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World Day of the Sick 2024

The recent sudden illness of our Sister Rosemary Jackson brought many of us to the John Hunter Hospital to companion her in her final days. Rosemary suffered a stroke on 14 January and did not regain consciousness. In the eleven days till her death, we witnessed and were moved by the remarkable atmosphere of loving, reverent care in the hospital. It was like ‘Lourdes at the John Hunter’.

After his diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease, St John Paul 11 established the World Day for the Sick on the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February, to pray for the sick and their carers. As this day approaches in 2024, images keep coming of the recent experience at John Hunter Hospital.

Following diagnosis, Rosemary was given the one available single room, a room in the orthopaedic ward. Here Rosemary received palliative care under the direction of the Palliative Care staff. Her room on the third floor became a place of pilgrimage till her death on the morning of Australia Day.

Images of Lourdes

Every day, Sisters came and went through the ward corridor to Rosemary on the far side from the entrance. It was a two-way procession from morning till evening.  Smiles, nods of acknowledgement were shared along the way, as Sisters passed by orthopaedic patients and staff, all concentrating on their own purposes. Lourdes: processions.

In Rosemary’s room, many Rosaries were quietly prayed. There was quiet sharing and much silence. The nurses slipped in and out, a mobile presence with loving attentiveness, gentle words and practical caring. In the nurses and Rosemary’s Josephite Sisters, there was peacefulness, anticipation.  Lourdes: peacefulness, unity.

From its high vantage point, Rosemary’s room gave a clear view of the foundations of vast hospital extensions. Dozens of men were at work on the cement base, ensuring all was perfectly smooth, ready for the next stage. The stability and endurability of the building to follow would depend on the foundations.  In Rosemary’s room we witnessed loving care based on the unshakable foundation of the sacredness of human life, recognised and respected in the sick person. Lourdes: the foundation of the sacredness of human life, worthy of care and love in sickness and helplessness. Human life: seed of eternity, foundation for a life to come.

The young nurse, perhaps the youngest on the staff, with gentle, unaffected tenderness, combing Rose’s hair, talking to ‘Rosie’ as if one her own family, and, a day or so later, coming to the Sisters in the room after Rosemary’s death to offer sympathy. Lourdes: the presence of God. Healing love.

If one happened to pass through the downstairs entrance and corridor at the same time as a child who had recent chemotherapy walking with his adult companion (it seemed to be his Dad), one witnessed life and love that was stronger and deeper than physical illness and suffering. Joy radiated from the slim, pale boy, who had total hair loss, skipping along, smiling and chatting. One day he was leaping and twirling, glancing up to his Dad, meeting his gaze of delight. Bond of love. Love conquers all things, even death itself.

Our Lady of Lourdes, bless all struggling in illness and those caring for them.

  Jan Tranter rsj