A storybook high school romance that would eventually produce children, grandchildren, a 50th anniversary and the most exquisite of memories was permanently interrupted by breast cancer.
Mike Melanson vividly remembers the doctor’s visit.
“We had both been retired for 10 years and were headed down to Florida when we decided to check out a cough that just wouldn’t go away,” he said. “The doc didn’t like what he saw on the X-ray, and that eventually led to the diagnosis.”
Following one mastectomy, Peggy’s remission lasted over three years.
“The cancer returned in a fury and we took her home,” he said. “After 50 beautiful years of marriage, I held her in my arms and kissed her goodbye. I really wanted to die with her. There was no reason to go on living. I was in deep depression.”
Following family advice, Melanson saw a doctor who prescribed a mild dose of antidepressants, which “took the edge off and worked phenomenally well.”
“I was doing a lot of crying,” he recalled. “You can’t blame the disease or anyone. It doesn’t help to point a finger because I really had no finger to point.”
Melanson vividly remembers a turning point during his grief. As a deacon and committed Catholic, it wasn’t unusual for him to find himself in church.
“It may sound strange,” he said. “I was alone at church one day crying my eyes out when I heard an angel or the voice of God: ‘Show my people how much I love them.’”
“But I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t just need a sign,” he joked. “I need a billboard.”
Melanson didn’t know what it meant, but he somehow knew the emphasis was on the concept, “show.”
He came to the conclusion that showing Christ’s love meant serving The Eucharist. Challenging God on this subject, he reminded The Lord that only a priest could serve communion.
“I can’t do that,” he told God. “I’m married.” Then God corrected him, “No, your wife is with me in paradise.”
As engrained as marriage was to him, the encounter led to a most unusual path to the priesthood.
“From that time on,” he said, “there wasn’t one single roadblock. When I told our bishop, he nearly jumped across the desk and arranged for training. However, when someone has gone through a major life event, there is a required 12-month period pause.”
Because Melanson had already had his masters degree, the complete process was faster than normal, and Melanson was ordained as a priest within two years of his loss.
The father of three adult sons has a stock joke: “I told my kids that they may have to call me, ‘Father Dad.’”
This if the first in a two-part series. In Part 2, you will learn of what it’s like to become a priest in your eighth decade.
Father Melanson is interviewed on Robert J. LaCosta’s podcast, “The Age Sage.” You can listen on your phone or computer. To contact LaCosta, call 518-435-1250.