In a small town, everybody knows everybody. But there are all different kinds of knowing. I knew Frankie because we went to high school together and occasionally he did my hair. But my bestie Sharon, she really knew Frankie. They called each other almost every day, shared bad times and good times together, went out for breakfast after the bars closed, and had a thousand inside jokes from twenty-some years of friendship. So when Sharon told me last Sunday that Frankie had had a major stroke and was not expected to live, I hurt more for Sharon than for myself. I remember all too well what it's like to lose your best guy friend. We went out to supper Sunday night and ate nachos together teary-eyed while I said the only thing I could think to say: "Girl, I know just how you feel." Frankie lingered between life and death for a couple of days while our hopes raised and fell and we felt increasingly helpless. I ought to do something, I thought, something to make her feel better. On the way to Taco Night Tuesday evening I suddenly turned my car around and called Sharon.
"Let's go over to the Catholic Church and light a candle for Frankie," I said.
"We're not Catholic, though," she said, "but Frankie is. Let's go."
So I picked her up and us two Protestants tiptoed into the Catholic Church. I had this idea that we'd go in there, light a candle for him, say a quick prayer, and be gone. But God and Father Hansen had other plans for us. We didn't notice until we were in the door that the priest was sitting alone in the back of the church.
"Um, hi," I said. "We have a friend who is, um, dying and we thought we might light a candle for him. Is that okay? We're not Catholic and I don't really know what the rules are."
He smiled kindly. "There are no 'rules' against a Protestant lighting a candle for a friend. Come down to the front of the church and I'll help you." His long black robes made a soft shushing sound as he walked us to the front of the church. "Is there truly no hope?" he asked. Sharon explained sadly that there was not, and then he said the Prayer of Saint Joseph for us, explaining that Joseph is the saint of a happy death. As we repeated "Pray for him" after each of the Father's intonations, I saw some of the worry and fear go out of Sharon's face. "Thank you very much for that, Father," she said. On the way out of the church, Father Hansen paused us at the door. "Do you know what the Last Rites are?" he asked. We did not. He beckoned us back into the Church and explained them to us, reading a part of them as he did so. Again, Sharon and I thanked him. He assured us we could come again whenever we wanted to pray with him.
We walked out to my car and, out of habit, checked our cell phones. Both of us had the same text message from a friend: "Frankie passed at 6:36 p.m. tonight," it read. Our eyes met. At 6:36 p.m. we were saying the Prayer of St. Joseph with the priest. Sharon said softly, "God puts us where we need to be." That He does, indeed.