I was struggling a little bit over here. The whole Paul Coakley story had my heart tied in knots for days. I was following it since the whole thing showed up on my newsfeed just before Christmas. That’s right, that’s when we heard about Paul, a Franciscan University alum, “a legend” according to my sister-in-law…who had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. Just. Before. Christmas.
And he passed away last Monday. Barely 3 1/2 weeks later. His beautiful wife Ann, 7 months pregnant and three young children left behind.
My heart was, is– so knotted, so heavy over this tragedy and with it being right on the heels of Sarah Harkin’s death, I just couldn’t find the words or the willpower to write about all this. The emotional upheaval I was feeling on Monday was immense. And I didn’t even personally know either Paul or Sarah. Why, why?
Do I even have a right to feel this way? So connected, involved in this yet…not? Am I allowed to feel pain? Is it strange that every time I think of Ann Coakley having to delivery her baby without the love of her life, my eyes well up with tears?
All of this really shook me. I sat on the couch on Monday, after belligerently shaking the gates of heaven for days begging God for some miracle, and finding out Paul had died. I was stunned. I had been so convinced, so sure of a miracle coming. Shocked and numb and…a little angry was how I felt.
My head was clouded, suffocated all afternoon with question after question for God
“Why does it seem like the good people are the only ones suffering?”
“What’s the point in being a faithful disciple, if the ‘lost sheep’ is the one fought for, protected? Shouldn’t we, the ones sticking it out through thick and thin get some benefit or protection for our loyalty?”
“How is this possible within six months, two devoted, faith filled, holy parents taken–just like that– from young families? Don’t we need all the good people we can get in this hedonistic society? “
“What is the point of all this? This life? If God wants us in heaven then why the heck did he put us through all this pain, suffering?”
In brief, I was having extremely earthly and naive philosophical questions. Because, well… because I am a human with human thoughts and human emotions. And I ask those questions fully aware of the correct answers but I ask them because the reality of my human nature is raw. And it doesn’t want answers. It just wants to pound it’s fists on a table and break down crying,
” It’s just NOT FAIR”
And because you read stories like this and you have a ghastly moment of awareness when you go,
“That could be us.”
And you are scared. Truly, deeply, gut wrenchingly scared. I got thinking that I wanted to be done taking risks in my life with love, because more love equals opening yourself up to risking more pain. And I can’t bear the thought of something this tragic happening to my husband, or one of my children. I want to hide, stay away from everything,
“leave me alone world! if I escape and hide, maybe you can’t get me suffering!”
I took these thoughts and convinced myself that it was all Facebook’s fault. If I wasn’t on Facebook, I would have never known about either of these tragic stories. I could have been blissfully living away in my little bubble. Happily ignorant of the profound suffering that my peers were going through. Selfish, I realized. Selfishly ignorant in my selfish little safe-bubble. Because I never would have been able to pray for Paul and Sarah. To offer my measly sacrifices for them and their families, to spread their story, to keep their memories alive. To ache and mourn together, as Heather so perfectly pointed out, like we are supposed to. Because we are the Body of Christ. And when one member suffers, we all feel the pain. Because, as my husband comforted me, “This life is our chance to choose LOVE”
Pope Francis’ recent quote ” This kind of suffering can only be explained with tears.” gave me so much comfort.
It is profoundly tragic what has happened. But I realized how much we need contemporary married saints. Married people who are holy yet from our era, relate-able, tangible… it’s too hard to relate to these married monarchs from the 14th century. We need them to pray for us from up there! Well, now look. Thank you, Paul Coakley for being a true example of Christian fatherhood and manhood. For loving your wife, spreading joy, protecting your family and fighting with every ounce of your being for life. And thank you Sarah Harkins, for giving us young moms hope and encouragement, for inspiring us with your example of holy wifehood and motherhood. For showing us how to above all else desire God and union with Him.
This is our time now, our chance to choose to love God. Love Him when it’s hard, love Him when it’s pain, love Him when it’s suffering, and love Him when it’s joy…. and with all the mundane moments in between.