Tim Murnane had been lying in bed and staring at the ceiling of his hospital room when a strange woman suddenly walked in. A mature, nice-looking lady, she wasn't a doctor or nurse. She was dressed in her Sunday best--a voluminous skirt, puffy white blouse he could almost see through, and a pill box hat. He hadn't seen a pill box hat on a woman since Jackie Kennedy was in the White House back when he was a young man. This woman, however, was carrying a Bible, not an elegant purse.
"Mr. Murnane, my name is Ophelia Barnes and I wonder if you might be willing to give me a few minutes of your time. I understand you recently had an operation."
"I did indeed," said Tim. "They took out my appendix and my gallbladder, too, when they found it was bad. I'll be here awhile longer while they run some other tests. At my age, things can go wrong, you know, and they want to see if they can find anything else."
"Very true, Mr. Murnane. Folks I know have been dying at a faster rate than usual in recent years. It can be frightening but it happens to all of us. If you don't mind, Mr. Murnane, please tell me where you think you would go if you died tonight."
"Well," said Tim, beginning to get the direction of the conversation, "I'd probably go to Egan's Funeral Home up on 63rd Street. I went through pre-arrangement counseling there and paid for everything--the box and the plot. I took care of all that for myself when I had to bury the wife a few years back. Got nice discount. In fact, the plot's in St. Adalbert's Cemetery, just up the road, not far from here."
All of that was true. Tim Murnane had made all the arrangements to be "salted away," as he had told his seven kids, who were now all busy raising families of their own in different cities. But he figured if he told this woman he was going to Eagan's and then to St. Adalbert's, she'd know he was Catholic and perhaps not ripe for harvesting for whatever well-meaning Christian church she represented.
"Mr. Murnane, I meant if you died tonight, would you go to Heaven or Hell."
"That's an excellent question, Mrs. Barnes. If I had a chance to go to confession before I died, I wouldn't go to Hell, God forbid, but probably not right to Heaven either. I'd probably have to spend several centuries in Purgatory, burning off the stains of a very sinful life. And I have no objection to that. I will have earned my entire stay. I don't drink and I don't smoke but over the years I've always found women attractive, if you know what I mean."
Mrs. Barnes didn't really grasp that Old Tim, although a lapsed Catholic for decades, was not about to switch denominations this close to the finish line. He had been a White Sox fan his entire life and would die cheering them as well, never the Cubs. So she was ready to press on when Tim, warming to the challenge, asked a question.
"Mrs. Barnes, if I joined your church right now, what are the chances you'd visit my grave. All my kids live out of town and I'd rather not disturb them."
"Mr. Murnane, If you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior right now, I promise I will visit your grave. You could even be buried from our church. It would be a beautiful ceremony. We'd love to have you, dead or alive."
"Mrs. Barnes, I do accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I always have, ever since grammar school. I'd have never graduated if I hadn't learned about Jesus dying for my sins from all those nuns, God bless 'em. They taught me from first grade on that if I had been the only human being on Earth, Jesus would have died for me alone. Of course, they let me know too that I had to keep his commandments as well as believe in him. There were only a couple of commandments I've had trouble with. I mean, I never stole anything or killed anyone."
"You'e right, Mr. Murnane. Jesus would have died for you alone. And if you decide to join my church, I promise I wlll visit your grave."
"You wouldn't have to bring any flowers or anything, Mrs. Barnes. Just walk right up on the gravesite and stand next to my tombstone."
"Stand next to your tombstone? Why would I do that, Mr. Murnane?"
"Well, if I start feelin' a little better, I'd like look up your skirt."
Mrs. Barnes didn't faint but she did walk out of the room without saying a word.
And Tim Murnane pushed the buzzer for the nurse. He wanted to see if she would ask the next priest she saw making rounds to stop by his room. A couple of priests had stopped in already but Tim hadn't been ready for anything serious. Thanks to Mrs. Barnes, however, he knew now that he'd like to give any priest a real earful. It had been 30 years since his last confession and he had plenty to talk about. At 74, he wanted to be ready before going to Eagan's.