Remember those in prison as if you were bound with them (Hebrews 13:3)

I was very moved this week by a story I read in the news.  Discovered only last week, tucked between the pages of a Bible owned by Dorothy Day, was a handwritten note by St Teresa of Calcutta to Dorothy Day.   It said these words:

“If you go to Jesus, first, tell him I love him.
If I go, I will tell him you love him.”

It reminded me of an incident that happened during the height of the Covid restrictions, when I was keeping vigil at the bedside of a woman (we’ll call her Rose) who was in her last hours of life.  Rose’s family were interstate and were not going to be present, but had asked that their mother not be left alone.  A few of us had taken turns to sit with her.  I arrived to sit with Rose, and had with me a pile of books and papers.  This pile included a letter that I was writing to a prisoner with whom I have continued to correspond for years since my prison chaplaincy days, and who was on my mind.

Rose’s eyes were closed and she lay motionless on the bed.  The time passed, with me holding her hand.  There were moments of silence, but I also talked to Rose about her life – the stories that I knew about her and could remember.  I then found myself talking about my own life as a prison chaplain, and how this one prisoner (whose letter I was carrying) had made an impression on me.  How before meeting him, I don’t know that I had ever really, fully, appreciated just how hard and terrible life is for some people…

I had been with Rose for more than an hour, when I felt moved to say the Aaronic blessing.  I started the words: “the Lord bless you…”  Rose unexpectedly moved her head towards me.  I continued the prayer.  As I spoke the last words “… and give you peace,” Rose died.

Rose had not been left alone in her final hours, and the last words she heard were words of blessing.  And her final hours had been filled with respectful, gentle silence, but also stories of her younger years – the places seen, the family tree that she had planted.  I was glad for all that.

But privately I lamented that I had introduced any talk of my concern for that prisoner into Rose’s last hour.

Sometime later, I shared my concern with a friend.  After a minute, he said, “Maybe it’s actually for the best Olly.  You’ve been praying for this guy for so long, and now Rose has been called home, and the first thing she can say to Jesus is: ‘there’s this guy down there in prison who really needs your help…’”

Like St Teresa says,
“if you go to Jesus, first, tell him I love him…”

I might add,
And tell him too, that there are some folks down here who need him.”