By Father Peter J. Daly
Parish Diary

When someone is dying, drop what you are doing and go see that person. I learned that lesson a decade ago when a priest friend was dying in Kansas City. The nun at the nursing home where Monsignor was living called and said he wanted to see me. I said that I would come the next month. He died the next week. I regretted it ever since. {{more}}

This Palm Sunday weekend, I got a call from Beatrice, the wife of my dear friend Ed Noriega. She said that Ed was dying and that he wanted to talk to me.

She put him on the phone. He was very weak.

“Hi, Father,” he whispered.

“Hang in there, Ed,” I said. “I’ll get down there to Texas to see you right after Easter.”

Bea came back on the phone. “I don’t think he will last more than a few days,” she said. “I talked to my doctor. He said, ‘It won’t be long.'”

Ed had stopped eating. His lungs were taking on fluid.

The next day I was on a plane from Washington, D.C., to Brownsville, Texas. It was a real experience of the passion during Holy Week.

Ed has been a good friend. Sixteen years ago, when I first came to St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Prince Frederick, Md., he volunteered to do our maintenance. We ate lunch together most days. He also helped me to put together a funeral team. We did well over 150 funerals together.

Ed was at every men’s club meeting and Knights of Columbus event. When the Latino community started to grow in our area, he helped us with the Spanish-language liturgy. He translated for the migrant workers. He corrected my Spanish. We made a trip together to Mexico to establish our sister parish relationship in Hidalgo.

Ed is a good man; not a perfect man, but a good man. Like any pastor, I know the light and the shadow.

But I also know that Ed is as much a member of my family as any blood relative.

We were very different: He was 20 years older than me and from a border town in South Texas. His mother spoke only Spanish. He also was a military man. For him, the Air Force was his ticket out.

I was from Chicago, an ethnic urbanite. My family is Irish and German, city people from the frozen North. For me, the Church was my ticket out.

Despite our differences, we shared the faith, and we became pals. We traveled together to Israel, Italy, Turkey and Greece. We made day trips to Philadelphia on parish business. We went down to the beach on days off.

Two years ago, Ed moved home to Texas. Nobody said so at the time, but we knew he was going there to die. We talked on the phone, but Ed never liked talking about his health. Instead, we talked about happy memories. We laughed a lot.

Another parishioner, George Sullivan, joined me in Texas on this last trip. George and Ed have worked together on many projects. They also shared a love of cigars, fine scotch and an appreciation of the feminine form.

As we were leaving Ed’s house to fly back home, I said, “Adios amigo, goodbye old friend. I will see you in heaven. Hold the door open for me. I’m right behind you.”

Ed cried.

George leaned over and said, “We have to work out some kind of signal, so you can tell me whether or not the women wear any clothes in heaven.”

Ed laughed.

The tears and the laughter were the best medicine for the three of us.

If somebody calls and says a friend is dying, go.

Father Peter J. Daly is author of the “Parish Diary” column for Catholic News Service. He writes on church life from his parish, St. John Vianney in Prince Frederick, Md.