As I sat beside my father-in-law’s bedside, holding his hand while he lay with labored breathing, my head rested on the blanket and I quietly prayed. He would rouse a little and then settle back down for a moment, never fully sleeping but never truly awake either. It hurt to see him this way. The man I had known and loved for 26 years was always full of life! If he wasn’t smiling or laughing he was grumpy and moody and let you know it. We’d give him trouble for his grumpiness but we all loved it just as much as his smiles. But now, he was lying in a hospital bed in the middle of his living room, the cold metal reflecting the glow of the small lamp in the corner of the room, dying. He couldn’t sleep and yet he couldn’t stay awake either; his breathing irregular and his body uncomfortable. Pained looks would contort his face and occasionally a small tear would appear at the corner of his eye. He flitted between worlds- one foot stuck here with us, the other already in heaven.
It was heart-wrenching to see him like this. I cried softly and asked God to please let him come home; please take away his suffering. I prayed hard as I sat beside him, stroking his hand. I begged God to allow me to take on his suffering; that maybe if I could take it from him he would be free to leave and would be safe in Jesus’ loving embrace. He suddenly opened his eyes, leaned forward and said to me in a strained whisper, “Take it and be happy.” My heart raced and my eyes were wide. I asked him what he wanted me to take. He didn’t answer.
He collapsed back into his pillow and sighed. His eyes closed and he fell asleep. These would be the last real words he said to me. He fidgeted some later through the night, but for the most part he slept. The next day he would leave us. He died holding both my mother-in-law’s hand and mine. It was the both devastating and beautiful at the same time.
In the months that have passed since his death, I have pondered his last words to me, “Take it and be happy.” I know I asked for his sufferings but I’m not sure if that is all he meant. I gladly accept them and feel honored to shoulder them, but I feel deep in my heart that he meant more than just that. But what could he mean?
I look at our life together as parent and child. No, he was not my father but he treated me as a daughter. I know he loved me dearly and wanted only the best for me. Over the years he gave so much of himself to our family. He took care of us in the way he knew how… fixing things around our house, taking us on vacations, calling out of the blue when he was at a store to see if we needed a 10 foot ladder or an air compressor he found on sale even though it meant he would have to drag it 800 miles to us the next time he visited, sending forwarded emails he thought would make us smile, and by calling us every Sunday without fail to check on us. Yes, he loved us and made no qualms about showing us through actions and words. We never hung up the phone without a “Be careful!” and an “I love you!”
When I think of his last words to me I think of all these things… all these special ways he showed his love for us. As our father he loved us unconditionally. He never once refused to help us when we went to him with our heads hung low in despair. He didn’t turn us away or make us beg with shame. He cried for us, rejoiced with us, and was proud of us. He loved our children with all his heart and they loved their Poppy even more. He personified God as a loving father and friend. We knew we could trust him and rely on him. We knew he loved us more than anything in the world.
“Take it and be happy”… could he have meant for me to not only take his suffering from him as I had prayed to do, but to take the memories we shared, the memories he kept safe in his heart, and to be happy with them? When we take on someone’s suffering as our own we take a piece of their heart too. By asking for his sufferings was God willing to give me his happiness and joy too? Did my father-in-law know that I would need the happiness to handle the pain over such a tremendous loss?
I look at the cross and think about how Christ gave everything for us. He offers Himself to us in a way that is unimaginable. It is an act of complete and unconditional love. He took our sufferings and made them His own. He knew that taking on our sufferings would free us. He knew that through His suffering we would gain heaven and eternal happiness. It pains me to look at the cross and see what a heavy price He paid for my sins. He offered Himself in my place and said of His sacrifice, “Take it and be happy.”
It has been five months since my father-in-law died and this Father’s day was a stark reminder of his absence. I wanted to pick up the phone to call him and tell him how much he means to me. I wanted to tease him for his grumpiness and laugh at his corny jokes. Most of all I just wanted to say “I love you” one more time and hear those words repeated back to me. I know he is not gone forever. I know we will meet once again and I know that within our beautiful faith we believe in the communion of saints… we are all still connected through faith and love. He still sees us and hears us. He knows we love him and miss him. He knows we are so happy he is out of pain and in the arms of the Lord.
