...the tough get out their Rosary!
A little more than a month ago I had an experience that was sad but affirming to my Catholic faith. My stepfather, Rudolph Cox, had been diagnosed with acute leukemia, which I learned was a particularly aggressive cancer with low cure rates. He chose to undergo one round of chemo, which was unsuccessful in slowing the disease, and thus decided to stop treatments. He understood he probably only had weeks to live. He died four weeks after learning of his illness. He was 81 years old.
I've known Rudolph for 25 years, since he married my mom (she was divorced and he was a widower). We lost my mother to lung cancer in 1999 but remained close and the kids simply called him "grandpa." He had remarried a terrific and faithfully Christian woman, and two years ago decided to re-dedicate his life to the Lord.
I left as early as I could to be with him during his illness, but the disease overtook him very quickly. I was privileged to be at his bed side for his last three days, although he was unconscious by that time. I learned from family members that Rudolph never complained about his circumstance or the pain he must have been in. As his death grew nearer, he awaited it with resolve and faith. Although he and his wife were not Catholic, I believe they had developed and maintained the same view on sickness and suffering that I have developed as a recent Catholic convert. Suffering will happen, our faith doesn't make us immune to it, and suffering can even be a sanctifying thing to bring one closer to Christ.
Rudolph's strength during his illness helped me stay on track with my Faith, to the point where my experience at his death bed was fundamentally different than with my mom (I was also with her as she passed away). I found myself very comfortable with Rudolph's death, and with his illness and apparent pain and suffering. I prayed for him well into each night, including several Rosaries, not for healing but for consolation and preparation to meet God. At the moment of his death, I was sad to let him go but at peace with his ultimate fate- I had done what I could in those last few days to help him get to Heaven.
What a great treasure we have in our Catholic Faith!
Finally, I'd like to offer these passages from a book of daily meditations given to me by a friend, called "In Conversation with God," by Fr. Francis Fernandez. The first excerpts happen to be on suffering, and were part of the readings from the day Rudolph died (Fourth Week of Ordinary Time, Thursday):
"...if they [the sick] unite it to Christ's sufferings, their suffering becomes a good of incalculable worth..."
"When Our Lord gives us a taste of his Cross through suffering and sickness, we should see ourselves as his favoured children... we actually can become co-redeemers with him. Then it is that pain, which had seemed useless and harmful, turns into joy and becomes a treasure."
"We turn to Mary, our Mother... Let us ask that our pain and sorrows (which are inevitable in this life) may help us to unite ourselves ever more to her Son..."
And this excerpt from just his week (Ninth Week of Ordinary Time, Wednesday): "When we are grieved by the death of a loved one, or we are with mourners who have lost a member of their family, we have to manifest, to them as to ourselves, these truths that fill us with hope and consolation; life does not end here below on earth; we are going forward to meet God in eternal life."
Pray for us, holy mother of God.