Death Comes A-Knocking

The month of October was not very kind to us. We have had a cousin, a brother deacon, and a flea market brother die. The loss of these three has left us saddened because the thread that was holding us together has been cut.

Joan Callinan

My cousin Joan passed away from cancer of the brain. I had the privilege to be with her just two weeks before she passed. She was barely recognizable from the ravages of the cancer, but her indomitable spirit was alive and well. We shared some memories and words of encouragement and finally a goodbye hug and one last “I love you.”

She was the oldest of the cousins on my father’s side of the family. I remember when she would come and visit with her family, we would always end up sitting close to each other sharing life’s stories; The friendship was established very early in my life. Her father died when she was in her early teens. It was a very difficult time for the family. Eventually, she graduated from high school and went to work for the phone company where her mother worked.

While in her early twenties, Joan met a man and fell in love. Tragically, he passed away within months of learning he was to be a father. It was left to her to raise the child on her own, which she did, so very successfully and with all the energy she had. Over the years Joan became the life of the party … as her daughter noted in her eulogy, “She was a whole lot of fun!”  Her happiness at every event was very contagious.

Deacon Paul Dacri

I received an email from the diaconate office asking for prayer for Paul who was in the hospital in an induced coma. Whenever I receive one of these prayer requests, I immediately stop whatever I am doing and say a Hail Mary for them. More often than not, that is the last I hear about the person we prayed for. In this case, I didn’t have to wait very long until the second message came from the diaconate office to tell us that Paul was awake and resting comfortably, but still seriously ill. I offered another Hail Mary and thought to myself, “It sounds like Paul is getting better.”  Two days later, another message from the diaconate office stated that Paul had died early that morning. This was a stunner and it set me back on my heels. I wasn’t expecting this outcome, and it left me grasping to understand what happened.

I knew Paul from our interactions in the Diaconate program. I was ordained and running our annual Christmas program and Paul was a candidate to the diaconate. He came to us via a collaborative program whereby each candidate was required to spend four or five Saturdays working in our ministry. Paul came to us in the month of November which is the second busiest month in the Christmas program. This meant that he would be working the Christmas sign up days. He would manage the line of mothers who had been approved for signup. He would let the next parent know which entry person was available to take their family information and each of their children’s Christmas gift wishes. He also was responsible for checking over the pick up receipt with the parent to make sure everything was correct as well as collecting the signup donation. We would often talk at the end of the day. Paul would say, “That was one busy day we just had” ,and I would nod in agreement. When he finished his last weekend I remember him smiling broadly and saying, “Walter, this is a great program you have here — never stop doing what you do.” We hugged and said goodbye.

Paul and I would see each other after his ordination to the diaconate. Sometimes it was just a passing glance or a few quick minutes of “How is it going?” ,or, “How are you doing?” Unfortunately, that is the lot of deacons. We are dispersed to our respective ministry assignments and only get to see each other at the deacon retreat, holiday celebration or another deacon’s funeral. Rest in Peace, Deacon Paul Dacri, a good and faithful servant.

Ernie Prescott

It was a hot June day when Ken Riccardi and I were working the flea market in our parking lot at 242 Canterbury St. when we saw an older, somewhat battered, camper come rolling into the parking lot. It pulled up to where our tables were set up. An older fellow disembarked and strolled up the Ken and I and asked, “Can I set up a table at this flea market?” “For $15.00 you can.” I replied. He reached into his pocket pulling out a wad of bills peeled off three five dollar bills handed them to me with a big grin on his face.  He extended his hand in friendship and said, “I am Ernie Prescott.” “I am Walter Doyle and this is Ken Riccardi,” I replied. A friendship of the strangest kind was forged that day.

For the past five years, every Saturday from the first Saturday in May, until the last Saturday in September we worked the flea market across the parking lot from each other, trading quips and words of wisdom with each other during the four hours we spent with each other. Usually, one of us would go into the LittleStore and get a package of sweets of some kind and then motion to the other that food was on the way. We would meet halfway between our tables and Ernie’s tables and share the food and one or two or three stories of the day.

About a year ago, Ernie wasn’t showing up, so I called his brother Bob to inquire into Ernie’s whereabouts. “He is in the hospital where he had brain surgery to remove a growth,” Bob said.  I can remember saying to myself, “Oh boy this isn’t good.” “Can we visit him?” I asked. “Yes you can, but he is being moved to a care facility in Millbury tomorrow, so why don’t you wait a day or two and then go visit him.” ,Bob told me. “OK,” I replied, and thanked Bob for the information.

Later that day, I told Ken about my conversation with Ernie’s brother and he agreed with setting up a time to go and visit Ernie. So off we went and when we entered Ernie’s room you could tell we took him by surprise. It took him a minute or two to fully recognize us, but when he did that very infectious smile broke out on his face. Both Ken and I started laughing at the same time and gave him a big hug. For the next hour, Ernie regaled us with the story of his operation and the care he had received. I must say he looked like he weathered the operation very well.

It was soon after that when Ernie started coming back to the flea market on Saturdays, and so it appeared that he was going to make a full recovery. He asked if he could store his camper in our parking lot and we struck up a deal we both could live with.  As the season wore on, I started to see Ernie slowing down. He would quietly sit in the sun warming himself and left all of the selling to his friend, Jenn, and another couple. Occasionally, he would stop by to check on the camper or pay the monthly rent. Then around the end of October, I realized he hadn’t been in to pay the rent. So I added him to my daily prayer list all the while hoping he was OK.

On Thursday, when I came back from loading food from the Worcester County Food Bank into Saint Paul’s Outreach – Food Pantry, Alex, our counter person at the LittleStore, gave me a business card with Ernie’s name handwritten on it. I immediately went to my office and called Bob Prescott’s cell number.  It took a moment for Bob to remember who I was, but when he did he told me that Ernie had died Wednesday morning. He went on to say that there would be a remembrance party for Ernie and he would let me know the arrangements as soon as they when firmed up.

The flea market Saturdays will never be the same. I’ll look across the parking lot and there will always be an empty space where my friend Ernie would always be. It is going to take me some time to put his loss behind me.

Every time this happens, I spend some time recalling all of the volunteers, employees, and friends who have passed on. I can recall their faces clearly although sometimes it take me a minute or two to recall their names, old age I guess! I always end up saying a Hail Mary for them as a way of saying thank you for what they have done for Kathy, and I, and the ministry to “the least, the last, and the left out.”