My first conversation with Fr. John Schwarz was a few weeks ago when I began my work at the Jesuit infirmary. The weather was warm, and he wanted to go outside. We talked about all sorts of things: the current Wimbledon tournament, his time as a history professor at Seattle University, where I was from and how I entered the Jesuits, etc. Fr. John was easy to talk to and had a great sense of humor. I could just feel the warmness of his heart and the generosity of his spirit. At that time, I never would have suspected that he would soon be drawing near towards death.
About a week ago, Fr. John was taken to the emergency room, and I ended up spending a few hours with him there, relieving my other Jesuit brother who was intially with him, Cormac. When I had arrived, he seemed to be doing alright and was in relatively good spirits, considering the circumstances. We shared a few laughs, talked some time about spiritual matters, etc. It was late at night, so I would sometimes just watch him fall asleep and notice the rhythm to his breathing and the jagged mountains they made on the computer screen nearby. I took him back to the infirmary later that night, assuming he would get better.
That has not be the case, however. I noticed throughout this week a stark decline in his health and his ability to converse and could not help but juxtapose that past image of Fr. John outside on that warm day to the present image of him before me.
Today, when I visited him, I broke out into tears a few minutes after I had entered his room. I saw him and thought: "oh my God, he's dying..." I did not expect, nor was I prepared, to see him in his fragile state and to witness the people who were at his side, comforting him and praying over him. It hadn't entered my mind that today may be the last day I see him alive. My other Jesuit brother, Jason, and I sat at his side, as a result, for much of today--Jason moreso than me. He had brought in his laptop to offer some comforting music to listen to.
It is an experience to sit with someone for much of the day as they labor to breathe. I couldn't help but wonder what was going on in his mind. Was he afraid? Was he peaceful? What was it like to have scores of people come to your side, offering their words and comfort in their own way? There's a part of me that wondered if he just wanted to hear a good joke.
In many ways, my time with him today was a real gift to me. The staff who care for him are superb, and I have been able to witness the hard work that they put in day in and day out for him. I could see the real love and concern they have for Fr. John, and their openness to delve into the dirtiness of assisted living. I was able to see the number of Jesuits who came to visit him today, to offer him a blessing, to pray words of comfort, to hold his hand and tell him he was loved. In the midst of death, great beauty can spring forth.
Thankfully, Fr. John's family was able to fly up to see him, and they are currently with him, giving me time to decompress from the day, to rest, and to reflect back. I'm not sure if Fr. John will be alive the next time I see him, but please keep him and all of those close to death in your prayers.
May God's light perpetually shine upon him. Amen