Deacon Gerald Ladouceur has often been asked, "What happens to us after we die?"

"Many people have [also] asked me, 'What is it like to die?'" said the deacon. "I say, 'I can't tell you that, but I can share with you what other people have experienced.'"

Questions about death, the afterlife and whether people really see visions of angels on their deathbeds are addressed head-on in Deacon Ladouceur's book, "Hope Lives On: Beyond the Veil of Death."

The book contains more than 80 stories collected from two decades of Deacon Ladouceur's time working in hospice care. Each brief tale recounts an inexplicable, mystical and remarkable experience that has occurred with a dying patient.

"In hospice, we try to give [the patients] hope. We try to take away that despair and fill them with hope, and that's what these stories are for. They tell us that God does love us and He will never abandon us, even in death," said Deacon Ladouceur, who currently serves at Mater Christi parish in Albany.

Though the book tells stories of patients at the end of life, the author says his goal is to provide hope for both the living and the dying.

"Anybody that's going to die can get something from this book, so that's probably a lot of people," he remarked.

Accidental author
Deacon Ladouceur called "Hope Lives On" an "accidental book." Though he kept a journal of what he described as "fantastic stories" he heard from patients or from coworkers working in hospice, he was skeptical of the stories at first, dismissing patients' claims of seeing angels as hallucinations.

But, after hearing so many patients recount the same experiences, the deacon began to believe that God had a hand in what had happened to them.

Originally, Deacon Ladouceur never intended to turn his journal into a book. In 2015, he sent three stories to Amor Deus Publishing, a national Catholic publishing company, saying he had "about 100 more of these stories" if they wanted to publish them.

The publisher agreed. Deacon Ladouceur changed patients' names and other identifiers in the book for privacy reasons.

Growing faith
Deacon Ladouceur was born and raised in the Albany area. Before being ordained to the permanent diaconate, he served for 30 years in the U.S. Marines and Navy.

During that time, he said, his faith was strengthened. While serving aboard a naval ship, he was designated the Catholic lay leader for the crew -- a position that, he said, "forced me to learn more about my faith," and ended up inspiring him to pursue a deeper connection with God.

In his book, Deacon Ladouceur talks about signs that patients receive during their final journeys. Coincidences that occur around us, he concludes, are "just God's way of remaining anonymous."

There is the story of "Mac," a hospice patient who was unresponsive for two days but suddenly awoke, smiled and reached for the sky, and then passed away peacefully. "Angie" had a rosebush she cared for with her dying father. The rosebush had never produced any flowers -- until the day her father passed on, when a giant yellow rose bloomed.

Deacon Ladouceur also writes that, each time he has asked to borrow a patient's Bible, it has fallen open or was already open to the exact passage he planned to read.

Since the book's publication, the deacon has been handing out copies to hospice patients for free. He wants patients to know that they are never alone, and wants to give the dying the one thing hardest to find on the brink of death: hope.

"We can only take the dying as far as we can take them, but they're never alone, because God does the rest," Deacon Ladouceur told The Evangelist. "That's why the book is about hope."

("Hope Lives On: Beyond the Veil of Death" is available at I Love Books in Delmar, The Book House at Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, Market Block Books in Troy and The Chatham Bookstore in Chatham.)