixie

    Thank you for this! It comes as close as possible with the limitations of human life, to sharing the undescribable radiance and beauty of Pat, a true Sister of Mercy!


  5. Gloria Quinn

    This demonstrates such a beautiful commitment to love and life…
    what an honor to read about a woman of such strength and fortitude!
    Thank you for sharing!!!


  6. Elizabeth deManbey "Corky"

    What a wonderful blog! My prayers and thoughts are with you, Pat.. I remember you well from our Assembly table and am so glad we are Facebook friends. Your Mercy spirit and faith-filled life are certainly inspirational for all of us.
    Corky


  7. Sister Pat Oliver

    Pat, I’m not much of a “techie” when it comes to blogs, but thankfully I connected to the story of your journey. It is a privilege and an honor to call myself your sister in Mercy. As you know and live so well, “All will be well!”

  8. Pingback: Facing Terminal Illness with Mercy, Part II | Connect With Mercy: The Official Blog of the Sisters of Mercy


  9. Regina Werntz RSM

    Dear Pat,

    I learned of this website via Sister Rosemarie Tresp. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

    I remember you from the Tenth General Chapter (1977) in which Theresa Kane was elected. You were a strong, articulate voice for justice: in response to a motion that in the future we would just hold chapters of elections, you spoke against it, saying that by passing such a moratorium on chapters of affairs, moral and social issues would be ignored! The motion was withdrawn.

    And now, with your own person, you are advocating for human dignity! My love and prayers are with you!

    Regina Werntz, RSM


  10. Jane

    Pat, I am in tears. Thank you. Your story has touched my soul and has given me fodder for prayerful thoughts of my own mortality.

  11. Pingback: Facing Terminal Illness with Mercy, Part III | Connect With Mercy: The Official Blog of the Sisters of Mercy


  12. Kathleen Storan

    Inspiring! Thank you from Ireland!

  13. Pingback: Remembering Sister Pat Farley | Connect With Mercy: The Official Blog of the Sisters of Mercy


  14. Jeff

    May GOD is so very Mercy’filled as to have share Sr. Pat with us receive her. May Catherine McCauly continue to guide her. May we who were so blessed to have known of her journey continue to celebrate how she brought us closer to GOD through her ministry and witness.

  15. Pingback: Facing Terminal Illness with Mercy, Part IV | Connect With Mercy: The Official Blog of the Sisters of Mercy