In his 1995 book Let Someone Hold You: The Journey of a Hospice Priest, Roman Catholic Priest Paul F. Morrissey tells his encounters with a dozen terminally ill patients in their final days and hours.The acclaimed book is the winner of both the Christopher Award as well as the Catholic Book AwardWhile working with a hospice care service, he tells the stories of the dying patients as well as the evolution of his own view of death and dying. His compassion reaches out across all cultural and income lines, and in doing so presents a picture that death is not selective about our station in life. Death affects all ages, races, and nationalities and Morrissey’s book highlights the need to care for all these people with an open mind and open heart.In his meetings with the dying victims, he is forced to travel repeatedly to the inner city slums and confront the drug-laden areas of Manhattan. Here he meets with them in the privacy of their homes, meeting and talking to family members often with the aid of an interpreter. The language barrier he encounters is in addition to the religious differences of the people he meets with. Morrissey tells the story of the different ways that religion, age, and gender deal with death. As he meets with each of these people and their families we are reminded of how much the caregiver grows through this experience. Death knows no boundaries and is a universal process that we all must face on a daily basis.Father Morrissey also takes us into the culture of several ethnic groups and illuminates their view of death. The book begins with the story of Isha an Ethiopian woman struggling with terminal cancer. In the story, he tells of Isha’s pain and the telling sign that morphine is viewed as the "…end of the line, the sign that they are so far gone it doesn’t matter if they are drugged into a stupor as long as it stops the pain" (5). This sets the stage and the backdrop for the theme of the book that death for a terminal patient is painful. It is physically tormenting and emotionally excruciating. Father Morrissey works to alleviate this suffering through prayer and counsel with each one as an individual.
One of the most important lessons learned from the book is that death is not an event, but a process. As such, the caregiver needs to give it constant attention and care. Morrissey is able to show the reader that people need to be able to accept and prepare for their death, not view it as a single event to be feared or avoided. Death must be confronted with one’s own language and through one’s own culture. As Morrissey demonstrates, everyone can have their own unique way of dealing with death. He tells the story of a patient with terminal AIDS named Pedro. The rite of anointing with oil has spiritually uplifted Pedro. He has accepted his death and is preparing his spirit for the process of dying.
The book also reminds us that death does not discriminate by income, and money has little to do with alleviating the suffering. The subjects in Morrissey’s book all face the same death and all require the same peace and dignity with it. Yet, this dignity and peace may come in differing forms. Father Morrissey illustrates the different means to alleviate suffering by reading a Bible passage or making light conversation. In the case of Elmo, comic books and superheroes were able to elevate his spirit above his wheelchair bound material world.
Most of all the book is a reminder that death affects the living as much as it does the dying. Father Morrissey grows as he tells the stories and becomes ever more involved with his patients. He grows to understand death and in telling his story the reader is able to glean an inkling of the subject. The death of Morrissey’s mother serves to frame the subject and is the foundation for his ongoing quest to confront the topic.
In conclusion, the book is a testimony to a man that has dedicated his life to comforting those that are in the greatest need. The needs