Sunday, May 01, 2005

Martin Palomares, R.I.P.
Well, it has been an emotionally challenging past few days and this is only the build-up. I was enjoying my time off last week, spending it with family in Oklahoma City and doing some errands, when I got a call early Friday morning about a young parishioner, Martin Palomares. I was told he was in Pediatric ICU in Oklahoma City and that he was dying.

It was very Providential that I was already in Oklahoma City (more than four hours away from the parish) because it allowed me to minister to this boy and his family (though his mother doesn't speak any English and I don't speak near enough Spanish to deal with this tragedy). Had I been in my parish, I doubt I would have been able to make the long drive down to OKC. When I got to the hospital, Martin was all but dead. The only functions being maintained by his brain were his heart and erratic gasps for air. Apparently young Martin had been on a field trip to OKC with some of his 8th Grade classmates. The story is sketchy, but the bottom line is that it seems a group of boys went to the swimming pool at the hotel where they were staying (without waiting for an adult sponsor) and somehow Martin drowned. When it was finally discovered that he was missing, he had been underwater for more than 30 minutes. The paramedics weren't able to re-establish a pulse and beating heart until just before they arrived at the hospital.

Martin was a good boy who had to take on maturity past his years. His father is in Mexico and only he, his mother and younger sister lived in Oklahoma. His mother speaks no English and so Martin was really her ears and mouth in this culture. He had to be more responsible, I would guess, than most other boys at 14 years of age. The last many days, Martin and his mother and sister attended our various novenas mourning John Paul II and praying for the Conclave and Pope Benedict. I gave Martin his First Holy Communion on April 23 (yes, he was rather late in making that) and I guess that was the only Holy Communion he ever received.

When I arrived at the hospital on Friday, Martin had already been anointed by a priest on-call. However, as his pastor, I discovered that he had never been confirmed. So, I confirmed him on his death bed (giving him the name John Paul), gave him absolution, and the Apostolic Pardon. I prayed the Rosary at his bed side and simply tried to put my arm around his mother (I can't say much of anything to her in Spanish). She is rightly hysterical. He died Friday afternoon. His funeral will be Wednesday. I was most grateful that one of our Religious Sisters had accompanied Martin's family to Oklahoma City -- that helped provide more of a presence and someone who can speak Spanish. In addition, another parishioner came down along with Martin's Junior High Principal. Also, I should express my thanks to Father Tharp. After seeing Martin, I called Fr. Tharp up and asked him to begin praying for Martin using the prayer he (Fr. Tharp) has written for the canonization of Pope John Paul. I suppose we will not know how those prayers assisted Martin until we all meet (hopefully) in the glory of Heaven.

I just have this sick-sad feeling about this boy's death. It is such a tragedy and I just don't understand how it came about. Martin didn't know how to swim and so I wonder what he was doing near that pool, when he had apparently stayed away from it on previous school trips. How did this transpire? I am sick for his mother who feels very isolated now. I am sick for the promise of a young boy's life that, at least to our worldly eyes, seems unfulfilled. I am sick at the thought of the fear and struggle in his final moments of conscious life. And I guess there is a serious dose of cognitive dissonance because child and death are not realities that seem to go together. Just days before, he had been dressed up for his First Holy Communion. We had posed for pictures and talked about the new Pope. He had been kneeling behind me in the church as I led the group in the Rosary. And now... I guess it is a shepherd's broken heart. It is a not-so-welcome reminder that the priest is a spiritual father and the loss of a spiritual child, and particularly one who is a child, is a pain that is part of life. And I guess that doesn't even come close to the pain of a physical father who loses a child, or does it? Whatever the case, it is my pain.

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