Monday, August 01, 2005

The Tap on the Shoulder - A Memorial to Rick Hoecker

It was one of those requests for a 6 a.m. visit before surgery. Some of these can be strange, like the man who didn't want prayer but just a witness as he changed his will and wrote it on a napkin.

This request was a bit unusual. They wanted me to walk with the patient from his room to surgery. After our short conversation and prayer the attendant began moving the bed toward the door. When it was almost to the door I reached out to Maria, the patient Rick's wife, and said, "Here is a prayer by Thomas Merton I often pass out to patients.

She glanced at the prayer, then her husband Rick began to cry. Maria said, "last night before he went to sleep he said I wish I had that prayer by Thomas Merton." Tears came to my eyes then. I knew something special was going on.


My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact
that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you. And I hope I have
that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart
from that desire. And I know that if I do
this you will lead me by the right road
though I may seem to be lost and in the
shadow of death. I will not fear, for you
will never leave me to face my perils alone.

From Thoughts in Solitude


Rick held the prayer in his hand during the surgery. The report after surgery was dismal. This young man and his wife, both recent graduates of Sewanee Divinity School, with an 8 year old daughter, Chloe, and 5 year old son, Maxx, were soon to be fatherless.

I can't tell the blessings I received during those last weeks of Rick's life. He was here for 5 weeks. Daily there were the prayers, the Merton chats, the moments of silence when the pain was deafening. The times I couldn't pray very well because my own tears got in the way.

Rick improved enough to go back to Sewanee for a couple of weeks. I
participated in his and Maria's ordination service. Surrounded by robed friends it was one of the most memorable religious services in my life. They were ordained and God's presence was there.

It was a hopeful time, possibly he might live for a couple of years. They would soon be moving to North Carolina where Maria would be an associate priest at a parish. Rick was already planning a book about his experience.

Two weeks later Rick was back in the hospital. The doctor sat on the bed and in hushed tones said, "2 to 3 weeks is all that is left." For hours after that I would glance through the window and see Maria and Rick hand in hand talking.

A day or so later they moved him to the Alive Residence. Rick was enjoying drinking coffee through his feeding tube, or Popsicles ! His taste buds were active. Time was slowing running out. But each day there were prayers and friends and family.

On a Thursday night his friends from Sewanee came to have the eucharist. His pastor, the campus minister, his children, his in-laws. His son Maxx sat on the bed beside his Dad. Everyone said what they were thankful for in Rick’s life and each shared something meaningful. Maxx said he would miss his Dad. Rick closed the time by sharing Merton’s prayer.

Susanna Metz went back to Sewanee and preached a sermon about Rick and the prayer. She compared Merton and Solomon and Rick. She says in her sermon:

"God is pleased that Solomon, as he faces a new phase of his life, acknowledges his dependence on God and trusts God. Merton put its: "I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death." But that’s all well and good for Solomon----it’s all well and good for Merton. They’re two very famous men----could we compare outselves to either? I’m watching my student prepare for death with incredible courage and I say to myself, “Where did he get this? For heaven’s sake, I was his teacher and I wonder if I’d have anywhere near his trust in God’s care." I don’t know, but that’s where Scripture and prayer and the example of others really help."

I went to see Rick several times. Each day he grew weaker, but still very peaceful. One day I was talking to him and he seemed to transpose earth and enter this side of heaven. He said, “Someone is tapping me on the shoulder." Another time he said, "I never realized all the possibilities there would be in heaven.”

On Thursday night, July 28th I was with Maria for a couple of hours. Rick could only shed a tear now and then, or move his eyebrows. I read from the Psalms and Maria lay her head on his arm.

Maria shared what a blessing the Doctors had been here, the staff, those who helped with the journey. A friend Donna had come from Michigan to be with her. Everyone else had left. About the time the friend got back I left. At 8:37 p.m. Rick died. He is at peace !



At 4:43 PM, Blogger Holly said...

Thanks for posting a world where death is so often senseless and meaningless, it's as heartening as it is sad to read a story about dignity and peace as someone passes into the next life.

At 8:03 PM, Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Holly thanks for the nice remarks. I appreciate them.

At 10:25 PM, Anonymous ida said...

I Knew Rick Hoecker He Was My School Teacher In
Atchison, Kansas My Name Is Ida I Will Miss Him. Please Give My
Condolences To His Family. God Bless You.

At 8:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a friend and fellow classmate of the Hoecker's. I too was at their oridnation-my first act as a priest, ordained only 5 days before. They were the true priests there that evening. I just returned from Sewanee and Rick's memorial service. Word's cannot express what this couple have given to their friends in their faithful witness to the love and compassion of Jesus Christ in sharing their difficult journey. I am privileged to call them my friends. Thank-you too for sharing some of your stories of your walk alongside them. God bless you in your ministry.
Doris Westfall

At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this wonderful glimpse of Rick's last days. I am a friend of parishoners at ST. Philip's and have, at their behest, been praying for this little family. What a joy to hear all this

At 3:35 PM, Blogger Kurt Schlanker said...

Dan, Thank you so much for your postings and your friendship with Rick and Maria. The Hoeckers were the first friends that I made when I moved to Atchison 14 years ago. Rick, Maria and I taught together, and did plays at the local community theater together. It was the example of Rick and Maria, along with the intercession of Christ, that caused me to walk into the doors of Trinity Episcopal Church in Atchison, after many years as a hard core (some would probably say hard headed) atheist. Rick was a sponsor at my baptism 8 years ago. I am grateful that he was a part of my life and was my friend. He was supposed to be a groomsman in my wedding in June, but was too ill to attend. I carried a picture of Rick, Maria, Chloe, and Max in my tux pocket. I know they were there. A week before he passed, I got to talk to him and tell him that I loved him (I do not believe in saying goodbye, as I don't think our loved ones truly leave us). Rick told me he loved me. Rick was a dear, true friend, and my life has been enriched by knowing him.
-Kurt Schlanker

At 12:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you. Bless you.

At 5:52 PM, Blogger Stacey said...

Thanks so much for sharing this story, and the Merton poem. I'm a new pastor, and recently I've been spending much time with a congregant who has terminal cancer - my first such experience. Your words gave shape to many of my thoughts, and direction to the pastoral care I am trying to give in this situation. Again, thank you.

At 9:16 AM, Blogger mark said...

Thank you for taking me to a place where reality is central.

At 8:46 AM, Anonymous pinktulip said...

Dear dan,
sometimes the final moments are ones that are the most significant gifts in an individuals life. thomas' words resonate with a humble, clear honesty that can lead us all in the path of the hero. your story tells us of the most heroic moments of a man's life. Rick faced his death with dignity and courage, touching the hearts of many. thanks for sharing the moments...j.n.b.

At 1:29 AM, Blogger Mark Cameron said...

Thank you Dan, Thomas, Solomon, Chloe, Maxx, Maria, and Rick
for the reminder that we are never alone. I think isolation is a huge fear for people. Knowing God is always with us in this life and the next is a deep consultation, being in the presence of loved ones as one passes on is a great gift.

I pray that I never loose sight of the fact that I am never alone.



Post a Comment

<< Home