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Saturday, April 14, 2007

If you can't follow me...forget me

H/T to Angela Messeneger and her post about St. Pedro Gonzalez, aka "St. Elmo", who said to his family, "If you love me, follow me! If you cannot follow me, forget me!"

Several years ago I was living in south Minneapolis at the home of a friend who had become a new homeowner. She and I met at a job in which we worked with mentally ill adolescents and through the experience we bonded. Many of the kids we worked with were violent and when she and I worked together, she knew I had her back and I knew that she had mine. It's hard to find such a relationship, especially professionally.

Predictably, we remained friends even after our employment there ended. She was there for me as I was applying for jobs in the Twin Cities Metro area and offered me a place to stay if my job search required an overnight. When I graduated from Law Enforcemnt Skills training, she was the only person to show up and offer her congratulations at what she know was a tough battle. My father had died early that year and my Mom didn't understand that this graduation cost me far more than my adademic four year graduation did; academically, I was a natural. Physically, I had a lot to overcome (being a woman), and I remain pleased with my showing at Skills.

She was a great friend, but we had one point of friction which I never wanted to bring up: my faith. She knew I was Catholic, but from the time she met me, I was not a real Catholic; I was struggling. I did not want to leave the Church, although I tried. Somehow, though, I could not bring myself to even darken the door of another religion. Although I did not go to Mass on Sunday very often, the pull was still there, and the moral upbringing was still present.

When I was "down and out", that is, having lost my job and what I thought was my very dignity, she purchased a home. She needed a roommate and I was her only choice. She was my only hope. True friendships can be like that.

Now, just so you understand who my friend was: H. was a political and personal Liberal with a capital "L", most of her friends were gay men, and she referred to herslf jokingly as a "fag hag". It wasn't until I moved in with her that I met some of her friends and even went out with them socially. Some of them are not friends I would have chosen for myself; they were angry, hateful people, ready to take offense at the slightest thing. Most were people just like me - just trying to get by, just trying to do the right thing, all tied up in moral relativism.

Eventually H. and I drove each other nuts as roommates tend to do, and I left. We remained friends until a few years ago.

This next part of the story is still painful.

Before and after I moved out, I was undergoing my long conversion. She and I stayed in contact and went out for our birthdays, even if we never had a chance to meet up otherwise. She had expressed long ago how important her friends were to her, as she saw her family as the ultimate representatives of betrayal. As I knew the story, I felt priviledged and did my best to remain as a good friend to her as she was to me.

After she had become a Social Worker, she had an Advance Directive written up and asked me to be one of her proxys. I looked it over and agreed, applying what I had learned (imperfectly) from my moral theology class in college. I thought it was acceptable and although I had seen questionable content there, I thought it could be justified. So I signed my name and agreed I would speak for her if the time ever came. She did not trust her family and knew that I would stand up and be her voice, and I fully intended to live up to that if it was necessary. For, you see, she was my friend and I owed it to her to stand up for her even in adverse conditions.

But my conversion was ongoing, and she was unaware of this as we were not in much contact anymore.

Then, one day, H. sent me an updated copy of her Advance Directive and as I reviewed it, I realized that she was asking to be Terri Schiavo - she wanted to die of starvation should the situation present itself. She claimed to know what she was talking about, but she didn't understand the reality of such a death. In all of her enlightenment, she had bought the liberal agenda including the outright ignorance of the suffering of such a death - even if confronted with that very thing.

H. was a social worker in a nursing home, and she often spoke of the people there whose time it was to "go" and the families who did everything to prolong their lives, refusing to allow them to pass away peacefully. At heart, I believe H. was a compassionate person, but God was not the source of her strength or her understanding. So when she was confronted with suffering and death, it terrified her. She also had deep-seated issues surrounding the need to control a situation (she was sexually abused as a child), and felt that she must have absolute control over every detail of her life...including how she was going to leave it.

I took the document she'd sent me and went to my parish priests at that time in order to help me with this, explaining that long ago I became a "proxy", and in fact was primary on her "Living Will." I tried to obtain some direction with what I had, and was looking to both preserve the friendship and break the news that I could not ever hold up my end of that contract. I would not tell the doctors, or enforce anyone to starve her in such a way. I was do my best to keep her alive until God himself called her home, which of course, was adverse to her wishes.

I did not receive much help from either of the priests I consulted. One did pose the question, "Would you starve your dogs?" And of course the question was "NO! That's cruel!", but he never helped me figure out how to best deal with the battle I knew was coming. The other priest was entirely unhelpful, and just told me to listen to my conscience. My conscience (more properly formed than before) had spoken, but it did not answer as to how best to deal with what I knew was coming.

