Our friend’s husband developed a weird brain disease by age 50. The disease spent years taking over his walking, talking, remembering, swallowing. It was gunning for all of him. Yesterday it ended his life. His suffering is over. And we pray he is moving on from death, an end of what was, to a better life in a new form.
The journey has been so hard and too long for our friend. She has had to watch the terrible march of the disease as it overtook one area of functioning and then another. When his memory failed he would ask us things like, “Who is that lady who brought me here?” meaning his wife. I can’t imagine taking care of my wife and her not even knowing who I am.
But that is what unseen saints do. They are everywhere, but hidden from our view. One of our church people went through that with her husband. First he knew his memory was slipping and they suffered that together. Then came a phase when he didn’t seem to know anyone. She kept visiting day in and day out, and making sure his needs were well met. Which is what unseen saints do by nature. He kept forgetting who she was.
There is a man on this same journey who visits his wife every day at the nursing home where our friend Colette is staying. I see him cutting up her food in the lunchroom, and eating a tray of the lunch beside her. I hear the food is pretty bad, so that too is a sacrifice.
People like this are everywhere, pushing their spouses around in wheelchairs, sitting beside them and making conversation in homes and nursing homes, enduring the fact that the one they love no longer knows who they are. What else can fuel them through those unbearable days and nights but divine love?
I mean they have to get exhausted like we all would. They probably cry all alone in their beds, and get mad, and curse under their breaths, and maybe kick a chair or two. They probably find a trusted friend to whom they can admit little hints of their suffering. Maybe they tell what it is like to be tired times 1000. Maybe they know someone who can hear and understand a bit of what their journey is like. They deserve that.
Some of those unseen saints are too private to say anything to anyone. They probably suffer the most because we all need someone to know us and love us as we pass through purgatory.
My cousins recently hinted at what it is like for them to take care of their dad, my uncle, in his home. The man who spent his career caring for the earth and its creatures in Mississippi can’t remember much of his life anymore. But he can still cherish a ride to Wendy’s for a frosty. Sometimes he even knows it is one of his daughters who is taking him, though he might not remember which one. That trio of sisters are also unseen saints. I’m sure they get overwhelmed, but keep doing little acts of love each day anyway, because that is how unseen saints operate.
Our friend’s husband is done with his earthly passage. His suffering is complete. Her suffering is just shifting. After years of sacrificing most of her life to keep him home, while who he was ebbed away, she has now lost him completely. At least she still had the man she loved with her in a very frail body. Now she will only have her husband in her heart.
Whatever divine light shines in the heart of our friend, and our church member, and our cousins, and that man in the nursing home, it is a powerful radiance indeed. And don’t we all need that radiance near us as the days grow shorter and the darkness of the world spreads.
Every day we seem to hear of more darkness around us. Within the last twenty-four hours it grew darker in our neighborhood. A man was beaten and mugged at gunpoint across the street from our apartments, just before the same guys robbed the store where we buy gas two blocks away. A friend had four angry teens shoot their gun through her window just after she walked past them on the street. Poor kids who never felt loved are roaming our streets in packs, just looking for someone to vent their anger upon. They seem to have lost all value for life–their own and anyone else’s.
The human story is such a discrepancy on our crazy planet, where the unloved are tearing this world apart in violent public acts, while saints are sewing the fabric of the world back together with their unseen acts of incredible loving-kindness.
Today we should lift high the unseen saints, hold them in our hearts, and reverence how they are sewing-together our fractured world. We should watch for them wherever we go because we need them so desperately. May we not give in to despair when the dark and violent acts make the news. And may we find our hearts strengthened by remembering the unbearably loving acts of the unseen saints who keep bringing divine light into our world.