A dear friend of mine from college passed away in April after a year-long battle with appendiceal cancer. Well, it started last February when they found out she had cancer. She was told she was in remission this past September, but by December the cancer was stage IV and growing fast. She went to be with the Lord on April 6, 2017. She was only 34.
Katie and I shared some similar life situations. We both studied Catechetics at Franciscan University of Steubenville and were involved in youth ministry after college. We both had 4 kids in 6 years, we both homeschooled (well, she did until the cancer). We both have a daughter named Lily. She lived in Houston and I in Denver, but she would tell me from stories we shared how well she thought our two oldest boys would get along. Both of our husbands enjoy woodworking.
What I love most about Katie and her husband is that everything they shared on their cancer journey, everything in their life pointed to Jesus. You can read her husband’s eulogy here, and he talks more about Jesus than about Katie because that’s really what her life was about: pointing to Jesus. As they wrote health updates on their blog over the last year, they also wrote about how God was working in their life. I myself, and many others, have a deeper faith because of their witness and their words.
So I must share with you this passage from her blog about marriage that she wrote a few months back:
“As I went through my first bout with cancer, it occurred to me that I had made a false assumption about our vows. I assumed that the good times were only associated with the healthy times. It never occurred to me that the good times and the sick times could work together simultaneously.
Now as I begin my second journey, this is proven to me once again. Certainly we are stressed as anyone would be in a situation like this. And our parents and all of you who have helped with everything help reduce that stress significantly. As David has been at my bedside, he has taken care of me and nursed me, changed my bandages, prayed with and for me, I encounter the good. I wish I could put it clearly into words. We cry (oh, Lord we cry), we laugh, we look at stupid facebook memes, we pray desperately, and we pray with calm hearts trusting in God. Of course, we argue still. But, thankfully, we take each day and see the good in all of this, and in each other.
As it turns out marriage is hard, but the sacrifice is worth it every day. As I look into the eyes of my beloved I see his love reaching out to me, I see him giving me strength, providing me with hope, and holding me closely. I see the good in this time of sickness.
My prayer is for all of you in marriage, that you can find the good in everything, because it’s there.”
Wow do I love that! The good is there.
The Church, in her wisdom, has laid out what you promise at the altar. You promise to be faithful in the good and bad, in sickness and in health, to love and honor your spouse all the days of your life because that’s what we need. We don’t need an escape route for when things get bad or an illness feels too much to handle. We need the grace of the Sacrament to keep our promises.
When your marriage is built on Christ, you learn how to sacrifice for your beloved. These days, our culture sees sacrifice, hardship, and struggle as very bad. If something is hard, then something is wrong. But Katie’s witness shows us this is not true. There is good in all of it: even in the struggle, even in the sickness. Just as the Cross paved the way for the Resurrection, our sufferings can pave the way for deeper love and goodness to rise up, especially in our marriages.
Sometimes we wouldn’t be able recognize the good unless there was a way to make it rise up. I’m sure her husband is a better father for the way he cared for Katie and their children. I’m sure their families are closer because of coming together to support them. I know my marriage is stronger because of things she has shared. And last of all, I know Katie’s on her way to heaven because of the sufferings she’s endured. I hope we end up reunited someday, better off for the lessons our marriages have taught us, and the way our marriages have transformed us closer into the image of Christ.