Working with teenagers at a Catholic school, I often get asked why I think God allows suffering in this life. I can’t say that’s just a teenage question because I’ve wondered that myself.
What I’ve learned through my own sufferings is that there is always some good to be found in it. We just have to look for it. I use the story of my sister’s life as an example.
When Sue was in her 20’s, she was living a very dangerous lifestyle. I won’t go into detail, but if she had continued as she was, my fear was she’d end up dead or in jail. She was also in a toxic marriage. Her life was a mess.
When Sue was 31, she was diagnosed with a stage 4 glioblastoma. This is a brain cancer that kills most people quickly. She was given 6 months to a year to live.
After Sue’s brain surgery, chemo and radiation, she and her husband divorced. She was raising two young sons as a single mother. I remember visiting her once and being in awe of her attitude. She said, “I think brain cancer saved my life”. How does that even make sense when she’s dying of brain cancer? She said, “I was going to die if my life didn’t change. I needed a wake-up call and I’m thankful to God I got one”. She quit drinking and smoking, went back to work, and was happy.
She kept living.
The damage done to her brain from radiation was significant, though. She was deaf in one ear, had seizures, was on daily medication, and her hair never grew back on her right side. Then, she had a stroke. But she kept on living.
Sue was paralyzed on her left side and could no longer live alone. We had to make the difficult decision to put her in a nursing home. What we learned next, made us very sad. Sue was living as a recluse and none of us realized it. My mom and sister went to clean out Sue’s apartment and saw that she had covered all windows with blankets and comforters. She was staying awake all night because she was afraid of night, then slept during the day. She had developed paranoia.
I went to visit Sue after the stroke and she said, “I think this stroke saved my life. I was living in fear and I was afraid to be alone. Now, I will have people around me all the time”. I couldn’t help it and I asked her if she was angry; if she ever felt mad at God. She said, “No; He is the one giving me the strength to handle all this”.
She kept on living.
Sue is in a nursing home now, receiving around-the-clock care. She is completely deaf. She is paralyzed on her left side and is wheelchair and bed bound. She’s got paranoia, psychosis and dementia because of her diseased brain.
My mom, sisters and I have spoken about the dementia and I’ve come to see it as a gift. Sue has imaginary friends who are always in her room with her. She talks to them and they talk to her. She is never lonely. She doesn’t know when people go to visit her or they don’t. In her mind, she is having a house built with a pool and will be moving “tomorrow”.
Dementia is saving her life. The stroke saved her life. Brain cancer saved her life. These horrible sufferings are all blessings in disguise. I have to wonder if the same is true for all sufferings.
Sue was 31 when she was given 6–12 months to live. That was 16 years ago. Today is Sue’s 47th birthday. She keeps living.