Easter: One Year Later

April 8, 2011 (a year ago) I went to Emergency Room thinking I had a kidney stone.   I did have a kidney stone, but also discovered my abdomen was filled with tissue and various tumors which knew of no “cure”.     This year, ironically Easter lands on April 8 !!!!   This year it will be a day filled with “the great cure”.  

A year ago, statistics pegged me at 3-6 months.   Now 52 weeks later, I am still here, plugging along.  It has been an interesting journey.   But the journey is coming to a close; sooner than later.

I have moved to Windhaven Center, an assisted living facility near the south edge of Cedar Falls.  It’s a great facility and I am pleased with the staff.   My sister Camilla has moved here to assist me in this final leg.  That has been a great blessing.   She is a Dubuque Franciscan, an RN who worked in hospice ministry the past 15 years in Mississippi.   Could God do any better for me in my final days?

I will pray daily for you in this Holy Week.   I miss the liturgies very much.     I miss YOU very much.  But I have such fond memories.    I will try to continue updating my blog.  But who knows how long I will be able to do that.

For the most part, pain has been kept in balance.  But the medication makes me very tired and I do sleep a lot.  But it is a peaceful and deep sleep.  Eating is very difficult for me and I have lost a fair amount of weight.    I am not complaining though.   Things could be far worse. 

Sunday, April 8 is Easter.   The Des Moines Register will be publishing a story about death and resurrection.  My understanding is that I am featured in it as an example of someone in the midst of this life-death-resurrection story.   It should be interesting to read about such a personal aspect of one’s life, written by another individual. 

Happy Easter 2012

Ev Hemann

PRAYER

I met Joe Merchant on 4 East of the Ames hospital some 15 years ago.   4 East is the oncology floor. Most people I met there were terminally ill and had a short life expectancy.

Joe walked into the room as I was saying “Commendation of the Dying” prayers with a far-too-young woman with cancer, her husband and teenage children. As my usual practice I stopped and told the doctor that I would return in a few minutes after he completed his visit with the patient.

Dr. Joe Merchant thanked me but told me to finish and asked if it was ok to stay. He stayed and joined with us in praying for his terminally ill patient. The next day he contacted me at the parish. “I’m curious about those prayers you were saying. They were new to me, but beautiful and comforting to both the patient and her family.”

I told Joe about the Church’s prayer book Pastoral Care of the Sick. He inquired, “Could I get one of those? I like to pray for my patients and those were such nice prayers.” I ordered a copy for Joe and gave it as a gift to him. Thus began a long relationship of mutual support in our shared ministry to the seriously sick and dying. Joe and Mary joined our parish and Mary received certification as a Spiritual Director through Creighton’s Spirituality program.

Saturday was the feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas. My former parish in Ames celebrated the day in grand style including a banquet and auction. I donated a calligraphy of NUNC DIMITTIS a prayer from the Gospel of Luke (2:29-ff). I have prayed it most nights before bed, but it has taken on new meaning as I face the immediacy of my own death. “Now Master, you may let your servant go in peace…for my eyes have seen your salvation which you prepared… light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel.”

Proceeds of the STA auction go entirely to assist the many service/mission/immersion experiences Saint Thomas provides for ISU students and resident parishioners. I was hoping this beautiful calligraphy might bring $200, maybe even $250 for a very worthwhile cause. When the bidding reached $2500 (yes, you read that right!) it was between two parties. One was Joe Merchant whose final bid was over $3000. He did not get the prayer! I teased him & Mary about how I gave them a free prayer book years ago and now my prayers were going for a much higher price!!

Some have inquired how my journey towards death has affected my prayer life. Initially very little. My prayer remained steadfast and focused primarily on thanksgiving and praise of God’s goodness to me and to all of us and intercession for the needs of others. As I enter the final leg of this journey I find it more difficult to pray (it is more difficult to do everything!). But remembering what Cardinal Joseph Bernadine, dying of pancreatic cancer, wrote about difficulty in praying during his final weeks, I consider myself in good company.

Many years ago as a young priest I realized there are dry periods in my prayer life. Times when neither prayers in books nor personal prayer was satisfying. At that time in my life I began to compose my own prayers. They rose from the events of my personal life and frequently used the structures of the psalms or other scripture for expression. They became my personal prayer book. When I have found it difficult to pray, sometimes my prayer book helped me express myself. I have found myself using it more and more these past several weeks.

