We all have times when we want to die! If tragedy strikes, or pain is unbearable, sickness is serious, or disability is permanent we are tempted to give up. However, the living out of the days and the weeks and the months teaches us how to cope. It is in the coping and working through each day that we learn that life is valuable. We realize we don’t want to die. We can live a happy, productive life. To offer methods of a quick death in the face of severe hardships is tragic.
For forty-six of my forty-eight years I have lived with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. This particular type of arthritis is very crippling and painful. My entire body is affected, with every joint giving little or no movement. Only in the last five years have I reached the point of saying to my God: “It is good that I have been afflicted!”. For I now realize that “despite my many afflictions my joy knows no bounds. (2 Cor. 7:4). I’m still learning what it is to give thanks for disability, pain and inconvenience.
I spent a good deal of the first thirty years of my life just trying to cope with everyday living. I pushed the awareness and the acceptance of my disability out of my mind. In its place I concentrated on reading, studying and feeding the intellectual craving within me. I lived in a world of books, TV and letters. My friends were pen-pals living miles away. The cocoon of my tight, narrow world began to break open when I met men and women my age who were getting married, having children and building careers. I was living the lives of others through my limited activities. My inner being was empty. As I looked inside I saw that I had truly neglected an important part of my life. I became angry and saw violence and terrible loneliness in my heart.
Crisis of faith
It was a crisis of faith that forced me into accepting myself with all the disabilities. I saw myself as completely useless and I had to cry out to God as I never had before. I begged Him to give me just one good reason why He created me because I didn’t know who I was any more.
For the first part of my life I lived in my parents’ home in New Brunswick where I grew up with three brothers and three sisters, and loving, caring parents. My ability to make decisions for my life was totally untried and practically nil. Then personal and family circumstances made me realize I needed to gain some independence.
In 1975, at the age of thirty-one, I moved into a nursing home in Saint John, N.B. For the first time I began to take control of my life. Under God’s guidance and with the direction of a priest-friend I began to make mature, independent decisions for my life.
Very soon I was offered, and quickly accepted, my first job as volunteer coordinator for Meals on Wheels in Saint John, N.B. I discovered that I had the ability to coordinate over three hundred volunteers who delivered meals from eight separate outlets to the elderly and infirm. This gave me the confidence I needed to move on to further responsibilities. I became a board member, Vice President, then President, of an organization known as Centres Offering independent Life-|Styles Incorporated (C.O.I.L.). This was established to make known the needs of the physically handicapped. Also I worked as a board member for C.O.I.L. Housing Inc., where we spearheaded a project to build a group home for the physically disabled in Saint John, N.B.
I was privileged to work with psychologists, lawyers, school teachers, social workers and various handicapped people. There was one goal in mind: to help heighten the awareness that the world was made for all. We all belong. This world was made for both those who are well and the handicapped. We completed our project and finished the home that sits on Millidge Avenue in Saint John.
But God was calling me beyond the care for the physically disabled to care for the hearts and minds of all of His people. I loved people and I knew that strength, courage and the ability to step out in faith came from within. It was in this realm of reality that I wanted to work. I desired greatly to have people know that god really loved them. Once this realization came to them they would than know that all things are possible. This was my conviction and I wanted to share it with others.
The years I worked with C.O.I.L. and Meals on Wheels I also advanced in the area of listening to the inner hearts of people. I understood their pain and was able to bring comfort. Again I experienced the need to take on greater challenges. As I had outgrown the confines of my life at home, I now outgrew life in a nursing home where I had been for seven years.
In March 1982, through the invitation of several young Catholic lay people who committed themselves to assist me in my quest for greater independence, I moved into a lay Christian community in Toronto. I still shake my head in wonder at the leap of faith I made moving from 24-hour professional care into the volunteer hands of university students. The challenges never ceased in interpersonal relationships and community living. And though this form of independent living many opportunities have opened up for me to counsel and give spiritual direction.
Over the past ten years my life has moved quickly. In May 1982 I became a Redemptorist Oblate, which is an associate member of the Redemptorist community. Before too long I was involved in leadership in the Charismatic Renewal I Toronto. Much of my counseling and spiritual direction flows from this apostolate. I am also blessed to work with Fr. Bill Comerford, C.Ss.R. in Charismatic renewal work and preaching assignments like parish retreats.
When I look back over the last 19 years of my life and see all that has happened, I find it difficult to believe that there is still such a struggle going on to make known and, sometimes having to prove, that persons with disabilities do have a purpose and are useful in today’s world.
Nancy B’s disability was much more serious than mine, but she too needed to know that living is important. She had much more to contribute through her life. Death put an end to her contribution.
My heart was struck with deep compassion when I first heard of her difficult circumstances and her desire to die. I actually visited Hotel Dieu Hospital in Quebec City on December 21, 1991, in efforts to see her and speak with her. However, I was told by her nurse that she was not receiving visitors. I wrote her a note assuring her of my prayers and sent her a red rose.
I was deeply saddened to hear of Nancy’s final decision and her death. I’m sorry she felt this was the only way for her. I regret she did not know how to activate her heart and mind, as many others have in similar circumstances, to fulfil their mission on earth.
Wanting to die does not come as a result of severe pain, suffering and difficult circumstances but from a lack of awareness of one’s purpose in this life and the lack of conviction of being loved and loving others. It is possible to live in all kinds of circumstances where there is love and peace in one’s heart and mind.