I knew that H. would see this not as a rejection of a false ideology, but as a rejection of her, and certainly I did not want to reject her. I hoped to open a dialogue in which I could explain our Catholic faith and the dignity of life, using that as a platform to help her understand how I could not carry out her wishes which were in direct contrast to these beliefs. I also knew that she needed to be affirmed, but I didn't know how to do this with such an intimate topic, and I needed some sort of pastoral help in handling this.

I did not find it.

But God is good and he helped me say what had to be said in the tone with which it needed to be said. On the day she and I finally spoke, I explained to her that I could not fulfill the contract. In her condescending way that betrayed her own fear of rejection (that very thing I was trying to calm), she asked me,

"What's the problem?"

I carefully explained to her that what she was asking for amounted to murder and I could not, in good conscience, be a part of it.

Sharply, she told me that she needed me to be on board for 100% of this. She told me that I could not pick and choose what I wanted to follow.

I explained to her that I was aware of this and that I was telling her of my dilemma out of respect to her. She did not let me finish this explanation, but broke in and demanded that I be on board with her own wishes and that my statement told her that I was not respectful of her wishes. She told me that I did not respect her enough to follow her beliefs.

Very hurt, I took a deep breath and said to her, "I can't sacrifice my own beliefs on behalf of your own, H."

She said "Fine, I'll take you off, " and slammed down the phone.

I did not get a chance to "dialogue" with her. I did not get a chance to try to explain the dignity of life. She cut off our conversation and rejected me even as I tried to embrace her humanity even more deeply than I had ever before, because, through my conversion, I had come to understand who she really was: a child of God who deserved not to suffer more deeply than she already had.

H. rejected me, but I have never rejected her, and I still pray for her often. I have not tried to contact her for I know her too well and how such reaching out would be simply ignored or would fuel her anger even more deeply.

But she was like a sister to me, she is a strong woman pining for the truth she can't seem to find in the world she inhabits, so I ask you all to pray for her, and offer your Divine Mercy novena this week on her behalf.

H. couldn't follow me....so she forgot me. But I still can't forget her.

I suspect we all have stories of those we love who chose not to follow us to Christ, but that does not mean we should ever leave them behind. Let us all remember that even the greatest of Saints once rejected God...and that His love overcomes every evil.

Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, for the atonement for our sins, and those of the whole world. For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.

11 comments:

bethski said...

Honey, I'm so very sorry you had to undergo this. However, you have inspired me. You stood up for yourself with what you thought was right. And that was very good. God has complete mercy on people who want that much control on their lives, but YOU didnt allow her to drag you down with her. I believe you did the right thing, and being as it may, you were unable to explain yourself, is completely not your fault.
I will remember this if a situation ever comes up in my personal life also. Thousands of kudos to you girl. God bless

Fr. V said...

And I am sorry that you didn't get more assistance from your clergy. It is a scary area in which to tread. I always face the question with people who come to talk to me with caution. We usually pull out books and study a little together and pray to come to an agreement with our faith.

This would help me . . . what were you looking for or better yet - how could they have helped better? What would have allowed you to say that this person really hepled you? Perhaps you'll aid me in helping others.

Adoro te Devote said...

bethski ~ I know that what I did was right, because to do otherwise meant standing up for euthanasia...and that is simply not acceptable. This is a difficult topic, and my only regret is that our friendship could not be preserved. Yet it is a fulfillment of the Gospel: leaving brothers and sisters in order to follow Jesus, etc. Letting the dead bury the dead. But I still want the "dead" to be alive and I want them to follow where I'm trying to go. You know how it is, I'm certain of that.

*

Fr. V. ~ That's a deep topic, really. Let me just say that I love dearly the priests I spoke with, but they just didn't seem equipped to handle the question for some reason. I'm not sure why that is and I was (and still am) surprised by their lack of direction in this. For the first priest, it was unnecessary for him to point out to me the necessity of not starving someone...I was already aware of that and the context of this situation told him that. His answer, then was more about "you can't support this." Ok, fine, I agree...that's why I'm asking how to broach the issue with my friend. The second priest maybe knew me a little more, and knew that the conscience issue wasn't a problem with me; while I was still growing (aren't we all!), he still left me to my own devices. I have to wonder if he simply didn't understand what I was asking. Maybe it would help the context if I explained that both priests are from India, and sometimes they didn't understand context so further explanation was necessary. I do feel I did my best to convey what I needed, an I also feel that they simply didn't "get" the true issue, perhaps due to a cultural or communication barrier.

