A good friend of mine from our college days at Fordham University lost his wife of 62 years to Parkinson’s disease. I was unable to attend the funeral but offered to come to his home a month later and have a memorial Mass for her happy repose.
With few exceptions, his whole family attended: children, grandchildren and his brand-new great-granddaughter. The in-laws were present as well. We had a blessed reunion.
His wife suffered a great deal in her eight-year battle with this dreaded disease, but she never complained. My friend told us during Mass about how bravely she carried herself throughout the ordeal. There wasn’t a dry eye among us. Though we were sad, we were also grateful that her suffering was at last over.
I noticed that one of the sons seemed to have an extremely sad look on his face the entire weekend. When his father told me that he had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, too, I understood why he was sad. I wanted so much to help him, but at the time, the opportunity didn’t arise.
The next day, after breakfast, I completed a puzzle called “Cryptoquote,” a kind of word game where you have to decode a disguised message. This was the solution: “It is only in sorrow bad weather masters us; in joy we face the storm and defy it.”
I was immediately inspired to send the quote to my friend’s son.
Here is what I wrote:
“Dear _____, I saw the sorrow on your face over the weekend. Of course you have every reason to be feeling down: the loss of your dear mother and the medical diagnosis that you now have the same disease that took her life. I can’t blame you for being overwhelmed; however, I do not pity you.
“It is not what happens to you in life that will bring you down, it is how you choose to react to it. Your choice in facing this challenge will make all the difference. Your future happiness is still in your hands.
“You have this choice: either to live in fear, shutting down on the very possibility of ever feeling joy again, or to decide to be a joyful person no matter what, refusing to let anything rob you of the joy that God wants you to have. When Jesus said, ‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete,’ he was talking to you directly. ‘Fear is useless,’ he said, ‘what you need is trust. Come to me … and I will refresh you.’
“You don’t have to carry this alone.
“Joy is a choice, my friend, but joy can only flow if you put on a grateful heart. Ponder how many blessings you have been given. God has so much more that he wants to give you.
“There is a noble quality of the soul, which the saints called ‘the duty of delight.’ St. Paul put it this way: ‘Be joyful in all circumstances, pray constantly and for all things give thanks to the Lord, because this is what God expects of you in Christ Jesus,’ (1 Thes 5:16-18).
“With love, Father Jack.”