I invite you to consider writing your prayer book. Perhaps like me you might find the motivation to do so in the dry times of your normal prayer life. To encourage you I humbly offer two prayers I wrote.

The first was on the 25th anniversary of ordination. I used the 6th & 8th chapter of Mark’s gospel as a starting point.

But Lord, I have only 2 small loaves of bread!
How do you expect me to feed all the people of STA?

Lord Jesus. You have sent many hungry people into my life.
Now you have ordained, sending me, with 2 small loaves to a people whose hunger is insatiable.

I am afraid. I am not sure I know my own hunger.
How can I begin to identify their many hungers?

I deeply care, desire to do a good job, to fulfill your calling.
But I am easily distracted and can quickly become preoccupied with my hungers.
Thus, busy gulping down my own loaf I fail to feed others.

O Divine Wisdom, it has taken me 25 years, but now I know.
If you can get me to share my 2 small loaves, then parishioners,
some with more, some with less bread than I, will share what they have.

And we will have found enough to feed us all….
and some left over to give to those who are without.

You call me to lead by example and by invitation.
I have been given some….more than I need for this day.
But do I trust enough to share, or do I horde for tomorrow, not knowing what daybreak will bring?

Jesus, pour out your Spirit of trust and of generosity that filled with the compassion you have given me, I might feed the 5,000.
(and may I always include the women & children !)

Thank you Lord, for what you have revealed to a mere infant.

Nourished on the Bread of Life, may I become strong, filled with wisdom.
May the favor of God rest upon me.

May God, who has begun the good work in me, bring it to completion.
May 21, 1996

On retreat 10 years ago, I reflected on Psalm 139 and wrote the following.

Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord.
Praise & exalt the almighty now and forever.

All creation, bless the Lord.
Sun and moon, bless the Lord.
Stars of the night, bless the Lord.
All astronomers, bless the Lord.

Every storm and shower, bless the Lord.
Snow and rain, bless the Lord.
Hurricanes and tornadoes, bless the Lord.
All meteorologists, bless the Lord.

Corn and oats, bless the Lord.
Beans and wheat, bless the Lord.
Alfalfa and clover, bless the Lord.
All farmers, bless the Lord.

All created things, bless the Lord.
Things made by human hands, bless the Lord.
Toys and tools, bless the Lord.
All designers, bless the Lord.

Cars, trains and planes, bless the Lord.
Go-carts, bikes and unicycles, bless the Lord.
Boats, subs and ships, bless the Lord.
All mechanics, bless the Lord.

Computers and laptops, bless the Lord.
Labs, research parks and virtual reality caves, bless the Lord.
I pads, kindles and GPS, bless the Lord.
All engineers, bless the Lord.

Homes and offices, bless the Lord.
Plants and showrooms, bless the Lord.
Churches and centers, bless the Lord.
All you architects, bless the Lord.

Laity, men & women of gentle heart, bless the Lord.
Priests of the Lord, bless the Lord.

All you peoples, great and small, bless the Lord.
Praise and exalt God above all forever.

Let us bless the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Praise and exalt God above all forever.
Blessed is the one from whom all good things come.
Praiseworthy and glorious and exalted above all forever.
June 2002
RevEv@SaintPatrickcf.org

P.S. Kevin Nennig has added some pictures to the PowerPoint on this site if you want to check it out. “Celebration of LIfe Jan2012

NUNC DIMITTIS

 

There was an elderly man named Simeon.   The Holy Spirit told him that he would not see death until he  set his eyes on Christ .  When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, Simeon took the child in his arms and blest God  saying : 

Now, Master, dismiss your servant in peace.   You have fulfilled your promise.  My own eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all peoples.

For the past 40 years I have prayed these words of Simeon nearly every night before going to bed.  Ten years ago  Gretchen Weber, a good friend and gifted calligrapher, inscribed these words in a gift she gave me for the anniversary of my ordination.  She artistically intertwined the English “dismiss your servant” and the Latin “nunc dimittis”.  Her calligraphy is almost as beautiful as the prayer itself.

After discovering last week that the cancer was again growing and that the end of my life was much closer, this daily prayer took on an immediacy of meaning.   I have seen the Lord working through YOUR prayers and support.  Salvation has been made manifest in the prayerful assembly of God’s holy people.   I am now ready to be dismissed from this life in peace.   I am prepared, for my eyes have seen the salvation promised us all. 

