YACHATS — In 1989, HIV AIDS was at its peak and without good treatments. AIDS patients were dying left and right. We had just buried my mother after my brother, Martin, 34, revealed that he was HIV positive. A year later, doctors said they could no longer do anything for Martin. And I was in my sixth month of chemotherapy.

Martin had been visited by nuns who invited him to live in Seton House, their Denver home for men with AIDS. I had no idea who these women were but was grateful they had given the invitation. I was living in San Diego and went to visit Martin, finding that the home was run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. The ministry was located in the old Cathedral High, my school 30 years previous.

The day I arrived, the sisters were having a prayer vigil for people with AIDS and their families. The prayers were based on the suffering of Jesus and his walk to Calvary and the suffering of AIDS patients and their families. It was a candlelight service, and it so moved me that I could not wait to share it with the rest of my family.

My three months in Denver and my daily visits with my brother were the beginning of a conversion. I witnessed so many moments of love, compassion and tenderness, not only from those loving sisters, but also the volunteers who gave up so much to care for those extremely ill patients. The patients taught me about life and death. The blessings made it possible to endure seeing so much suffering and death.

At Seton House, I experienced so much more than I could ever learn in books. The sisters took deeply loving care of their patients, seeing Jesus in each of them, which was Mother Teresa’s vision. My brother’s suffering, so painful to witness, was overshadowed by a beautiful holy death. In Martin’s last hour, as our family surrounded his bedside, my sister, was called from her brother’s deathbed to her husband’s bedside. Bruce was in a nearby hospital in a coma from a heart attack that he suffered at age 45. As we sat wondering how more we could endure, the sisters were joyfully singing, “God must really love this family.” It would take me a long time to understand this.

Nevertheless, through all the tears and surrounded by the beautiful sisters, volunteers, and patients, along with prayers, hymns and candles, Martin’s suffering finally ended. I was so joyful. I want my death to be like this, a beautiful “going home to God.”

Back in San Diego, I found a Missionaries of Charity Contemplative house nearby and embraced it as my home away from home. God brought me back to my Catholic roots. The spirit of the Missionaries of Charity had become alive in me, and I was thirsting for more.

I spent my spare time at the convent, praying with the sisters, helping them, attending special Masses with them, working with the poor in Tijuana, Mexico, and in the Southwest.

God gave me the gift of being able to join the Missionaries of Charity family as a lay member. It happened on the one-year anniversary of Martin’s death. I was at prayer in the chapel and I was thanking my brother that through his suffering and death, I had received so many blessings. It was then that Martin seemed to appear to me, turning around to face me, and offering me a light from his candle. This was the scene from that prayer vigil in Denver on my arrival to visit him. I could not hold back the tears.

My next greatest gift was meeting Mother Teresa and being blessed by her, not once, but several times. She came to San Diego in 1995 and again in 1996, a year before she died. Meeting her was the next best thing to seeing the Lord. Seeing her was seeing Jesus in her. Many, many more blessings God has given me during my 15 years of working with the Missionaries of Charity.

The writer is a member of St. Anthony Parish in Waldport.