As I was reading the daily gospel last Friday, I was suddenly struck with some thoughts about life and death. It's something I have actually thought about a lot lately - life and death I mean- and the thoughts I had were vaguely familiar but at the same, seemed a lot more definitive than ever before. John 21: 15-19 is the passage where Jesus asks Simon Peter several times in a row if he loves Him. Peter of course answers a repetitive yes, and each time, Jesus tells Peter that if he truly loves Him he must feed His lambs and take care of His sheep.
Growing up, when this particular passage was taught to us in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, or when we heard it at Mass, emphasis was put mostly on the first 3 verses: After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them, he said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." He then said to Simon Peter a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.
But the last two verses in the passage convey that Peter will die a death that will glorify God. At first thought, and I'm sure every time I've heard this particular gospel, those last two lines never really stand out: Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."
|Anne and Chet Glover on their wedding day|
|The "Glover" side at my sister's wedding in 1995|
Toward the end of her life, Grandma suffered from Alzheimer's. She literally had to stretch her hands for someone else (my mom) to dress her, and often be led where she did not want to go as she was bound to a wheelchair long before the latter stages of the disease set in. Alzheimer's is a dark void in which a person is lost. Lost but not gone completely. Grandma, though hidden deep inside herself, still had her personhood. All you had to do was look in her eyes and there she was. Past the sallowed skin of her cheeks; past the cacophony of mutterings and rantings, in her liquid green eyes you could see Anne Glover and you knew she was indeed there. Somewhere.
|Trapped. But there.|
Being trapped in her own mind must have been a very scary thing for her. At times, I know she was drawn to places within she didn't want to go, taken back to the past to a different type of suffering, one she hadn't known in decades. And it was these moments when you just knew of her fear and all you could do was sit with her and let her work through it. Her behavior was irrational and yet there was no reasoning with her. There is no reasoning with dementia. It is a sneaky beast that seems to come and go as it pleases, wreaking havoc on a person's mind, stealing thoughts, memories, ideas. Grandma always had a very difficult time of iterating what she wanted, finishing a sentence, grasping the right word to convey what she felt. Many times, she repeated the same sentence or word over and over again in a futile attempt to get us to understand. It was a struggle for us to watch her so I know it was a struggle for her to be in that position. But at the same time, even in that desperate state, Grandma was bringing glory to God.
|With her Great-Grandson, Adam|
|With her Great-Granddaughter, Rose|
Another aspect of Grandma's suffering was in the demands it made on her family. Particularly my mom, who was the sole caretaker of Grandma for the last and worst years of her suffering. Taking care of Grandma daily, even throughout the night as if she had a newborn babe, my mother worked tirelessly to make sure my Grandma's needs were met. It humbled Grandma. It humbled my mom. It humbled me. Seeing the love and gentleness in her care, and helping out when I was able to, was a very big lesson in humility. It was that time that I started to see how suffering can indeed bring glory to God, though I wasn't sure of the depths to which it was capable of extending.
And here I have to make a confession.
I actually wrote a similar post last Friday, the day this particular gospel was part of the daily readings, and I even published it. A glitch in Blogger somehow caused my post to be lost in cyberspace. To say I was destroyed is an understatement. I spent the day crying. Literally. I was so lost within myself already and losing the post was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. It wasn't until much later in the day, when I could get over myself for a few seconds, that I realized that perhaps it was a little lesson God wanted me to learn about my own suffering. I wrote this long post, and it was actually very good if I say so myself, and I published it. But within the post, I really had very little to say about my own suffering, which has been very plentiful lately, and what sort of glory I can bring to God through it. I was not practicing what I was preaching. And losing my post seemed to open my eyes up a little bit to that thinking which I had missed SO MANY times over the last few months: how can I bring glory to God through this?
|Grandma, like me, loved purple|
In the telling of my Grandma's struggle with Alzheimer's and the many ways in which her suffering and death glorified God, I failed to mention that any suffering has the potential to do this. I failed to admit to my own suffering and how I wasn't using it the way I should be. In actuality, we are all called to suffer throughout our life and the purpose of it is in fact to glorify Him. God asks us if we love Him. If we do, He demands we feed His lambs, take care of His sheep and follow Him. It doesn't necessarily mean doing these things the way we would like to; it almost never goes the way we think it should. And it often involves much suffering. Not all of us will die a death that is preceded by literally being dressed by someone else and led to places we don't wish to go as my Grandmother's did. But it will glorify Him, especially if we did live our life in service to Him and others, opening ourselves up to the type of suffering that will bring glory to God.
In my suffering, I, much like my Grandma, have been taken to places within my mind I rather wish I didn't go. Unlike my Grandma, though, I turned inward and sort of lost myself on purpose, so that I wouldn't have to face things and I could just think about myself and throw pity parties as much as I wanted. I didn't want to talk about things, except to annoy my husband with repeating a hundred times what I felt without wanting to hear an answer if he so happened to have one. I was not glorifying God.
In my weakness, I couldn't find the joy and wonder in being my kids' mom, like my Grandma did with her great-grandchildren despite her disease. In fact, in the past few months, as I've grown more and more frustrated with my children and unable to be patient (a state that is brought on by my selfishness and the fact that I have lost myself in my own suffering), I have often wished I could just be alone and not have to worry about them anymore. I was not glorifying God.
|4 Generations of Strong, Feisty Women|
The demands from God are clear. We are to love Him and serve Him. In loving and serving Him, there will be suffering and we will need to cling to Him and follow Him. We are called to use our suffering to glorify Him. Not on our terms, but on His. We are not to lose ourselves in our darkness but fight that darkness to bring His light to others. Suffering has a purpose. I look at my Grandma's life, how her suffering was not a choice, but her willingness to be a servant of God opened her up to that end time when He could use her suffering to further His kingdom. Three years after her death, her suffering is still working to bring others to Him.
What greater glory is there?