I have donated Gretchen Weber’s calligraphy to Saint Thomas Aquinas.    Having been an important part of my prayer  and spiritual life, I now want it to be a source of inspiration and spiritual growth for others.   It will be placed for auction with “Making A World of Difference”.   Thus it spiritually benefits some locally while providing financial assistance to the parish in its outreach to others in need. 

As I head down  this final leg of the journey I pray also the final verse of Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun:

 Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Happy those she finds doing your holy will.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve him with great humility.

With your support, love and prayers, I trust that I will be able to continue to do God’s holy will, humbly welcoming & embracing Sister Death.   Join with me in praising, blessing and giving thanks to the Lord.

Rev. Ev Hemann

RevEv@SaintPatrickcf.org

health update

After  the CAT scan on Thursday, we know that the chemo I have been receiving for 8 months is no longer effective.  The tumors in both the pancreas and liver have increased in size.  There are new lesions in the lungs.
 
We expected this.  The chemo was not a cure but did extend my quality of life time greatly.  That is the miracle YOU prayed for and it happened.  Your prayers, cards, gifts, food, support in so many ways enabled me to respond so positively to treatment.  More than I could have ever have hoped for.  Truly you were a servant to me in my illness.  I am thankful.
 
Now I have turned on to a different road.  I presume the downward slope is steeper  and it will be shorter.  But I hope that the ratio of good/bad days (because of chemo) will be better. 
 
I thank you for traveling with me thus far.  I head down this part of the journey confident of your continued love and prayer filled support.  You are wonderful for you have been and continue to be an incredible witness of a God who is good to us and present with us. 
 
With love,
 
Rev. Ev Hemann

Des Moines Register opinion

The following piece appeared on the opinion page of the November 6, 2011  Des Moines Register

                                          What dying has taught me about Living

I have fatal pancreatic cancer.  I am dying.  You are dying as well.  The difference is that my date is more imminent.   That changes how I reflect on my life.

One of my earliest memories is of a neighbor losing his hand in the corn picker.  It was Halloween.  The sight of him with a hook on his stub arm was frightening.  But what I most remember is my father delaying the harvest of our corn to organize and join other farmers in picking this neighbor’s corn.   

My family and community taught me that my life and talents were not just for myself but to serve and assist others.  The abilities we develop are not just for our selves, but to be used in service of others.   This value was important in college as I faced the question of the purpose of my life.  I always had an interest in aviation and wanted to become an aerospace engineer.    Soon however I realized my talents and gifts could more effectively be used to serve others in ministry.  I headed to seminary and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1971. 

In the seven months since diagnoses I have seen more clearly the purpose of my life, and the purpose of my “untimely” death.   They are tied to lessons learned from childhood.  Even in dying I am called to serve others in teaching how to live.

I have been a teacher and a preacher all of my adult life.  My mission, simply stated, was and is to teach and assist others in discovering the good news of how to live life fully.  The core of the Christian gospel is hope:  through suffering, even through death, there is meaning.   

Dying focused my life into a few months.  With all due regard for Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, I did not enter into denial, anger or bargaining with God.  I accepted this diagnosis and fatal prognosis as but one more way to help me and others see that dying can be a time of growing.   It appears that I have more profoundly inspired people than I ever thought possible.   Many have told me that my openness in embracing this tragedy has helped them to address the problems and tragedies of their lives. 

My life appears to be cut short.  But I have had 66 wonderful years.  I have been blest in more ways than I deserve.  I do not have a right to complain or to be angry.  The outpouring of friends and former students has turned this evil we call death into a blessing.   People I do not know have told me that I have given them courage to continue struggling with issues that restrict their lives.  As I realize how much I have received in this life I am determined to use those gifts as best I can for as long as I can. 

I see more clearly how death is intimately tied to how we live every day of our lives.  When I discovered I would die shortly, it was important for me to continue preaching and pastoring, because now, more than ever before, I could be an instrument of hope and possibly even an inspiration.  By accepting and embracing this ultimate challenge as best I can, I have witnessed and encouraged others to accept and embrace whatever difficulties are in their lives today.   Sharing the dying experience has confirmed that TOGETHER we can live life more fully. Together we strengthen each other. 