So whatever you do, don't do what they did: My question was only parroted back to me in the form of an answer which only generated the same question again. I don't want to throw them under the bus by any means, but I also think it's all too easy for any of us to jump to a conclusion when someone asks us a question, and not listen to their real question. And my gut feeling is that this is what happened here.

So...what I needed was some solid advice as to how to broach such a delicate topic in such a delicate situation. I knew I couldn't stay on the form, but I wanted to stay in her life because I saw her then and still see her as a sister, and I wanted her to know the true love of Jesus. I don't think our conversation, what little we had, was necessarily bad, but I knew ahead of time that it would go that way and I think that if someone with more experience than I was fully aware of the context, that person might have been able to provide some guidance which might have lead to at least a longer conversation and perhaps a lessoning of her feelings of rejection.

This is a really big topic.

Ray from MN said...

You are an amazing, wonderful woman, Adoro. I'm so glad to know you.

I pray that Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother place your friend, "H", in the Enclosed Gardens of their Immaculate Hearts, pray for her, watch over her and assist her in her trials of this life.

Tiber Jumper said...

Adoro:
You stood up for truth, God bless you for that. Jesus loves your friend very much and will look after her.
On a daily basis I deal with end of life issues in two nursing homes in which I am the medical director of.
It is so disheartening to find that our social workers, nurses and administrators tend to feel the same way "let's get these old people out of the way."
As Catholics, we need to promote the gospel of life and I am doing everything I can to protect the least of these. I have a suspicion though that at some point it will cost me my job, since my employer (a major hospital) has taken to the darkside when it comes to palliative care and end of life.
I will be blogging more about this as each state starts to vote on assited suicide legislation. God have Mercy. We are becoming like the Netherlands where physicians routinely euthanize young and old even without their permission.

Adoro te Devote said...

Ray ~ Thank you for your prayers...please offer a Divine Mercy for her and for her friends (including me!). I need mercy, too. Desperately. And I'm proud to claim YOU as a friend! :-)

Tiber ~ It must be so frustrating for you, day in and day out, to have to deal with this. I don't know that I could do it. You are in my prayers.

Melody said...

Adoro, if it's any comfort, I don't think there was anything you could have said to your friend that would have softened her attitude, at that point. Unfortunately people tend to "shoot the messenger" if the message involves a truth which they're not ready to face. You planted a seed, however, and we can pray that with the grace of God, it will bear fruit. You may not know the rest of the story until you get to heaven.

Maria said...

Adoro,
One of the most difficult aspects of our ongoing conversions is the fact that we leave people behind. And as we move closer to God, we grow farther away from those who used to be our friends at one time, simply because we come to a point where we have to choose God or them. In other instances, is not that we have to choose, but we realize that every time we spend time with those people we end up speaking about superficial matters because we have nothing left in common.
Your suffering in this case could be what is needed for her conversion, all in God's time.

Adoro te Devote said...

melody, you may be right. She was always one to "decide" to reject an idea before she even heard it out, having chosen her position. But I can't help but think there may have been another way to go about this.

Maria ~ Yes, we do leave people behind. And in reality, because I had chosen this path which was so different than hers, it was to a point where I don't know that our conversation would have gone very far anymore. But I do take my friendships seriously and so she's one who will always be in my prayers...God put her in my life for a reason, and of course, me in her life for a reason, and only He knows the true reason.

I have entrusted her to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Merciful Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Anonymous said...

What kind of friend was that? A fake one who does not understand that people change! And this coming from a liberal woman of all people! Adoro, let her disappear into nothingness in your memory, dont keep the image alive that is already destroyed in reality! God in His infinite Mercy will take care of her.

Adoro te Devote said...

anon ~

Thank you for your comment, but I have to respectfully disagree. In a sense, I have already "shaken the dust" from my shoes as I have done nothing else to contact her. We are not on the same track anymore, however, I still love her. I was very hurt for a long time, but now, I'm just sad that she has chosen such a course without considering the true consequences. Her image will always be alive to me, as she is and will forever be beloved of God, as his adopted daughter, whether she ever realizes so or not. You see, I knew her well, I know too much about her life and her suffering, so I also understand her ultimate rejection of me. I can't reveal too much as her story is a sensitive one although likely one that is all too common.

So I have entrusted her to the Divine Heart of Jesus.

I do not think it's ever right to allow someone to "disappear into nothingness" because there is no human being on earth unworthy of love, or who should be considered "nothing."

God bless you!