By Barb Arland-Fye
Reflecting on the theme for this year’s Respect Life Month in October, “Every Life is Worth Living,” I couldn’t help but recall images from Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States. Kissing countless babies and a boy with cerebral palsy; shaking hands warmly with prisoners in a Philadelphia prison; blessing an elderly woman in a wheel chair; enthusiastically greeting homeless guests at a meal site.
Yes, every life is worth living; I recall a comment that Josh, a caregiver for my son Colin and his roommate, made the other day. “These guys deserve me.” His statement reflected not a boast, but a sincere belief that individuals with developmental disabilities deserve the commitment and love of caregivers who truly serve as extended family. Josh leads Colin toward greater self-sufficiency, especially with personal hygiene and social activities, and puts up with my son’s occasional childish fits when something doesn’t go his way. Josh emailed us recently, suggesting we take photographs of Patrick’s dorm room at St. Ambrose University as a way to alleviate Colin’s anxiety about a new chapter in his brother’s life.
Yes, every life is worth living. I think about a video posted on Facebook of Miss America contestant Kelley Johnson who appeared on stage last month wearing her nurse’s scrubs for the talent portion. She gave a monologue about caring for a patient named Joe with Alzheimer’s disease. The nights Joe woke up because of night scares, Kelley held his hands for a few minutes which seemed to calm him down. Joe wanted to talk and she made time to listen. One night she found him sobbing in his room. She lifted his head up out of his hands and told him: “Joe, I know this is really hard. You are not defined by this disease. You are not just Alzheimer’s. You are still Joe.” Her compassion meant the world to Joe. “You are my nurse, and you have changed my life because you cared about me,” he told her.
Yes, every life is worth living. I think about people I know who are in the midst of a battle with life-threatening illnesses. It’s a daunting journey, but each one has family and friends to hold their hand along the way. Myra, the sister of my friend Marcia, who has non-smoker’s lung cancer, sleeps on an air mattress in Marcia’s Colorado condo while providing tender loving care. Marcia’s two daughters have also been a big support – making meals, visiting, getting into the swimming pool with her as she works to build her strength.
Yes, every life is worth living. My son Patrick learned that a student with a locker next to his during his senior year in high school committed suicide recently. We’ve talked about how life is worth living, no matter what challenges someone faces. We’ve talked about how people shouldn’t be afraid to seek help if they need it. Patrick said he’s started praying for people suffering from depression.
Yes, every life is worth living. The U.S. bishops, in their message for Respect Life Month 2015, observed: “As Christians, we know that suffering is not the end of the story; it can be the path by which the Lord perfects us in love and leads us to Heaven. We are called to respect and protect our lives and the lives of others, and we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ to all, especially the most vulnerable. We have been given one life to live, which has inestimable value — how will we choose to live it?”
I hope Pope Francis’ U.S. visit will serve as a reminder to me how to demonstrate what respect for life looks like.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)