By Mark Davis Pickup
Although I have previously written about this event, there are some aspects upon which I want to specifically focus. A number of years ago, my wife LaRee and I gave a keynote speech to over 800 people at a U.S. National Right to Life Prayer Breakfast in Baltimore. We told our story about living with incurable and aggressive multiple sclerosis for three decades: I spoke from the perspective of a sufferer. She spoke from the perspective of a spouse watching the suffering and suffering too.
It was extraordinarily rare for LaRee because by nature she’s shy and prefers to stay in the background. If memory serves me correctly, it was only one of three times LaRee agreed to publicly speak from a family member’s perspective.
What I said was inconsequential compared to her testimony. I’m forced to live with disease and disability. LaRee chose to stay. She has so much life experience, from abortion to end-of-life-issues. LaRee’s heart has often been broken in two yet remains tender and open to love for love’s sake.
She spoke about the pain of watching a number of loved-ones’ sufferings and deaths. Her mother spent her last years in a substandard nursing home. Without LaRee’s constant advocacy on her mother’s behalf, who knows how poor her care would have been. LaRee helplessly watched the infirmities of extreme old age and deaths with her beloved grandparents. For more than 30 years LaRee has lived with my degeneration with aggressive multiple sclerosis (MS).
It was at my urging that LaRee agreed to walk on the stage to address people from all across America. She sat with me at the table provided and looked down at the table cloth. When it was her turn to address the audience, she slowly began to speak with a trembling voice: “There is a special torment experienced by those who watch a loved-one suffer. To see disease rack their bodies, and souls, increases the sum total of suffering . . . because I suffer too.”
The room became as quiet as a tomb. Even the sound of air vents stopped. Still too timid to look up, LaRee continued, “I believe it is harder to watch degenerative disease torture and break my loved-ones, than to actually suffer the disease.”
Something profound was about to unfold.
LaRee slowly raised her head and looked at the expectant audience.
Her gentle brown eyes revealed a grief of unspoken sadness . . . finally about to be revealed. And yet in those same eyes there was also a hint and a glint of hard-won victory of love. Her voice grew strong with conviction that resonated to the back of the banquet hall. LaRee was coming into her stride now:
Despite countless trials, love has prevailed. Love is like the two sides of a precious coin. The two sides of love are this: It is life’s greatest ecstasy but also the cause of life’s greatest agonies and anguish. The 19th Century writer, Victor Hugo said, “To love or to have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life. To love is a consummation.” — And so it is.
She paused, sighed, then continued:
And yet as a wife, mother and grandmother, I want more, and I ask further. I want to protect those I love from pain, emotional hurts, disappointments, and even life as it ends—but I cannot. So often I sat at the bedside of a suffering loved-one and begged God to give me their pain—as though there is some quota of suffering to be filled which I can bargain about with God. There is not.
LaRee went on to speak of life’s agonies and love’s triumphs, and broken-hearted victories that ultimately prove blessings can appear as burdens, and every life is precious and worth living, even when circumstances indicate otherwise. She spoke of a spiritual beauty only to be found in human brokenness and poverty of spirit.
It is in those shattered and tattered times of sorrow—after convulsive weeping has reached its apex then subsides—that the individual collapses emotionally and spiritually defeated and at the end of their human resources. Their heart lies on the floor raw and open like a deep wound. But it is open. Stillness descends. A small voice whispers “weary and heavy-heart, come to Me and I will give you rest.” The divine lover and the loved can finally enter a communion of hearts. The loved understands everything happens for a reason and all things really do work together for good of those who love God, and human suffering today will give way to immeasurable glory tomorrow.
And although she did not say it, the inference was clear that the point of life is to love God with our whole being and one another with complete abandon. The joy is part of the pain and the pain is part of the joy. That’s how love works.
“For now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see things with perfect clarity. For all I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely.” Three things will last forever—faith, hope and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13.12-13)
Mark Davis Pickup has lived with aggressive multiple sclerosis for over 33 years. Although electric wheelchair dependent, Mark has spoken across the United States and Canada promoting the sanctity, dignity, and equality of all human life. He has addressed politicians and legislative committees (both Canadian and American), university forums, hospital medical staffs, religious and denominational leaders, community groups, and organizations about the critical importance of protecting all human life from conception to natural death. Mark is also a widely published writer on bioethical and Christian issues. He writes a column for Canada’s Western Catholic Reporter newspaper. Mark is the recipient of numerous awards including the Monsignor Bill Irwin Award for Ethical Excellence, the William Kurelek Award for fostering respect and appreciation for the dignity of human life (Canada), and a Governor General’s Medal for Community Service.
This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at humanlifematters.org/2017/09/she-spoke-about-lifes-agonies-and-loves.html.