“Take it and be happy” he told me… Poppy, I take your suffering; I take your memories; I take your kindness and care; I take your heart and I take your love. I take them and I am happy. I love you so much.
October is set aside by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as Respect Life month. This coming Sunday is Respect Life Sunday; read the Bishops’ Statement for Respect Life Sunday. So the question is, what can you do during this Respect Life Month? We have seven suggestions for you.
Pray, pray, pray. Pray for an end to abortion. Pray for respect for all stages of life from conception to natural death. You can pray the pro-life novena which began on September 29. Jump in now or start it on your own. You can pray a daily rosary this month for the respect of all life, you can spiritually adopt a baby at risk of abortion, or pray a Memorare for life and add your prayers to the Memorare Meter on Relevant Radio’s website (look for the meter at the top of the main page). Prayer is one of the most important things we can do.
Are you familiar with 40 Days for Life? Check out their website for information on prayer vigils in your area. This fall’s 40 Days started in September and goes through early November, so there is plenty of time to participate. If there is not a 40 Days for Life in your area, look into setting one up in your area for the next campaign. In addition, pray along with those who are attending prayer vigils. Again, pray, pray, pray.
Staying in the prayer theme (hard to ignore it’s importance, isn’t it?), October 12 is the Public Square Rosary Campaign. Over 10,000 cities across the country are participating. Is your city? Check the website to find out. And then attend.
Respect life extends to all aspects of life, including the end of life. Take some time this month to visit a nursing home. Get the kids involved, contact a nursing home ahead of time to find out if there are any activities you and your kids can do with or for the residents. Just going to visit is also an incredible gift to the residents of the home. I go to one in my area on occasion to visit a friend there. While there we also go into other residents’ rooms to say hi. They always love seeing the kids!
October is also Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Approximately 90% of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted. This is an incredibly sad figure. The National Down Syndrome Society hosts a Buddy Walk every year around this time. Most are in October, but depending on where you live it could have been in late-September or could be coming up in early-November. Consider participating in the 2013 Buddy Walk to help raise funds for the Society and their mission of “promoting the value, acceptance, and inclusion of people with Down Syndrome.”
A great way to promote Respect Life month is by using social media. We are all aware of the downfalls of social media, how about putting it to good use, instead! Share links to pro-life posts, articles, websites, and blogs (you can start with this post, no pressure 😉 ). Share pictures, stories, and more. You never know what might plant a seed in someone else’s mind from something they see you post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and whatever else you might use.
Finally, we want your participation in this last suggestion. October 15 is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. This year, like we have in the past, we will be posting stories from our writers throughout the day. In addition, we hope you’ll share your own stories on your blog (if you have one). Our first post of the day will include a link-up where you can link up your stories from your blog. This will be a great way to share our stories with each other. We hope you’ll participate. Put your post up on October 15 and then come visit us to link it up. Our post will go up at 5:00 A.M. central time that day.
There is so much more that we can do during Respect Life Month. Have any suggestions to add? Let us know in the comments.
::This story first posted on October 5, 2011 – it was *so* good, we just had to repost it!::
As you are probably aware by now, October is Respect Life month. While abortion is and should be a main focus of this month, this post will address a different aspect of the Respect Life theme – the dignity of those who are aged and infirm. These lives don’t get as much attention as the lives of the unborn when we talk about “respect for life,” but they too are under attack by our society. Assisted suicide and Euthanasia are becoming more accepted and defended by those who cannot see that all lives have dignity from conception to natural death, and that it is wrong to take any life (including our own) before God calls us home. Society is becoming more and more intolerant of lives that are “imperfect” or not “useful.” Perhaps it is because the elderly and the ill remind people of their own mortality – something that we as a culture want to think about as little as possible. Whatever the reason, it is clear that our culture’s utter disrespect for the dignity of all human beings starts with the tiniest embryo but extends through every stage of life.
In illustration of this point, televangelist Pat Robertson recently called Alzheimer’s disease a “kind of death” and basically sanctioned the divorcing of a spouse with Alzheimer’s so that the “surviving” spouse could move on with his/her life with a new partner. Pat Robertson never clarified or apologized for this comment, to my knowledge.
