Everything has a purpose
By Mary Beth Bonacci
I awoke one morning last week to the sad news that Brittany Maynard, the young woman with advanced brain cancer, followed through on her plans to end her life. I wish she hadn’t done it.
I know it’s “none of my business.” I know I haven’t walked in her shoes. I know I have never faced a terminal cancer diagnosis.
I have faced a cancer diagnosis, albeit one with a happier ending. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. I just knew that I had cancer and that the 27 years I had spent on this earth up to that point might be all that I would be given. I remember the feeling of helplessness, of ultimate lack of control.
It was a moment of absolute, existential terror. I was not in the driver’s seat. As a “nice Catholic girl,” I had found it easy to spout pious phrases about trusting God from the security of my young, healthy “I have my entire future in front of me” world. But to suddenly discover that the future may not be in front of me was beyond terrifying. What comes next? I mean, what really comes next? I no longer had the luxury of vague, intellectual assent. I needed to know. Is the promise to be trusted? Could I really walk through the valley of the shadow of death and yet fear no evil? I figured I very well might be approaching the on-ramp.
I realized that ultimately, I wasn’t in control and that I really had no choice other than to trust Him. And so, I decided that I would do just that. I remember sitting there in the Blessed Sacrament chapel, saying “Well, I guess if you want me, I’m coming.” And after that, a tremendous peace came over me — a peace that lasted through my entire treatment.
I didn’t understand anything any better. I didn’t know the future. I hadn’t received an apparition or a locution or heard the voice of God. But I made a choice to trust Him in the darkness, and He let me know He was there.
My experience was nowhere near as serious, or as terrifying, as what Brittany faced. But as I ponder the terrible choice she felt compelled to make, I look at others I have known who have faced similar circumstances and have allowed God to determine the timing of their departure. I think of Angela Faddis — barely older than Brittany, with a husband, two small children and advanced colon cancer. When it was determined that nothing more could be done medically for her, she returned home to spend her last days with her family. There was suffering, to be sure — although much of that was alleviated by modern pain management and good hospice care. But beyond that, there was grace.
Her husband Chris, in his book It Is Well, writes that in her last weeks, Angela reported that she was “seeing lots of people.” He asked if she was referring to the family and friends who had visited, and she said not them, but “other people” — angels and saints. A video monitor was installed in Angela’s room so that the family could keep an eye on her. She would frequently be observed looking around the room and talking — but no one else was there. More incredible still, at times during those conversations, Chris saw inexplicable lights cutting across the screen. “It was as if there were prisms in the room that were shooting rays of light at all different angles,” he said. The light was so strong that it even cut through the rays of light streaming in through the bedroom window. She was, indeed, being visited by angels.
During that time, in the last weeks of Angela’s life, visitors would remark on how peaceful her room was. They said being in there felt like a “retreat,” and they felt the presence of God. Moreover, as Angela’s story went viral, people from all over the world began asking for Angela’s prayers — and reporting miracles happening in their lives.
Angela was at tremendous peace, despite her pain. Angela surrendered completely to God. She believed — and I believe — that God used her suffering in some mysterious way, just as He used the suffering of His Son, to make a difference in the world.
Perhaps angels would have visited Brittany as well. Perhaps God would have used her surrender as well, joined to the sufferings of His Son. We will never know what plans the Almighty may have had for her last days.
Before I learned of Brittany’s death, I had been planning to write about another death — the death of my beloved friend and professor Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, who left us on October 24. I may write about him in the future. But, in closing here, I want to share his words, spoken from his deathbed: “Everything has meaning. Everything has a purpose.”
When your hour of darkness comes, please remember that. And trust that the God who loves you will bring you home in His way, in His time.