A loved one’s illness opened my eyes to reality

By Don Clemmer, 26 September 2022
Image: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash


What happens next in life might hurt us—but we’ll discover many amazing things along the way.

In the early months of 2021, our family started to unclench. With a new president in office and COVID-19 vaccines becoming available, it was more than a spring cleaning. It was a time for confronting the long-avoided details of life—like the fact that we had long ago outgrown our house and that my wife should probably get that tiny lump in her breast looked at.

As it happened, we closed on the new house on a Monday and got the diagnosis that Friday. The moment of hearing the news from her on the phone carried with it the strongest visceral reaction I have ever registered in my physical person. More than feeling dizzy or nauseated, it was like a wave rushed in and crashed into my chest, like a force ripping through our reality from outside.

Jesuit Father Karl Rahner asserted that people can have direct experiences of God’s grace but cautioned against ascribing every last warm, benign feeling to it. Rather, God’s grace is all that is left when every other thing has been stripped from us—leaving us vulnerable and exposed. That would become our experience.

So many people showed us who they really are. One friend rearranged her work schedule to sit with our kids one day a week while my wife navigated the long, cumulatively exhausting days of radiation. Folks who were glorified acquaintances confirmed their awesomeness by sending lovely notes from several states away or dropping lasagnas at the front door—one for tonight and one to sock away in the freezer.

God works through other people, and we find God in other people. One of my wife’s perennial struggles is a resistance to asking for help—not a great impulse with small kids in the house. So, true to form, God’s presence in her cancer fight took the form of overwhelmed mental circuit breakers and finally a surrender of “Yes, OK. I will accept help from others.”

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Don Clemmer is editor of Connection magazine for the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice.

With thanks to U.S. Catholic, a publication of the Claretian Missionaries, a Roman Catholic religious community of priests and brothers dedicated to the mission of living and spreading the gospel of Jesus. 


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