As the granddaughter of a woman who suffered with Alzheimer’s for over ten years, I am saddened by this, to say the least. I can’t help but think of my grandfather who took care of my grandmother for their entire marriage of over fifty years (before passing away in 2000), and my mother who took care of my grandmother for nine years after my grandfather’s death (being her almost exclusive caregiver for seven of those years). I know that neither of them would ever have abandoned my grandmother because of her illness or for any other reason.
I’ve seen first-hand how Alzheimer’s can destroy a personality and lead to unspeakable suffering for those who have the disease, as well as for their loved ones. But it is not the same as death. People with Alzheimer’s are still living and breathing. They have human dignity and deserve to be loved, respected, and cared for. When someone is suffering from Alzheimer’s, his/her spouse is bound by the vow they took to be faithful in sickness and in health. “Til death do us part” means just that – DEATH. As in, the ceasing of brain and heart function and the separation of the soul from the body. Pat Robertson’s assertion to the contrary is a product of a culture that is too sick itself to see the fact that the lives of those who are ill and suffering – and all other human lives –are intrinsically valuable and worthy of respect.
But this post isn’t for the purpose of harping on the scandalous comment of a misguided televangelist (which is “old news” by now anyway). Reading about Robertson’s comment called to mind a Facebook note that I wrote in May of 2009, less than four months before my grandmother passed away. I pulled up the note, and after re-reading it I decided that I wanted to share it here during Respect Life month.
A lot has changed since I wrote this (for instance, the daughter that I talk about is now almost four years old, and I have another daughter who is 14 months), but the message of the note remains exactly the same. Here is a slightly edited version:
I love being a mother. I am humbled and awed that God has given to me the important job of caring for another human life – body and especially soul. And I am grateful for the chance not only to teach my daughter (and hoped-for future children), but to learn from her as well. After all, Jesus said that children are our role models. Unless we become like children, we have no chance at Heaven (Matthew 18:3).
What did Jesus mean by this? What can my daughter teach me, especially about getting into Heaven? At 15 months old, she does not have a lot to teach me about patience or swift obedience. She can’t model a good prayer or sacramental life. But today, I caught a glimpse of one of the ways I—and the rest of the world—should be emulating my daughter, especially in this “culture of death.”
I have an ailing grandmother who is over 90 years old. She has had many health problems, the most devastating of which has been the Alzheimer’s disease with which she has been afflicted for over a decade. My grandmother does not recognize me anymore. I don’t recognize her either. She sits in her wheelchair all day, repeating the same nonsensical phrases over and over; fighting with my mother and anyone else who is around; accusing us of trying to harm her; trying to leap out of her chair though she cannot walk; drooling, shaking, suffering.
To many of us “wise” adults, my grandmother’s life doesn’t make sense anymore. Her suffering is incomprehensible. Her continued existence on Earth may seem [almost] purposeless. She is perhaps the perfect “poster-child” for the pernicious pro-euthanasia and assisted suicide movement. And while I wholeheartedly reject this movement and all of its evil ideology, I can’t pretend that I have not been afflicted by the tendency to almost dismiss my grandmother… to not even bother trying to interact with her or search her eyes for the loving, intelligent, talented woman who raised my mom and who is still in there, somewhere. Of this, I am ashamed.
And then there’s Rose. Somehow, my daughter who is barely older than a year, has found in my grandmother’s
life the worth and beauty that most of the rest of the world would fail to recognize at this point. Rose adores my grandmother. She has demonstrated this repeatedly when we have visited my parents’ house, where my grandmother lives. Today, she was especially interested in my grandmother; she was simply drawn to her. Rose wanted to hold her hand and give her kisses, sit in her lap and babble to her – desires which my grandmother happily obliged by kissing Rose back, gripping her hand as tightly as she could, and reaching out to pick her up (even though she is unable to do so). Though Rose often became distracted by other things, as 15 month olds will do, she kept coming back to my grandmother’s wheelchair and staring up at her with the biggest, warmest smile, reaching out to hold her hands. At one point, my mother removed Rose from my grandmother’s lap and Rose struggled and whined – she wanted to go back.
