Nobody wants to be sick. Unless one is a hypochondriac. As an adult, getting the flu, fever, colds, migraines or muscle pains can be a very personal kind of suffering. You’re sick enough to get your daily activities and normal disposition disrupted but not really sick enough to merit going to the hospital. You have to be “man” enough to just grin and bear it. And usually you can get by without snapping at anyone or complaining online.
But major diseases like cancer or other medically difficult conditions stop becoming personal and begin involving all members of one’s family and to some extent one’s community.
I saw this very clearly when my grandmother (and later on my dad) was admitted to the hospital. As her closest family members rally around her and as our household help and extended family and friends help us pull through, I realize that sickness, although certainly not something to look forward to, has something to teach us all.
On a personal level, a person who is sick must come to grips with one’s weaknesses and humility, and eventually one’s own mortality. It is only when we are sick that we see past the glamor of our invincibility. We’re not as strong as we think we are. We’re not as capable as we think we are. And whether we admit it or not, we need other people. If we look past our dependence on the kindness of others and on their good will, we get a glimpse of just how dependent we truly are on God.
When a close friend or family member is sick, I begin to see just how valuable (or not) relationships become. Family becomes less a noun and more a verb. Priorities get reorganized. Work, that can sometimes become all consuming, is relegated to its proper place. Suffering, when shared with those we love, somehow becomes lighter. And when someone we love suffers, we cannot help but be changed. We are forced to reassess our petty differences and see the bigger picture. We are also moved to compassion, not just for those we love but even those we do not know but who have to go through the same thing.
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And finally, sickness allows other members of our community to express their love. Perhaps one of the best gifts we can give other people is to allow them to express their kindness. And it can come in all sorts of forms. I have found that people can be very creative indeed when they think of ways to help us. Some can do it in the form of food, others encouragement, others service, others time and for most, in the form of prayer. And by some Divine Providence, the right kind of help is always extended at the right moment.I am grateful beyond words for everything that everyone has done for my family. And I will continue to be grateful long after this situation passes.
I understand now how some people can say that suffering can still be a beautiful experience. Suffering itself, is not beautiful, what can be beautiful (with acceptance and of course grace) is what it makes of us, our relationships and our faith.
[Originally written in TACKED THOUGHTS for The Freeman
by Nancy Unchuan Toledo]