Several years ago a priest spoke about suffering during his homily. What he said has always stuck with me. He talked about how when bad things happen to us, we often ask, “Why me?”
God, no doubt, has an answer for this question even if we’d rather not hear it. Sometimes it’s simply “So I can strengthen your faith.”
The priest also pointed out that perhaps when we are faced with suffering, we should be asking, “Why not me?” and take up our cross and then remember that Jesus did not come to heal the healthy but the sick.
Of course, this all sounded nice and inspiring, but I know from personal experience that often in our human weakness and when our faith is buried beneath fear, it’s far easier said than done.
Just today I found myself asking “Why not me?” but for a different reason.
I’m not suffering, but another mom I know and love is.
Rae had to endure some medical tests on Monday to see if there was an underlying problem. On Wednesday we heard from the pediatrician. All the scary things it could have been were ruled out. She appeared to be 100 percent healthy. The doctor blamed some previous medical results that suggested a potential problem on lab errors. She has to go back for testing in three months just to be safe, but it looks like she has a clean bill of health. Thanks be to God.
Yet, the very same day I received a phone call that brought relief, my aunt got a very different call. She was told that her son has leukemia.
Thomas is 15. He’s an athlete. He’s one of six kids. He’s my parents’ godson. I just saw him over Thanksgiving and I had to resist the urge to morph into the annoying older cousin and say something about how grown up he looked. When I’d seen him last, he’d still looked like a little boy. Now I saw a young man standing before me. A healthy, young man.
We don’t know a lot of details yet. Apparently he’d started not feeling well, and they thought he might have mono. So they ran some routine tests. No big deal.
Now my teenage cousin is living with a cancer diagnosis.
My aunt was on her way to pick him up from school to take him to Vanderbilt for their first oncology appointment when she called my grandmother and asked her to tell the rest of the family and ask for their prayers.
Thomas had no idea his mom was on her way, that he’d be leaving school early. He had no idea yet that he had leukemia. What was she thinking as she drove to his school? What was she feeling? How was she going to tell her youngest boy that he had cancer?
When I received the news, I immediately looked over at Rae. She had a runny nose but other than that she was the picture of health, and I knew now that nothing was going on internally that would hurt her either.
My girl was healthy; my cousin was not.
What’s really strange is I’d actually just been telling my husband the night before that I didn’t know how moms of kids with leukemia did it (I specifically thought of leukemia when I held Rae on my lap and tried to calm her crying while the nurses were poking and prodding her, probably because I used to spend a lot of time volunteering with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and met many families who had children with leukemia). Just watching Rae writhe in pain as they tried to find her vein in her small arm was enough to break a mom’s heart.
I also found myself thinking of another one of my aunts who has a daughter with cystic fibrosis and lissencephaly. Michelle has spent her entire life in and out of the hospital. My aunt has been by her side through it all. She loves her child as much as I love my girls, but she can do nothing, nothing to stop the pain.
I can’t get images of Thomas or Michelle out of my head. And I can’t stop asking either of the questions that priest talked about so long ago – just in a different context. “Why me?” (As in why am I so darn lucky?) “Why not me?” (As in why are my kids so healthy and others’ kids are not?)
What I can and will do is pray. (And I humbly ask for your prayers on behalf of my cousin and his family as well.) I’ll pray for Thomas and his healing. I’ll pray for his dad and his siblings that they can cling to their faith and to hope. I’ll pray for Michelle that her beautiful smile will continue to light up the world around her. I’ll pray for my aunts and all moms who have to watch their kids suffer that they can find strength and courage in Our Blessed Mother. I’ll pray for the doctors and medical staff who make it their lives to heal the sick. I’ll pray for my own children and give thanks for their good health. I’ll stop asking “Why me?” as well as “Why not me?” and I will instead (try to) love God fearlessly, accept the mystery of suffering, and open my heart to Christ and his healing powers. All easier said than done, I’m sure.