For about four years I suffered from serious spinal pain. Then five months ago it began to abate. I suddenly imagined myself going back to the gym, riding my bike and travelling. I even lowered the amount of morphine I had been taking all these years to a bare minimum. I thanked God for this relief
So I went to swim and after each swim the pain was terrible. But I figured this is part of the process of getting stronger. Then I decided the pain was a result of weak muscles, unexercised properly for years. So I tried strengthening exercises and they too caused pain. Each time the pain got worse and I spent more time lying in bed.
Now I am almost back to where I was a few years ago. At first I tried to ignore it. Then I tried to pray through it. Then I promised myself I would not raise my morphine intake and sure enough I began using a bit more though not back to wear I was. I swore not to use my cane…now I use it.
Tickets for concerts I bought in advance when I was well were given away to friends. I was happy they enjoyed those shows but there was a part of me that felt a bit cheated.
It was that feeling of being cheated and overall disappointment that caused me to reflect on what to do with this disappointment as I had to reflect in the same manner as when all this began.
Back then I decided to pull myself out of my own funk by attending Mass more frequently — assuming I could get out. I decided to increase my prayer life, leaning heavily on my rosary and my breviary. The psalms are a great balm for those of us living with non-stop discomfort. All those cries to God suddenly make complete sense. They are not yells of anger but of love.
Thousands of years after the psalms suffering evokes the same simple declaration: I adore you and love you and yet I am tormented.
Then I remembered the answer: suffering is joining with Christ on the cross; it is salvific; as we offer it up to the Lord it helps the souls in purgatory.
Then I remembered too that knowing all that is not enough. Pain wears you down. It makes you exhausted. Your eyes ache. And concentration for long periods of time becomes impossible. It does not so much make you doubt your faith but forget.
All this to say that it does not leave you alone. All my strategies for dealing with pain as devout as they may be still do not allow me the one thing I am desperate for: to escape.
I really wanted to travel again. I really wanted to get on my bike on a beautiful day and go and go and go. I wanted to be able to make plans to go out without cancelling them all the time. I wanted to be a better husband and friend. I wanted to write more and write something with more depth, even a book.
So now what? There is the Church. There is my spiritual director. There are still books but they will simply take longer to read. There is my wife who has seen me through this. There are films on TV and a movie theatre nearby. And there are walks along the boardwalk or through the ravine when I can take it. There are pain pills. And friends. There is country music and Bach.
There is one more thing. It was the thing that a few years ago made me realize why I hate euthanasia so much. If I were like this and without friends, without a wife, with the burden of debt and the pressure of being the breadwinner when work was impossible, then there is a good chance I would fall into despair.
“There but for the grace of God go I.”
Was I lucky or blessed or both? I do not know. I hate to answer it because then it leaves the gaping question of why some must go through this alone and broke.
So I have vowed to once again take my pain around the city from church to church. To whoever will have me. And I will stand there on my cane, wince because it hurts, sweat at times because the morphine makes me feel ill and badger my Catholic audiences into understanding that the battle against evil has just begun.
Catholics must fight back. Not this time with letters but by reaching out to sick friends and relatives. To make sure they are being cared for and not left alone for too long and made comfortable.
Each of us has a responsibility not just to be pro-life but also to live. Every time someone dies by euthanasia they broadcast a message to all they know that it is okay to die this way.
Every time a politician appears with a big smile come election time say the following: Unless you promise to fix this pathetic lack of palliative care in out society I will never vote for you or your party. You gave us euthanasia now give us a real alternative.
Anyone of us could is susceptible to succumbing to pain and despair. As this new euthanasia regime grows it will invite us all in to take our wracked body and minds and put an end to it all into some evil and phony utopian death.
I will never do this. I hope none of us do this. I can attest that even through pain life is good. To end with a syringe is to throw this gift back into the face of God. So I look to the cross with the realization that God’s love, in the end, is the greatest treatment for whatever anguish we are asked to endure.
Charles Lewis is a regular contributor to The Catholic Register and a board member of the Catholic Civil Rights League. He has been writing for 36 years. He was also the religion reporter for the National Post until January 2014.
About the CCRL
Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. The CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization with a large nationwide membership base. The CCRL is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.
For further information: