November 15, 2013

Reflection / Mike Krokos

A birthday prayer for a sister who is an instrument of love

Mike KrokosShe spends most of her time in a wheelchair and cannot get in or out of bed herself, relying on others to help her begin and end her day.

The vision in one of her eyes has gradually weakened the last few years, but she still recognizes family and friends who stop by the nursing home to visit.

Though her independent spirit is not nearly as strong because of the dreaded disease that has ravaged her body, she has not lost her love for the Eucharist and her faith in God’s plan for her.

My sister, Gracie, turns 53 on Nov. 23, and she will again celebrate her birthday with our mother and other loved ones who live in the North Carolina town they call home.

To say that multiple sclerosis has drastically changed her life during the last 16 years—particularly the last three—would be a fair assessment, though none of us could have initially imagined how this cross would allow her to continue her vocation of being Christ to others in their time of need.

I have been blessed with a wonderful, loving family (through both birth and marriage) and as I get older, I am able to see more clearly how Christ works through each of us—if we allow him to use us as instruments of faith, hope and love.

Gracie had always been the constant in our family, never missing a birthday, anniversary, baptism, first Communion, graduation or any other special day.

She communicated often, and was a lifeline for so many as we battled our individual challenges—career moves, broken relationships, bad choices—an advocate and cheerleader to whatever awaited us.

She didn’t hesitate to visit others, too, letting us know she was only a road trip or plane ride away.

That all ended when the MS started progressing more rapidly during the fall of 2010.

One hospital stay led to another, which led to surgery and, finally, full-time residency in a nursing home.

Someone who had spent her entire life doing things and being there for others was now dependent on them.

One of the strongest people I have ever known was reduced to frustration and tears as she contemplated her future.

I was, too.

I never imagined how much the debilitating illness would change my sister’s life, and what I saw firsthand was hard to process.

No more road trips, no more outings to try new restaurants, no more weekend drives to her longtime parish, where her love of the faith was nurtured each time she attended a liturgy there.

It was difficult at first for Gracie, getting used to others helping her with tasks she was used to doing herself. Getting in and out of bed, showering, managing finances.

But in time, my sister has learned to “let go, and let God,” and, in the process, she has realized she could help others at the nursing home with their life challenges in her own, unique, faith-filled way.

She has become a friend and advocate to fellow residents, most of them much older than she is, striking up conversations with her genuine smile and listening ear, seeing their needs are met at mealtimes and making sure each Sunday the extraordinary minister of holy Communion also stops by the other Catholic residents’ rooms to receive the greatest gift of our faith—the Eucharist.

I know she will never be cured of MS, but my birthday wish for Gracie this year is that God continue to use her as an instrument to help others.

She has done it for as long as I can remember. So why stop now?

My prayer is that Gracie is able to continue to live out her vocation this way and, in turn, grow in her life of faith each and every day.

(Mike Krokos is editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.)

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