I hope you do…. And I hope you are not groaning and turning to George Wiegel’s column as quickly as you can. (But please read George, too).
For those of you who don’t remember me, I wrote a column for the SNR for many years when I was a working mom with a house full of children. I wrote about the joys and trials of life with grade-schoolers, teenagers and our first grandchildren. I retired several years ago from my writing career. Since then, there have been many changes in the Costello family.
I took on a new career, assisting the dying on the last steps of their spiritual journey on earth, a work I loved. On the home front, we watched our younger children find wonderful spouses, march down the aisle and start their own families. Yes, the old folks were getting a little older but we were in “fine fettle” as they used to say. We enjoyed a little travel and always seemed to be able to attend most of the big events in the life of a Catholic family: Baptisms, the First Communions and Confirmations, as well as a half dozen Christmas pageants, summer swim meets and soccer games, even the parts that resulted in sore knees and aching backs. (For us and the kids).
Suddenly, all that changed. I had “enjoyed” a little of those things listed above (the swelling knees and charley horses) but the Event, the biggest change (at least to me) happened in February of 2008. After experiencing several weeks of un-diagnosed pain, I woke up one morning and found that I could not stand, let alone walk. For the next several months, I experienced life in a half dozen hospitals in eastern Nebraska (all wonderful places), a few assisted living facilities (also all wonderful) and 2 nursing facilities (both the cream of the crop).
If there is anything in the world that is scarier than finding you’ve lost the use of your feet, it’s not knowing WHY you’ve lost the use of your feet. And from that, waking up in the middle of the night (usually in an unfamiliar bed) and wondering, “When I wake up in the morning, will I be able to see? And hear? And use my hands?”
That’s when my Spiritual Journey really began.
Before all this happened, I thought my “conscious contact with God” (as they say in AA) was pretty sound. I practiced maintaining the “Gratitude Attitude” every day of my life. I prayed for a long list of people, mostly my kids and grandkids, but –maybe I’m much more self-centered than I ever thought – I suddenly found myself praying mostly for myself.
I prayed for a cure. I prayed for a diagnosis. I prayed for release from the searing pain.
And nothing happened.
Soon, most of the prayers I was saying were the kind that involved shaking my fist at Heaven and asking, “Why me??” which is a sentence that comes right before, “This is not fair!” That was followed by reminding God of all the wonderful things I had done for Him.
What comes after that, and this is a living Hell, is the thought, a message from Wormwood himself, a certain and clear knowledge: There is no God. I have been deluded all my life. The world is Hell: full of war, plagues, tornados, floods, infertility and the death of babies. Where are you, God, in the face of all this suffering?
Unfortunately, many of us who have faced life-threatening illnesses, the pain of cancer, loss of eyesight or loss of limbs find ourselves in this dilemma: The one thing that has given us strength all our lives, our faith, is replaced by a thick, roiling fog.
I think I cried for most of the spring of 2009. Throughout that time I was swamped with get-well wishes, many from people I did not know, many from people who had read this column in the past. Some said they had been cheered and encouraged by my columns, and they felt the need to cheer and encourage me now. I had phone calls and letters from people I barely knew. Family and friends visited me whenever they could. People told me they were praying for me. At first, I didn’t notice. I was too tired, too sick, too scared to care. But day by day I came to realize: this is evidence, the true reality and embodiment of God’s existence.
I was not knocked off my horse like Paul; I didn’t have a sudden conversion like Matt Talbot, but I slowly realized I was, and had been all my life, truly engulfed by God’s love. When so many people love me so much, how can I deny the Hand of God? When I have been given so much, my beautiful family, all of the “angels” taking care of me, doctors and nurses working hard to give me back the few things I had lost (and weren’t they few in relation to all I have) how can I ever say there is no God?
Soon came the good news. While there was no cure, there was a diagnosis and a protocol for treatment. The diagnosis was a not rare, but not common virus called CIDP. I am currently in remission and hope to stay that way for a good long time.
If God wills it, I will be writing a bi-weekly column in the Southern Nebraska Register in the weeks ahead. I’ll be telling readers of things that have helped me in my struggle with disease, pain and just plain getting old. I’ll write about books you might enjoy, web sites that might help us deal with the interesting things that happen as we grow older. And I’ll pepper it up with a few stories I’ve heard of hilarious things that happen when you’re in a wheelchair. (No one can understand unless you’ve been there). Mostly I hope I’ll be helping us all “Increase our conscious contact with God.”
Over the Coffee Cup