A beautiful woman passed away last Friday. Her name was Adah Gerardo. While I only met her a handful of times, my mom knew and loved her well. Even in my brief encounters, I was in awe of this woman’s strength. She recently turned 30 – just two years older than me. She was a mother, a wife, a Catholic woman. She also had been living with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, for a decade. Her death, for those left behind, is bittersweet. We are thankful she is no longer in pain (she’d been getting progressively worse and recently started experiencing some severe pain) and that she had a chance to be with her loved ones over the holidays. She saw all of her family for the first time in many years and then traveled to her husband’s native home in Mexico to be with his family (she actually passed away while still in Mexico). We are thankful she slipped from this world peacefully to eternal life and died in her sleep rather than suffering in a hospital (she vehemently hated hospitals). Yet, we are sad for her devoted husband and her precious son. We are also sad for ourselves because we will miss her enduring optimism and her beautiful smile. I last saw her a few weeks ago at my parents’ church. ALS had crippled her entire body. She could barely talk or even wiggle her toes and yet, she smiled at me.
Adah was an inspiration to all those who encountered her. In honor of this woman of faith, I’ve included an essay below that my mom and I wrote for Canticle a few months ago. Read it and help us remember someone who carried a burdensome cross with grace. To learn more about ALS or to make a donation to the ALS Association, visit http://www.alsa.org/.
Adah Gerardo: How to Carry Your Cross with a Light Heart, Humility and Hope
By Eileen Pankow and Kate Wicker
Somewhere along my faith journey I’ve been taught that I must share the pains of Jesus’ thorns in order to grow closer to him. Like most people, I’ve had my share of thorny encounters. Some have cut more deeply than others, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever really stood at the foot of the cross – like John or Mary did so long ago – and seen true suffering and perhaps, more importantly, what it means to suffer with dignity.
But Adah Gerardo, she’s a different story. I met Adah two years ago and quickly discovered who she was – an artist, a young wife and mother, a quick-witted beauty with an infectious smile, the patience of a saint, more courage than a pride of lions and an unwavering faith. Although her lively spirit could almost make you forget, you can’t escape the obvious: Adah lives every day of her life with a cumbersome companion. When she was just 20 years old, she was diagnosed with ALS – commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Now at 29, she’s confined to a wheelchair, labors for every breath and uses superhuman effort just to enunciate enough to be understood. She is virtually paralyzed and can only move a few of her fingers, her lower legs and her face. Yet, although her body may be weak, her spirit is strong.
I am one of the many who are referred to as “Adah’s Angels.” We are a group of volunteers from the Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd in Cumming, Georgia who help out with whatever Adah needs – usually watching her 5-year-old Cristofer, a child her doctors told her to abort because of her ALS diagnosis. Embracing motherhood was her first act of courage. Since then, there have been too many to count. I believe God’s providence brings people like Adah into our lives to inspire us to be more Christ-like. Read on to discover how one woman said, “Yes” to Christ despite the heavy cross she was given.
With a light heart
Despite her circumstances, Adah is able to laugh – not only at the world around her but at herself as well. Sometimes when I can’t understand her very simple requests such as “scratch my nose,” she resorts to carefully spelling out the words as if we were playing a game of charades. She refers to her feeding tube as a form decoration and seeing her lips curl into a bright smile, you’d almost think wearing a maze of medical tubes is the latest fashion rage. Not one to ask, “Why me?” I’ve only seen Adah cry once. I’ve asked how she manages it – to remain so consistently optimistic and to laugh more than cry. “When I can’t do anything else, I smile,” she tells me.
Christ invites us to take our crosses to Him. While acceptance and refusal to dwell on the pains we suffer is a good thing, God doesn’t want us to just “suck it up.” He requires us to first accept our crosses with humility and then to say, “I need you.” While Adah doesn’t resort to self-pity, she’s not in denial either. She’s aware of her limitations and actually converted to Catholicism during the early stages of her illness – a beautiful revelation that showed she had accepted her need for him. Since then, she’s never stopped turning to him or to others for help. Once she asked me to put her arm around her son. I felt like an intruder watching this beautiful scene unfold: A mother whose love overshadowed her dearth of physical strength. I also knew that others in a similar situation may have let their pride keep them for asking for help, but Adah’s desire to hold her son was far more important than appearing “weak.” That makes her the strongest woman I know.
It would be easy for Adah to stop enjoying the simple pleasures; yet, she finds enjoyment in all the little things life has to offer – whether it’s watching the volunteers play with Cristofer or allowing her nurse Charlie to paint her nails a different shade every week. Instead of saying I can’t move my hands anymore, Adah focuses on the fact that she can still move her feet and even paints pictures with her toes. She pours her love into these beautiful watercolors and one recently sold for $250 at an ALS fundraiser. Hope eclipses self-pity and gives her inspiration to enjoy all the little things life has to offer. (Photo, right, shows piece of artwork Adah painted with her feet.)
And Adah isn’t the only one who stays hopeful. Her devoted husband, Edward, cares for her with a tenderness that’s rare in our selfish society. But he also helps keep Adah’s own hope alive. “Edward helps me by not letting me ever give up,” she says.
There are days when I fall into despair over the toothpick-like crosses God gives me and then I wonder how someone like Adah does it. Sometimes God asks a lot of us. In Adah’s case, it almost seems like too much to bear. Yet, she refuses to live in the shadow of her cross. Instead, this woman who can teach us all rises above her cross and carries with it the hope that her burden will one day be lifted.