Rose doesn’t seem to notice my grandmother’s wrinkled skin and sunken features. She doesn’t realize that my grandmother often thinks that Rose is her own child, and/or that Rose’s mommy (me) is herself just a child too young to care for Rose. Rose has no idea what Alzheimer’s is, or how it has erased almost all traces of the mother and grandmother we all have loved our whole lives. She doesn’t care that grandma can’t take care of herself or that she endlessly repeats herself like a broken record . And she doesn’t know that my grandmother no longer can reason. My grandmother doesn’t have much, if any, use of that gift which is one of the distinguishing elements of humanity; and this, to some people, would mean that her life is no longer worth living. But Rose doesn’t know what “quality of life” means (I confess that I don’t really know either), or that my grandmother would be considered by many to have such low quality that we might as well just “get rid of her.” She doesn’t know what a financial or emotional or practical “burden” is.
The only thing Rose seems to know is love. She showers my grandmother with it and draws it out of my grandmother to the same degree. Though more and more people in this world are adopting the attitude that people in my grandmother’s condition are no longer of any value, it’s obvious to me that my grandmother’s life holds great value in the innocent eyes of my daughter.
This morning, I read a 2007 Washington Post article describing an interesting experiment. Staff at The Washington Post set out to see how many rush-hour metro-riders would notice the superb violin-playing of a famous violinist disguised as a run-of-the-mill musician playing for spare dollars in a D.C. metro station. Would anyone be able to look beneath the facade of a perhaps-needy generic metro musician and recognize the piercing splendor of classical masterpieces played with inexplicable passion and talent? Would anyone be able to break out of their self-centered frantic dash to work, or to focus on anything besides their naively hopeful stop at the lotto kiosk, in recognition of the Beauty five feet away from them? The answer was basically no – very few people stopped to appreciate the music or even so much as looked in the direction of the famous violin player.
No one, that is, except for children. The people conducting the study noticed that practically every child that walked by turned their attention to the musician and even tried to stop walking to listen longer. But their parents pulled them along and even purposefully blocked their view of that seemingly crazy, needy man playing in the metro station.
This story reinforces the observations I made today while watching my daughter with my grandmother. I believe– and have seen much evidence–that in their innocence, children possess the ability to recognize meaning and beauty where the rest of us “learned” people do not. They aren’t too distracted by superficiality, selfishness, or extreme busyness to notice. They see it most especially in lives of babies—wanted or not, healthy or not, perfect or not (including the unborn ones that they can only see as a bump on mommy’s belly)—and the elderly. They don’t know or care if a human life is “wanted” or if it “makes a contribution to society.” They seem to know, intuitively, only that all human life is special. And in today’s society, where human lives are only valued for their perceived usefulness instead of for their own sake, this is one of the most important lessons that we can ever learn from Rose and other children like her. If society could only become more like little children in this particular way, we just might be able to veer off this course we’re taking to hell after all.
By the time my grandma died on September 2, 2009, she was in many ways as much of a baby as Rose was. She needed to be fed, bathed, clothed, and constantly watched over. I’m sure it was not how she wanted to live her life, but I can’t help but think that she was blessed to have been returned to a state of childlike innocence and dependence — to become like a little child just as Jesus says we should do. I can’t help but think that this was a means of her sanctification and ultimate salvation. I also think that her childlike state was a blessing and a means of sanctification for those who cared for her; Jesus also said, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” (Mark 9:37). We please the Lord and orient ourselves toward Heaven by welcoming, feeding, clothing and comforting the “least of his people” – not by selfishly abandoning them in their hour of need.
“Til death” image borrowed from http://cmcfamilylife. wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/
During this Respect Life month I started thinking about the saints and which ones I would most identify with the life issues today. Thus I came up with “Saints for Life.” There are many saints that could fit all of these categories, but I’ve kept my list to four. I hope you find this little journey interesting and that it gives you some food for thought.
Respect for the Unborn
Abortion is, without a doubt, the top life issue. And I couldn’t think of a better saint who would be working hard in defense of life if she were alive today than St. Gianna Beretta Molla. As a doctor and a mother she knew when life started and she knew how precious it was. So much so that she risked her own life, and eventually lost it, to save the life of her unborn baby. Abortion is such a horrific tragedy in our world today. We must work in every way we can to stop it and to demonstrate the importance of life at all stages. St. Gianna knew that her child was a life just as important as her own. Her unborn child deserved to live and it ultimately cost this great saint her own life. What an incredible gift she gave to her daughter. According to the Guttmacher Institute (the research arm of Planned Parenthood) 1,212,350 women obtained abortions in the U.S. in 2008 (latest available numbers). That is over 3300 abortions each day in this country! Lives destroyed before they are given the chance to live. Can you imagine how different our world would be if every mother gave the gift of life to her unborn child.