In sharing my experience I hope that I have encouraged you to continue growing in your commitment to loving service of others.  As a priest I have observed many for whom death was an unwelcome enemy.  Frequently it was because they lived only for themselves.  And now they faced death by themselves, even though others were physically around them.  Many others bravely faced death surrounded by the people whom they had loved and served.  They had shared much in life and now they were sharing the dying experience with loved ones.  

I am blest with a loving family, many friends, and the support of many whom I have served.  In life we have shared much, and now share the experience of dying.  It has been a positive journey for me and for others.    The value of this shared experience is like the pearl of great price—once discovered, one gives all that one has in order to possess it.

It is in dying that we are born into eternal life.       Saint Francis of Assisi

Everett Hemann was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in April.  He recently retired as pastor of Saint Patrick parish in Cedar Falls. 

Ordinary Time

Simply stated the Church liturgical year is Advent-Christmas, followed by ORDINARY TIME and then Lent-Easter. We all know the 12 days of Christmas and the 50 days of the Easter season. The birth of Jesus and his death-resurrection are both too big to celebrate in one day. The in-between period between these two great events is ordinary time. Ordinary time is lower key, a waiting and quiet anticipating the next great celebration as we go about doing what needs to done today.

I see a parallel in the last 7 months of my life to the rhythm of the liturgical year. Discovering terminal cancer, informing people and getting their response was something like Advent-Christmas. It was way too big to do in a day or even in a few weeks. People’s discovery of my situation and their initial response went on for over two months.

As I communicated with and entertained people in those first few months, I assumed for most of them it would be my last contact with them. Statistically stage IV pancreatic cancer does not permit its victim a very long life.
However as I moved through the end of summer and beginning of the fall I realized that there was going to be this in-between period. I am in “ordinary time”. It is more a time of waiting and anticipating the next great event: my birth into eternal life.

To be honest, with the first 2 or 3 friends that I had tearfully said “goodbye” to and now they were back, I felt somewhat awkward. But they quickly pointed out that this was blessing, another grace from God in our relationship.

So I am in ORDINARY TIME. Waiting, quietly anticipating my Easter which is the fullness of our faith. As I slowly begin to physically decrease I think I understand a little more this Paschal Mystery of death to new life. When this “dying to self” becomes physical, it creates a new level of experience and understanding.

In speaking or preaching about ordinary time I always pointed out there is nothing “ordinary” about ordinary time. Jesus has taken our humanity and has offered us a share in his divinity. He has already given his life for us. It is an extraordinary time of living already what is yet to be! (Ok spend some time thinking about THAT!)

There is nothing ordinary about this period in my living, in my dying. God’s holy people supporting me and sharing life with me has been a powerful experience of the Communion of Saints. The grace (presence) of God strongly sustaining me is an almost overwhelming experience of grace. God’s purifying love for ME never known so intensely! This is an extraordinary time for me.

Recently someone inquired if, after my death they could ask me to intercede on their behalf. Jokingly I said the request made an assumption of WHERE I would be. Then I told her she did not have to wait until my death to ask for my intercession. A former spiritual director of mine, after hearing of my plight asked me to pray for a specific intention. He observed that my prayers are more powerful now that I am fully and consciously immersed into the Paschal Mystery. I agree. I am not sure I have ever felt closer to the Lord.

There is an ancient Advent prayer Maranatha usually translated as Come Lord, Come.  As I await my Easter, it has become my prayer in ordinary time:  COME LORD JESUS, COME !

Ev Hemann
RevEv@SaintPatrickcf.org

I understand some people have left messages for me on Facebook. I have not checked FB for several months.

“Its Been a Great Flight”

Ordained in 1971,  this summer  marked 40 years of ordained ministry for me.  A dear friend, Les Omotani has produced a book commemorating those forty years of ministry.    The link below  allows you to preview the book, and order a personal copy (copies) of: It’s Been A Great Flight  

You can order the book online with either a hardcover or a softcover.  There are a few hardcover books still available at my office. 

http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2332894   

Tuesday night, I will present an adult education class, sharing something of “dying with the grace of God.”   You can assist me, if you would share a question or comment on WHAT you would like me to address.   Send it to: RevEv@SaintPatrickcf.org

Regarding communications, I do NOT read/post on Facebook.  I understand some have commented/tagged pictures, etc.  I thank you.   I welcome communication from you, but suggest you use the email address above.