What my Uncle’s disease taught me about suffering.

A couple of months ago, my Uncle was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, commonly known as ALS. I didn’t realize until recently how it was destroying him. ALS is a progressive nervous system disease that destroys nerve cells and causes disability. I realized that even though he hasn’t officially been diagnosed with it for very long, that it can very quickly progress.

My Uncle has been going through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation0) program at our parish to become Catholic. When he started to get worse, our family talked to our priest and asked that he be expedited into the Church. Thank God our priest was more than willing to do that.

I was talking to my dad the other day and he told me something that I didn’t realize until then: my Uncle’s disease is killing him. It broke my heart when I found out, because I didn’t entirely understand what ALS did to a person until my dad told me.

My Uncle’s brother went to visit him and said this on Facebook, “I went to see Marty (my Uncle) yesterday, and that was rough. He’s in good spirits, but I couldn’t understand most of what he tried to say. In reflection, I think back on all he’s had to deal with in his life, and then ALS pops up. He told me yesterday that it’s going to get worse before it gets better, but I know where he’s coming from. He’s thinking outside the box of this life.” I’ll come back to why this is important later.

Like I said, my Uncle just recently became Catholic. Both my priest and another Uncle had talked to my Uncle Marty about redemptive suffering:

” Redemptive suffering is the belief that human suffering, when accepted and offered up in union with the Passion of Jesus, can remit the just punishment for one’s sins or for the sins of another. Like an indulgence, redemptive suffering does not gain the individual forgiveness for their sin; forgiveness results from God’s grace, freely given through Christ, which cannot be earned. After one’s sins are forgiven, the individual’s suffering can reduce the penalty due for sin(thedefender.org).”

My Uncle Marty once told me that he would like to pray 5 Rosaries a day: One for himself, and two a piece for the people he was praying for in our parish to come back. I thought to myself that I could never do that, and even wondered why he’d want to do that. He’s to the point where he can barely talk and he can’t even eat by himself anymore, and he wants to pray 5 Rosaries a day. People in his circumstance could get by with sitting around doing nothing all day, and he wants to pray for others. That inspired me so much. It reminds me of a quote by Blessed Chiara Badano:

“I suffered a lot but my soul was singing! I have nothing left but I still have my heart, and with that I can always love.”

That’s the thing about my Uncle, he’s suffering so much, but I never hear him complain and he still has the same friendly demeanor as he’s always had. He doesn’t get angry that he has this disease, he embraces it and always looks at the big picture:

“He’s thinking outside the box of this life.”

This inspires me so much. He teaches me that in the midst of suffering, you still need to realize that God will get you through this and that even though he’s suffering, that God will still be faithful. He’s so full of love, and I realize that you don’t have to be suffering like that to love unconditionally. To love others so much that instead of praying for yourself, you use the suffering you do have and offer that up with Jesus’ on the cross and offer that for the salvation of others. It’s both a blessing and a curse to see him suffer. He really does know the dignity of life by the way he embraces death. I just pray that I can be like that when my time comes too.

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