Note from John-Henry Westen, LifeSiteNews' editor-in-chief: While in Russia a couple of weeks ago it was my great pleasure to meet Maria Schmidt from Germany. She made news in Germany in recent months responding to Evangelical Church leader Nikolaus Schneider's announcement that should his wife (who has cancer) desire it, he would accompany her to Switzerland for euthanasia. Maria shared with LifeSiteNews, as she did with the German media, about her accompanying her 45-year-old husband through his last months of life as he endured brain cancer. Her amazing testimony of love in suffering touched the hearts of many Germans and serves as a beautiful example of great love even in the face of death. Here is her story.
At 45 my husband was diagnosed with a brain tumour; he died at the age of just 50 after a long, hard road of suffering. We walked that road together. Although it sounds paradoxical and we had imagined our life and marriage quite differently, the deep experience of intimacy and togetherness – with each other and God – free from petty concerns or conflict and in a dimension hitherto unimaginable to me, are among the most beautiful experiences of my life and I believe, based on a personal letter to me, that the same was true of my husband. We would never have been able to have these grace-filled experiences of how much love one can experience if we had excluded God from our life plans, merely because we did not “understand” him.
Of course my husband wrestled in prayer, especially at the beginning – I can attest to this – before he could accept the path that had been set before him. Of course he felt he was much too young to die; he still had so many plans. But after acceptance he was able to follow and suffer through that path courageously, drawing in many people – children, adults, laypeople, priests – and strengthening their faith. God knows it was no walk in the park. His witness to faith, hope and love moved many hearts. It also inspired so much human kindness around us, among family, friends and neighbours. We were also happy in suffering, though it was in a different but no less valuable dimension: we rejoiced, we were able to laugh, cry, live our faith and our life, and felt safe in a secure relationship to God and each other where we could rest. Happiness is not just for the healthy. Sometimes I even wonder if it is not the healthy who experience greater unhappiness…
I am eternally grateful that God gave us the grace to build on him and to be able to know with confidence that God does not make mistakes, never, and he knows the best time for each of us. We prayed every day and God granted us this gift we could not earn. And I would like to believe that he would grant this grace to anyone who asks for it.
And so I was able to let go of my husband, although I had always dreamed of celebrating a golden anniversary with him, and to rejoice that he was freed from that terrible suffering. I never would have dared to intervene. Euthanasia was never an issue for us, and whenever it was mentioned to me, it felt very threatening: I would be responsible for a decision that is not only irreversible but also, according to my faith, always wrong – and then I would have to live the rest of my life alone with the burden of that decision? Never ever. For me it was precisely the fact that I did not have to decide when the time was right, and that I was able to trust, that was liberating.
Now that I am a widow I can have another enriching personal experience that would once have been a matter of “theoretical knowledge”: I can gain a deeper appreciation of the treasures buried in the Sacrament of Marriage, for since we became one at our marriage I believe and experience – metaphorically speaking – that half my heart is where my husband is, and half of his heart is here with me.
It is a different, new quality of connection, more fraternal and, I would like to say, deeper. There is no longer any room for misunderstandings and I always feel known and understood. And I cherish him in a new way. I would never have wished or been able to compromise all that!
Our love did not sicken with the sickness of a spouse – quite the opposite! It became healthier and purer. Not least because I was able to experience precisely that which a priest who visited us expressed so perfectly through a quote of St. Camillus de Lellis: “The sickroom is in a special way the house chapel, the bed the altar, and in your husband you encounter Christ.” Yes, God is with those who suffer. I experienced this anew every day.
I would never want to have missed all the experiences above. On the occasion of our marriage, our yes cost us nothing. In this part of our life it certainly did. And God transformed it and granted us the inner happiness and peace we read about in Holy Scripture. I admit this experience is indescribable – I won’t even dare to try.
In the hospice, until I took my husband home, I witnessed so much despair, distress, depression and aggression, along with heroic dedication on the part of the personnel. Another reason for me to pray that more and more people will take a step to engage with God in their suffering.
We need a genuine culture of suffering; it would pave the way for a culture of joy in the sense of St. Paul, who said, “Rejoice in the Lord at all times! Again I say: rejoice!” He was not speaking only to the healthy.