Please pray for an end to abortion. St. Gianna, pray for us.
Respect for the Disabled
Bl. Margaret of Castello was born in 1287, blind, lame, dwarf, and hunchbacked. Yet she persevered in life and with the help of many in her community lived an amazing life before her death at age 33. She has become an inspiration in the pro-life movement. The respect for people with disabilities is strongly connected to the abortion issue. More and more in our society we see people aborting children because they learn that the child has Down Syndrome or some other physical disability. Bl. Margaret’s parents abandoned her when their prayers that she be healed were not answered. What do you think they would have done if they had the ability to see some of her disabilities before she was born? And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Once abortion becomes mainstream in society, the loss of respect for lives that are not so-called “perfect” in society diminishes quickly.
There have been some amazing and miraculous healings attributed to the intercession of Bl. Margaret of Castello. But I think it is also important to take away from her life that everyone, no matter who you are, has gifts and talents to share. Some are small, some are big. Not everyone is going to find a cure for cancer or write the next great American novel or whatever; most of us will have ordinary jobs, raise ordinary kids, and live ordinary lives. But they are lives that are important because God created them.
Please pray for a greater respect for all life, especially the disabled. Bl. Margaret of Castello, pray for us.
Respect for the End of Life
I once read an article about a British orchestral conductor who went with his wife to some other country (Switzerland, maybe?) in order for them to be euthanized together. She was dying from cancer or something (sorry that I don’t remember all the details) and he decided that he couldn’t live without her so he’d rather die with her. Britain would not allow them to do what they wanted, thus they traveled somewhere that would. I was horrified when I read this article. This was a perfectly healthy man who wanted to die with his wife, and so he did. This was suicide. And his wife? Sick or not, this was also wrong for her. No one wants to suffer greatly at the end of their lives, but sometimes that is the cross God gives us.
We can look to the example of Bl. John Paul II for how we should really bear this cross. “Getting old is for the birds,” is what my grandmother used to tell me when she was suffering from dementia. True, it isn’t always fun, but it still has purpose. Bl. John Paul II suffered with Parkinson’s Disease for several years. Through it all he remained true to his calling as the Holy Father. He set an example of what redemptive suffering truly is. It is not easy and certainly not anything any of us would ask to go through. But sometimes God calls us to things we don’t expect. Do we run away from what God places before us or do we accept it and offer our sufferings up in union with Christ’s sufferings on the cross?
In a similar way as respect for the disabled, discussed above, respect for the end of life becomes easier for society to forget as abortion becomes more acceptable. This is illustrated best by the death of Terri Schindler Schiavo and all the controversy that surrounded her life and death. This was a woman that was not dying but was in need of assistance in order to receive food and water, the basic necessities of life. She was not in need of any extraordinary means to sustain life, only the basics which we should never deny to anyone. Follow the link above to the foundation set up in her name to learn more.
Please pray for a greater respect for the end of life for all individuals. Bl. John Paul II, pray for us.
The Death Penalty
In contemplating this issue, St. Dismas comes to mind for me. St. Dismas was the good thief crucified alongside Jesus in the Gospels. He committed crimes, we can presume, that were serious enough to receive the ultimate punishment. He was probably a hard core criminal and considered a threat to society. And yet, at the very end he asked for forgiveness from Jesus and received it. He was redeemed of his sins so that he could enter Paradise on that very day.
Would he have felt the need to receive forgiveness for his sins had he not been facing death? We have no way of knowing. But we do have the example of the bad thief also crucified that day. He did not ask for forgiveness, instead he demanded that Jesus save himself and them. The bad thief was not a man who was sorry for his sins.
Please pray for those on death row. St. Dismas, pray for us.
These are just a very small group of saints from the Communion of Saints that I have associated strongly with these different life issues. What saints would you add to this group and why?