Connected In Christ
This past Friday I visited my cousin. While a family visit is usually an everyday event, this was an important family get-together. You see, my cousin is dying from cancer.
She is only fifty years old, fifteen months older than I am. Growing up we were very close. I would say we were as close as siblings, loving each other so much we were comfortable enough to fight and make up often. Even when her family moved away, we still kept up our friendship through letters and frequent visits. We have many good memories, including homeschooling together, trips to the Bahamas and Rome and Fatima. I was Maid of Honor for her wedding in 1990.
Family life takes its normal course. She had eight children, I got married ten years after her wedding and had my two boys. She only lives an hour away but the lives of our family took priority over the years.
In August 2013, she was diagnosed with a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST). Surgery and treatment helped the tumor go into remission for a few years. But this year the tumors returned with a vengeance, ravaging her body, and there are no treatments available.
It is devastating news. She is a loving and generous person and wonderful wife and mother. Having to leave one’s husband and children at such a young age is just so hard. She has a positive outlook, and says that her suffering and dying is the easy job. The family she leaves behind have the hard job of picking up all the pieces. Her main worry is to get her husband and children to heaven.
I feel so helpless, but I find consolation in our Faith. I know we are connected so intimately through our Baptism. Whether it is referred to as the Mystical Body of Christ, the True Vine and the Branches or the Communion of Saints, I know that everything I do or experience, whether a sin or good deed, joy or sorrow, suffering or good health, affects all our brothers and sisters and Christ.
And I am connected to my cousin through my prayers and sufferings, offering it for her. Time and space can’t separate us. If I can’t physically be there to support her, I know my other spiritual works can.
Four years ago, the same month she received her diagnosis of cancer, I had a diagnosis of hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy requiring heart surgery. We were both dealing with a huge health crisis at the same time. She and I were trading our sufferings for each other. We became more than just close cousins; we were sisters suffering together in Christ.
My visit reaffirmed our connection. Even though it’s been a long time since we’ve been together, it was easy to pick up our friendship where we left off.
The consolation of our connection through the Communion of Saints doesn’t take away her suffering or her financial burdens, nor does it take my pain of watching her go through such agony. But it changes my attitude; I know my prayers and sufferings for her are worthwhile, and it spurs me on to think, pray and offer up for her throughout my day. The True Vine binds us more closely than any physical friendship could. We are bound in spirit, and whether she is suffering here, or enters eternity, our bond cannot be broken.
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