The Opposite of Throwaway Culture

The author of the book Resisting Throwaway Culture has laid out some concrete proposals for how to do so at the end of his newly published book, Losing Our Dignity.

Like Pope Francis, author Charles Camosy agrees that it is our cultural consumerism that is contributing to a “throwaway” mentality extending toward human beings.

The opposite of throwaway culture, Camosy suggests, is to “live out a counterculture of responsibility, encounter, and hospitality.”

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Retiring the Idea of Waiting for Retirement

When I was in high school, a family friend of ours died quite suddenly and unexpectedly in her mid-50s. She was the mother of a close friend of mine and our moms had been good friends throughout our whole lives.

This woman was very devoted to her family and to her work. She seemed to do everything in order. And yet, she was also someone who seemed to always be waiting for retirement to do several of the things she longed to do most.

She would often say, “When I retire…” and express her hopes and dreams for what she would do with greater leisure, time, and money.

It was striking, then, when she died relatively young because one of the things that hit me most as a high schooler was that she was never going to do these things she had put off.

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Jordan Peterson challenges us to have strength at funerals

This evening I finished reading Jordan Peterson’s latest book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.

In the last chapter, Rule XII: Be grateful in spite of your suffering, Peterson mentions that he has repeatedly suggested to his various audiences “that strength at the funeral of someone dear and close is a worthy goal” and he notes that “people have indicated to me that they took heart in desperate times as a consequence.”

After a worldwide book tour and many other public appearances, Peterson has had the opportunity to test and play with his ideas with many audiences. And it is interesting to read his thoughtful reflections based on his careful observation of the reactions of persons in the audience.

Earlier in the book, he mentions, as he has said elsewhere, that he sees people’s faces light up whenever he speaks about responsibility. Peterson is keenly aware that people have been raised with a greater emphasis on rights and the corresponding sense of entitlement that ensues with this focus. Yet, a sense of responsibility is what ennobles and fills persons with a sense of their proper dignity and capacity.

Accordingly, this challenge to have strength at funerals is an extension of his usual exhortation to responsibility.

He writes:

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The loss of a whole world

In a collection of letters by Henri Nouwen, I came upon this one that he wrote following the death of his mother:

OCTOBER 25, 1978

Dear Jim,

A few days ago I returned from Holland, where I buried my mother. Only five weeks ago she was with me in New Haven. She returned four days afterwards with my Father after the internist had discovered a tumor which caused the jaundice. Two weeks later she was operated on, a week after that she died. I am still in a daze. Everything seems different to me and I am slowly rediscovering the world which she loved so much. She has been so much part of my life that I have to do some real relearning. I am spending a still week at a retreat center trying to let my mother’s death reform me and lead me to new fields. It is all very intimate and very deep, very sad and very joyful, very beautiful and very painful. I am trying to write a little bit about these last few weeks, but I am still too close to all that has happened to do it well and with the necessary peace of mind. But I keep trying. It seems at this moment my way of letting her spirit come to me. I am still somewhere between Easter and Pentecost not knowing what really has happened. Keep me in your prayers and pray for her. Nobody has ever been as close to me as she was and never did I lose anyone whom I loved so deeply. Somewhere life needs to be rediscovered. But I am sure that her death will mean many new births for me.

Best wishes,
Love,
Henri

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A patron saint of persistence

Today I spent some time contemplating St. Benedict since his feast day is usually celebrated on July 11th and he is a patron saint of the dying.

What came to mind, in thinking about Benedict however, is the legendary story of his last visit with his twin sister Scholastica.

Here is the splendid story as recounted by Saint Gregory the Great:

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A Final Birthday Card

Around New Year’s 2015, my grandfather had been hospitalized and was in quite severe pain. I visited him in the hospital during the holidays but had left the city by the time his birthday came around a couple weeks later on January 17th. I just came across the following letter that I wrote to him, which ended up being my last birthday card to him. When I had visited him at the beginning of the month, he told me that the pain was so bad that he wished he could die. This was obviously difficult to hear and so, in writing to him, I felt greatly responsible to give him some encouragement.

Here is what I wrote:

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From Disbelief to Advocacy: A son responds to his father’s ALS diagnosis

Brett Wilson was just 22 years old in the summer of 2019 when his father Rick was diagnosed with ALS.

ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and is a fatal nervous system disease.

In Canada, Rick was unable to secure a definitive diagnosis and so he travelled to the U.S.

“The verdict that he ‘might have ALS’ was not good enough for us,” Brett explained. “We needed clarity about what is essentially a death sentence of a disease since ALS involves a usual prognosis of a 2-5 year lifespan after the onset of symptoms.”

While awaiting confirmation of the disease, Brett refused to believe that his father had the terminal illness.

“I refused to believe it or talk about it,” he told me. “I kind of shunned my extended family who wanted to talk about it and, of course, for a while, it’s all they would talk about.”

Once Rick received the formal diagnosis, Brett remembers that his own life became “a cloud of stress.”

His grades took a hit in his fourth year of university and he marvels at how something about which he had previously known next to nothing became a consuming and omnipresent reality.

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The beauty of deeds without repayment

This evening my friend shared a story with me about a couple she knows.

The couple is in their 80s and both the husband and wife are undergoing the loss of their memory.

This couple has been married for more than sixty years and they have three adult children.

One son and one daughter, who each have families of their own, have been committed to caring for their aging parents in the home in which they had all spent their life together as the children were being raised.

In an effort to preserve the routine and normalcy of family life, and in order to avoid needing to put the parents into a long-term care home, the adult son and daughter have developed a ritual of care.

Every single day, for the past six years, the daughter arrives to the home at 11:00 a.m. to serve her parents lunch.

And every single day, for the same six years, the son has arrived at 5:00 p.m. to serve dinner to his parents and then to open the door to the personal support workers who then take over in assisting with the parents’ care into the evening.

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Caregiving as a school in humanity

This evening I read a short book written by my friend and colleague’s grandmother.

In the brief memoir, Walk with Me: growing rich through relationships, author Judy Rae reflects on the experience of caring for her husband Joe while he developed Alzheimer’s.

Presented with honesty and infused with a faith, Rae offers a window into how caregiving can be a school in humanity.

Judy recounts the pain and sorrow of watching her husband lose his memory and she does not skirt the undeniably tragic dimensions of this disease.

“I have been told that when a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he is introduced to a world of loneliness, rejection, terror, confusion, misinformation, and termination. Can this tragedy bring with it any victory into our lives?” she asks.

Rae speaks about how Joe became embarrassed and humiliated by what he could no longer do or remember. Despite the continual accompaniment, affection, and affirmation of his wife, Joe’s feelings of uselessness regularly caused him to get frustrated with himself and even to cry.

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