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The useful act of living

30 November, 1999

Debates about euthanasia and the right of people to end their own life are quite frequent today. Gail Northgrave writes about how Billy Graham is coping with Parkinson’s disease and how he still lives a purposeful life.

Recently our local newspaper carried a story about John, an eighty-eight~year-old agnostic. Except .for a mildcase of diabetes and slightly high blood pressure, John had no physical complaints. Nevertheless, he lamented that he has outlived his useful days, stating, ‘Dying is the only useful thing left to do’.

Purposeful life
However, allow me to tell you of another eighty-eight-year-old man. Along with other ailments, this once very active man now, without complaint, suffers from shakiness, slowness of move rnent, rigidity and. stiffness in the joints and unstable balance; in short, Parkinson’s Disease. Nevertheless, he lives a purposeful life.

Since the beginning of his ministry his one aim has been to help people find a personal relationship with God. His ministry is known around the globe. He has preached in remote African villages and in the heart of New York City. As well as ministering to simple-living bushmen of Australia and the wandering tribes of Africa and the Middle East, he has ministered to heads of state. Since 1977, he has been accorded the opportunity to conduct preaching missions in virtually every country of the former Eastern bloc, including the former Soviet Union.
Unable to travel and reach people personally as in his younger days, he is now using the written word. Just published is his latest book, The Journey. Its goal is to help one live by faith in an uncertain world. Perhaps, by now, you have guessed of whom I am speaking. Yes, it is the dynamic Billy Graham.

Beyond adversity
Due to improvements in medicine, public health and nutrition, life expectancy today is longer than in previous eras. If we are fortunate enough, we will reach our 80s and beyond. Besides, family and career, joys and achievements, we will have our share of troubles. How will we meet them? Will we be able to see beyond our adversities into a brighter tomorrow or will we be like our agnostic friend John and live without meaning and hope?

My mother, who was in her eighty-eighth year, went to her heavenly reward on 1 April last I year. She endured much physical I pain due to two broken shoulders, two broken hips and arthritis. She was born just before the First World War ended, then lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War.

Belief in God
Sorrow accompanied her as she grieved the death of her parents, brothers, sisters, two husbands and two grandsons. Nevertheless, with her belief in God, his goodness and her own valiant spirit, she lived a purposeful and blessed life. Simply put, her determined desire included being a loving wife, mother arid friend.

Even during her last days, she was more concerned about her family than herself. Not knowing whether or not my brother would arrive before she departed, she asked me, ‘Tell Sonny I love him’. Seeing my sadness, she wiped the tears from my eyes and ‘whispered, ‘You’ve been a wonderful daughter’. Her last ‘I love you’ to me still echoes in my I heart.

A hospital chaplain recalling his bedside visits to dying agnostics and atheists, noted that during their final days, everyone wanted to believe in a God of love, a God of compassion and in a heavenly hereafter.

I am sure Billy Graham would agree with my mother’s adage, ‘old age is not for sissies’. Indeed it isn’t. Nevertheless old age is still a place where God and purpose reside and I hope that our friend John will, like my mother and Billy, soon find both.

This article first appeared in The Messenger (April 2007), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.


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