A Package Deal


As an Orthodox parish priest I've seen lots of deaths. The hardest was the death of a two-year-old. Older people, especially the elderly, were often resigned and even, sometimes in complex ways, looked forward to a moment when, some of them said, they would be reunited with people they loved. There were others who were more agnostic about their expectations, barely holding on to their faith, but not at all despairing. I had become friends with a few, over years of serving the parish. Others were more distant—people whose family called for a priest toward the end, after years of distance from the church.

The death of a friend you've known for years is different, more like a death in the family. The years you've known each other mean that somehow your own life is reflected in their dying, and in their life and death you sense your own mortality more keenly.

A friend died recently. I had known Tom Bernard since we were in high school. He had come close to death before, as a young man, and it gave him an appetite for the whole of life that was unusual and profound.

Not long out of college Tom was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. At the time the treatment involved total irradiation of the lymph nodes, from neck to groin, and for almost five years Tom was in remission. Then the Hodgkin's returned, and this time he was treated with exhausting and debilitating chemotherapy.


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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.