SCHENECTADY — As an elderly resident slipped away in a local nursing home Wednesday afternoon, no priest could come to give her last rites because of the snowstorm, then at its peak.
So certified nursing assistant Roland Fernandes, who’d helped care for Margie MacHaffie the past six years, stepped in to give her spiritual comfort in her final moments.
Fernandes, also an ordained minister, held hands with her family and led one last prayer for the dying woman, a devout Roman Catholic for all of her 91 years.
“It was the most perfect prayer anyone could have prayed,” MacHaffie’s daughter Kathleen Jubert said Friday. “As he prayed, she took her last breath.
“Tears were just rolling down. I wish I could have recorded it, written it down, because I would read it again and again.”
Recalling the act of kindness Friday as she prepared for her mother’s wake and funeral, Jubert got choked up again.
“It was just an awesome moment.”
Fernandes said he was glad to help.
“It was just a simple prayer,” he said.
Fernandes has been a certified nursing assistant at the Schenectady Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing on Altamont Avenue since previous owner Capital Living opened the new facility in 2013. Before that, he worked at its predecessor nursing home, The Avenue. He helped care for MacHaffie the entire time.
“When I started working here, she was under my care in the old facility too,” he said. “She loved conversing. If you sat and chatted with her, every time, she would add memories from her latter days.”
Fernandes became an ordained minister in his native Guyana 35 years ago. He moved to Schenectady seven years ago, and now is an assistant pastor at Grace Family Fellowship Church on Albany Street.
He’s there every Sunday, and tries to get there for weekday services as well. “Sometimes I get to go, sometimes I don’t, because of work.”
Jubert said she was familiar with Fernandes long before Wednesday afternoon.
“I knew him from him working there,” she said. “He’s very caring, very gentle, always has a smile on his face.”
Margie MacHaffie was a homemaker her whole life, Jubert said. Her world was basically her husband, Jack, and their home, and their children: Carol, Jack and Kathleen.
She grew up in the South End of Albany and lived most of her adult life in Colonie.
She moved to an assisted living facility in Guilderland after her husband’s death in 1999. When her health worsened, she moved to the nursing home in Schenectady, where Jubert said the staff provided excellent care but could not turn back the hands of time.
“She had Alzheimer’s and it just took its toll on her body,” Jubert said. “In the last week, she had taken a turn for the worse.”
MacHaffie’s breathing grew increasingly shallow Tuesday.
“We could tell on Wednesday it was not going to be long and she probably would not last the day,” Jubert said.
In the room with MacHaffie were Jack, Kathleen and Kathleen’s daughter Elizabeth.
Nursing supervisor Mary Santiago said the staff tried to find a priest to offer last rites, but none of the three they reached were able to get to the Centers Health Care facility. However, she knew Fernandes was a minister, so they asked him.
As the snow came down outside, Fernandes held hands with Santiago and the three family members in a circle around MacHaffie’s bed, then spoke of God and faith and heaven in his simple prayer.
“It was simply beautiful,” Santiago said Friday. “It brought it everyone to tears.”