One January night seven years ago, I wasn’t able to sleep because I heard loud train whistles all night. I have never heard so many trains in my life. It was constant. And what was really odd is that it was winter, and all the windows were shut. But the trains were so LOUD! I kept thinking, “What’s with all the trains?” At 3 a.m., I got on my knees and prayed the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. I always pray it for someone in the world who is dying and needs mercy. After I got back into bed, I continued to hear trains until morning.
Later that day, I called a friend of mine, and she asked me if I would pray for a girl she knew of who had thrown herself in front of a train the night before and killed herself. I was dumbfounded. In that moment I knew why I had heard the trains all night.
Ever since that night, whenever I hear the whistle of a train, no matter where I am, I pray the “Eternal rest” prayer for the souls who may be in Purgatory for taking their own lives.
Now … flash forward to Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010, which was the 15th anniversary of my father-in-law’s suicide. A priest called me that night to ask me if I had a devotion to St. Anthony of Padua. I said I did. Then he told me that he had been prompted to lend me his first-class relic of St. Anthony until Christmas. He had no idea why. I did not know at the time, but later realized that St. Anthony is the Patron of Lost Souls. He gave me the relic the next morning. That evening, a lady waited outside our Adoration chapel to talk to me. She had prayed that she would run into me because she needed to talk. I asked her if she wanted to pray with the St. Anthony relic and she did. She told me that her cousin, who had recently committed suicide, had a devotion to St. Anthony, so she was consoled in praying with the relic. St. Anthony was already at work.
Two days later, I was off work and it was a sunny and pleasant day, so I went to the outdoor Stations of the Cross near our seminary. As I was praying the Stations, I began to hear train whistles — constant again, just like before. It was eerie. After I finished, I went to the nearby Carmelite Monastery, took the St. Anthony relic, and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet for the dying.
The next day, Saturday, Nov. 13, was another beautiful day. While I was working outside, I began to hear the train whistles again. Later, I took my camera and went to the beach. The train whistles continued. I took a video, hoping to capture the sound of the trains in the background, but the train sounds did not come out on the video. I knew for certain then that those whistles were meant for me. I started getting sick to my stomach and crying, because I knew in my heart that someone was committing, or had committed, suicide. I prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet several times and prayed with a first-class relic of St. Anthony of Padua for the person.
The next evening, Sunday, I read in the paper that a young man had shot and killed his girlfriend and two of their children and then himself. THAT IS WHY I HEARD ALL THE TRAINS!
As the week went on, I could not stop thinking about the trains and the murder-suicide. I wondered if the young man had been saved. Most people would find it hard to believe that he would have been saved after committing such a heinous crime, but Jesus told St. Faustina that when the Chaplet is prayed for the dying, He will stand between the Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge, but as the merciful Savior (see Diary of St. Faustina, 1541). Saint Faustina wrote in her Diary, “My prayer reaches out even there where I cannot reach physically” (163). Because of this powerful prayer, at the last minute, he could have repented. Saint Padre Pio told a woman whose husband jumped off a bridge to his demise, that on the way down he repented, so he was saved. So who are we to judge? Also, this young man had admitted himself to the hospital the week before for mental health issues, so the Lord would probably deem him less responsible. (How unfortunate that the hospital discharged him the following day, against the wishes of his family.)
Three days later, while on my way to pray in our Adoration chapel, I ran into a woman who mentioned to me that the bereavement luncheon for the families of the murder-suicide would be at our church the following day. I could not believe the coincidence that this luncheon was at my church. I wanted to tell the family about the trains and how I thought that the young man was saved, but I didn’t know if he was or not. My prayers are so poor. But then I remembered that I had asked St. Anthony to pray with me, and his prayers are perfect. He is the “Patron of Lost Souls.” He is also called the “Miracle Worker.”
On the way home, I rode by the apartment where the couple had lived. There were teddy bears hanging on the fence as a memorial of the children. I cried. Then I asked God to give me a sign that the young man was saved. I did not ask for anything specific, just something that would show how merciful God is. God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).
When I got home and checked my e-mail, someone from my Internet prayer group, whom I did not know, had sent a note that said in the subject line: “Suicide and the Power of Prayer!” I took this to be my sign from God. I put aside everything I had to do that night and invoked the help of St. Anthony to help me “find” the right words to write the family a letter of consolation and tell them my story. I had no idea if they were Catholic, Christian, or any religion, but prayed that they would be open to what I was about to tell them.
The following morning, I went to 7 a.m. Mass. Before Mass, I began to have doubts about giving the family the letter I wrote. I opened the Bible at random to Wisdom 11:23, which says, “But You have mercy on all, because You can do all things; and You overlook the sins of men that they may repent.” No longer did I doubt. I wrote this passage down, to also console the family. I offered my Communion that the family would be open to what I wrote in the letter.
When I went into the church office to drop off the letter, the secretary told me that one of our parishioners — a lady I know — was in the Adoration chapel sobbing. It turns out that she was the young man’s aunt! I had no idea that anyone I knew was related to him. I showed the Wisdom passage to the secretary, and she told me to take the passage and the letter into the chapel to give to the aunt. I went in and hugged her and gave her the letter, whispered my condolences and that I had no idea that she was related.
When I left, the secretary waved me into the office to talk. I told my story to her and two other women who work there. They were in awe. When I got to the part about praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet, they said that they got chills. It turns out that my pastor had done the service at the funeral home for the young man the day before, and had talked about Divine Mercy!
He even had special prayercards made up to give the family that had the image of The Divine Mercy on the front and the Divine Mercy Chaplet on the back, with the young man’s name inserted in the place of the pronouns — so the family could pray it for him. Wow! How could one miss the hand of God amidst this tragedy?
I continue to pray for this young man and all the souls who may be in Purgatory who have committed suicide. These souls could be the most neglected souls in Purgatory because many people think there is no salvation for someone who commits suicide. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Suicide is seriously contrary to justice, hope, and charity. It is forbidden by the fifth commandment” (2325).
When my mother-in-law took her own life, my son, who was only in fifth grade at the time, asked, “Did Grandma go to hell?” The Catechism states: “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide” (2282). It goes on to say, “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to Him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (2283).
I still, at times, hear train whistles like I heard those two days in November. It is very draining when I hear persistent trains, because I know in my heart that someone is taking his or her own life. When I shared my story with a friend at work, she asked me if I had heard trains on Nov. 17, because she knew a lady who had died that day from an intentional overdose. When I looked on my computer, I found that I did hear trains the night before, which was most likely when she would have taken the pills. Saint Anthony and I had prayed so hard.