Homebound and Homeward Bound: The Heart of a Eucharistic Minister Living With Terminal Cancer

When doors are locked and keys are taken away, those homebound can still bask in the Real Presence and unite in a most intimate, incarnational way with our dear Jesus.

As converts to the faith, I don’t think my dad and I ever thought the Eucharist would carry so much meaning in our lives.
As converts to the faith, I don’t think my dad and I ever thought the Eucharist would carry so much meaning in our lives. (photo: Shutterstock/Unsplash)

As we shuffle into Mass and pick out the closest pew to the front, my dad is always quick to remind us that we need to follow him out after Communion. After processing down with Annabelle’s arms folded across her chest “like a butterfly,” as I always say, we wait for fellow Catholics to go up and receive the Host, kneeling and praying, but always expectedly waiting for my dad’s cue. 

After securing his pyx with the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we trail behind him back to the car to swiftly deliver Eucharistic nourishment to a man who has been homebound for at least a year, if not longer. 

“Would you like to come in?” his family asks. My daughter and I meet his loving family. Having a toddler affords such wonderful opportunities for moments like these. A smile brightens the man’s face as my daughter bounds in, looking at the Bonnet Shores in the distance and running her hand across pillows decorated with cat images. We greet Don, holding his hand for just a second longer as it becomes plaintively clear in these moments how isolating the world can become to those unable to leave their residence. 

We bow our heads and pray as my dad leads, as Don prepares himself to receive Communion — as he watches my daughter playing with the magnetic tiles the family put out for her; her vibrant joy uplifts all in the room.

We spent Father’s Day with Don and his family — that’s how close you become to souls when you are an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion— another truly beautiful aspect of the Catholic Church; these friendships are formed on faithful foundations and meet the dire needs of those who believe, like Don, the patriarch, so happy to be in the home he shared with his wife and children. 

The last day I saw Don, he mentioned to my dad that he was eager to ask his dearly departed wife one day why she left him so soon, a question, of course, only God knows the answer to. And I know it’s a thought my dad often has, since losing my mother six years ago this September. 

But that Sunday just a few weeks ago was different; my dad was too busy thinking about driving to Boston the next day for another cancer treatment to consider the gravity of Don’s sentiment. I wanted to jump in and ask all the questions surfacing in my mind about his wife and their marriage — about their children and their life in Rhode Island — but I didn’t. I wanted to say something on behalf of my dad, who has terminal cancer and will eventually be homebound himself. 

It’s a feeling that I contemplate; it weighs heavily on my hurting heart at times: not only the fact of losing my dad, and Annabelle, her grandpa. These quiet moments at Don’s house prompt thoughts of how he has already lost his wife and many of those so-called privileges — driving, taking a walk; even summoning the strength to get the mail takes effort. My dad just stopped driving a couple of weeks ago, as a new drug he is on makes patients prone to “brain fog,” and he can no longer remember where he is going. It is not lost on my dad that, one day, he will not be able to make these visits. But for now, this truly divine privilege we have as Catholics to carry life-giving Bread to those most in need is still within his grasp. And everything else pales in comparison. 

As converts to the faith, I don’t think my dad and I ever thought the Eucharist would carry so much meaning in our lives. It was during my days of undergrad, studying Aquinas, that I began to question my own nondenominational, faith. But they are the roots of a fierce Christian faith that only grew because of my dad’s indefatigable desire to foster such a belief. After my Medieval philosophy class, I would literally spend a good 90 minutes on the phone with my dad, poring over the latest question we had read that day: Does God exist? Are angels corporeal beings? — all stemming from the genius thoughts of the great doctor of the Church offers us. 

Those conversations led not only myself to convert, but my dad, as well. Father Walsh at Our Lady of Grace mentioned, on my dad’s confirmation day, the way he lingered on every page of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to know the treasury of truth fully, in mind and heart. 

One day my dad will be confined, as our family busily works around him to make everything comfortable and nice, and we will soak up these moments as grace-filled opportunities for familial fellowship and charity. 

And the sacraments will keep my dad — and us — bolstered in faith. 

Regardless of how sick or confined a family member becomes, lifesaving sacraments should always be available: a priest to visit, to offer confession and other vital remedies that befit the soul; and, at least on Sundays, a Eucharistic minister to deliver our Eucharistic Lord.

That is my prayer for my dear father, a man most humble and devout — that the sacramental life will keep his eyes on Christ our hope, through whatever comes next. 

When doors are locked and keys are taken away, the homebound can still bask in the Real Presence and unite in a most intimate, incarnational way with our dear Jesus. And it’s not just the Word Incarnate we commune with — for we have the Communion of Saints and all the faithful we have lost along the way to intercede for us, too. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in discussing funeral rites, teaches on the profundity of the Eucharistic Sacrifice:

“When the celebration takes place in church the Eucharist is the heart of the Paschal reality of Christian death. In the Eucharist, the Church expresses her efficacious communion with the departed: offering to the Father in the Holy Spirit the sacrifice of the death and resurrection of Christ, she asks to purify his child of his sins and their consequences, and to admit him to the Paschal fullness of the table of the Kingdom. It is by the Eucharist thus celebrated that the community of the faithful, especially the family of the deceased, learn to live in communion with the one who ‘has fallen asleep in the Lord,’ by communicating in the Body of Christ of which he is a living member and, then, by praying for him and with him” (1689).

These words always brings me to tears while receiving Communion — especially now, as a daughter of God, so connected to the love of her mother who has died and now focused on caring for her ailing father, who falls to her knees countless times, often in tears. Through it all, I have an understanding of the reality of what Jesus gives us: himself in the Real Presence. 

As we continue through this Eucharistic Revival, may we revel in this beautiful truth, allowing it to shape our hearts and minds amid family illness and sorrow; to always have the words of Christ on our lips and the sweet Host living within — and not hesitating to ask for a Eucharistic minister to visit for a loved one.

In addition, prayerfully consider becoming a Eucharistic minister at your parish — so you can meet beautiful souls like Don and countless others who know “Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love” as they are currently homebound — and eternally homeward bound.