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Dying Grace

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By Dan Kochapski

When my dad, Ron Kochapski, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 59, my family gathered around him every night to pray the Rosary. As things looked more and more grim, he maintained the strongest faith of all, constantly reminding us, "My life is in God's hands."

In early Feb. 2010, my dad was placed under hospice care at our home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. On Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010, my dad's mother passed away unexpectedly. After we broke this news to my dad, his condition seemed to get even worse.

At the funeral service for my grandmother, I watched as the pallbearers put her casket into the hearse. I hugged my sister, Amy, and as tears streamed down both our faces, I asked, "How are we ever going to do this for our father?"

When we returned from the funeral that Friday, Feb. 19, the hospice nurse advised us that my father was truly on the final step of his own journey. "I would be surprised if he made it through the night," she said. Even though I had been preparing myself to receive this news for a while, I felt like I had just been punched in the stomach.

Since my dad could not attend his mother's funeral, our pastor, Msgr. Mike, came over that evening to say Mass at my dad's bedside. After Mass, Msgr. Mike gave my dad Anointing of the Sick.

A constant stream of my dad's family members came to say goodbye. My uncle Jim pulled my two sisters and me aside to talk about my father's pending death. Uncle Jim told us that my dad's passing was going to be an experience my mother and the three of us would want to share on our own. He also said that, as hard as this situation would be, the Holy Spirit would provide us with what he called "dying grace." This grace, he said, would help us make it through my dad's death, and the subsequent wake and funeral. At the time, I struggled to believe that I would get through this difficult experience. I just hoped and prayed that my uncle was right.

At 1:45 a.m. on Feb. 20, 2010, my dad asked to see my sisters, my mom, and me all together. Immediately upon entering my dad's brightly lit room, I felt this strange, indescribable peacefulness. As we gathered around his bed, I could hear him breathing heavily, and I knew he was struggling to get air. We prayed the Rosary together as a family while my dad mouthed the words, not strong enough to speak above a whisper.

For the next couple hours following the Rosary, we reminisced and even shared a few laughs. At around 4 a.m., my dad asked one of us to open the window. At first, I was shocked to hear such a request, considering it was before dawn in the freezing winter. But my sister hit me on the arm and said, "Danny, open the window!" When I did, something amazing happened: Not one breath of cold air came into the room.

Over the previous several months, my dad's powerful speaking voice had become quiet and raspy. As I returned to his bedside, though, in a loud and healthy voice, he said suddenly, "Oh, my goodness!" In the days prior, his illness had also left him unable to move his arms. But at that moment, he sat up and began waving his arms freely, as if he were hugging someone. "Oh my goodness," he said again and again as he continued to reach out toward someone only he could see. We believe that at this point, my dad was meeting his mother in Heaven.

While my dad was seeing visions from beyond, my mom, my sisters, and I all reassured him that we would be all right when he passed. After we made this promise, my dad closed his eyes and took his final breath. We sat in that room at 4 a.m., and tears flowed down all of our faces. None of us were hysterical, though. It was actually a peaceful time.

Looking back, I now understand the final part of the Hail Mary: that Heaven hears our prayers "now and at the hour of our death." God provided us with the grace we needed to make it through my father's passing. And thanks to dying grace, we had the privilege of watching as my dad reunited, not only with his own earthly mother, but with his heavenly mother, too.

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Lynne - Apr 27, 2018

Sonia, I just prayed for your friend Emanuela. Sorry if I spelled it wrong. Anyhow, how beautiful that she is so accepting...maybe hesitant...but accepting. ❤️ How precious of you to be there for her,,

Sonia - Apr 25, 2018

Wow, this brought tears to my eyes. These are beautiful experiences and I thank you so much for sharing them with us. This is very encouraging. My friend, 60, is in the hospital now dying of cancer. She is an atheist who "believes in science" but a few weeks ago I had given her a card with a medal of St. Anthony of Padua holding Baby Jesus with Mother Mary on the other side, and when I went to visit her the other day after she was admitted, there it was held down under a box of Kleenex on her bedside table. She also phoned me the other day and told me not to worry, my medal is fine and that if I have a chain she will wear it (she was the one who brought the subject up). She seems to really like it. She also told me not to spend time worrying about her but just to think of her every once in awhile, "like if I'm in church." (So I made sure to include her in our communal prayers at Mass yesterday.) Aside from taking her the Chaplet of Divine Mercy pamphlet, after reading these stories it has occurred to me that I could offer to pray a simple Hail Mary with her next time I go. If anyone reading this has time, it would be wonderful if you could please say a prayer for her; her name is Manuela. Thank you, and thanks so much again for sharing your stories.

Peggy Spang - Apr 13, 2018

Before I fell asleep at 11:00pm I prayed the Divine Mercy prayer. My daughter had the night watch with my husband Jim and as he was dying from pancreatic cancer. At 4:30 am Amy realized this, she called to me from my sleep and together we prayed the Hail Mary as I held onto his scapular that hung around his neck. When she could talk she said, Dad kept reaching over his scoulder at someone with a peaceful smile at someone he must have known. He said several time before that, Amy, let me cross over. She thought he ment cross over the bed rails. She said, no Dad, you’ll fall if I let you out.. after saying this several times, she realized he was breathing differently , then called me as she didn’t know what to do. After the Hail Mary, we called our priest