When we lovingly care for another through times of sickness, injury, or toward the end of life, we have the beautiful opportunity of seeing them as God sees them.
This compassion for others not only leads us closer to Christ but it can help the person suffering become closer to Him as well.
Merriam-Webster defines compassion as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” But it is so much more than that.
Compassion for someone should involve more than just feelings of sadness for their plight or their suffering. It involves a loving act. The word compassion derives from the Latin compati (com meaning “with” and pati meaning “suffer”), which literally means to suffer with.
Walking with someone through suffering means to joyfully and lovingly care for them and to never hasten their death.
But many in society don’t see that any value could come from suffering. They see only one way to eliminate the suffering – and that is to eliminate the suffering person.
A recent example of this comes from a group called Compassion & Choices, who on August 29, filed a “federal lawsuit… on behalf of cancer patients in Delaware and Pennsylvania and two New Jersey doctors asserting the residency mandate in New Jersey’s medical aid-in-dying law violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment.”
The law in New Jersey allows for assisted suicide, but only for state residents. Compassion & Choices wants to change that. It is suing to force New Jersey to allow people from other states to die by assisted suicide there.
The Compassion & Choices press release states,
New Jersey’s Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act allows mentally capable, terminally ill adults to obtain prescription medication to peacefully end their suffering. The plaintiffs assert that the law’s residency requirement violates three clauses in the U.S. Constitution, specifically the: Privileges and Immunities Clause, the Dormant Commerce Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause.
Suffering can be terribly difficult. At times, it can be agonizing. Watching a loved one go through any type of suffering can cause immense pain for the family or friend watching and can lead to feelings of unbearable helplessness.
In times like these the family of the suffering or dying person allow themselves to be convinced that the person would be better off dead. But that is not our decision to make. We are not God. And though it is often hard for people – especially those of no faith – to imagine that we were all put here for a purpose, we must understand that we are never to hasten death.
Walking with someone in their suffering means doing whatever we can to make their days a little brighter and a little easier. That could be as simple as reading them a book, playing some music, or holding their hand. Or it could involve helping them to the bathroom, brushing their hair, and bathing them. These acts of love help the person feel valued and cherished.
And isn’t that what we all want and need in life?
One of my most favorite people in the world is an uncle of mine. He is an amazing man who adores his wife. Theirs is the kind of love that most people can only dream of. Last year, she was diagnosed with dementia, and a few months ago, I saw firsthand his love in action. I hadn’t seen her since the diagnosis, and I didn’t know what to expect. Dementia is a nasty disease, and its effects were obvious. And though my uncle seemed tired and a bit worn down, he still looked at her with that same sparkle in his eye. It was obvious that his love is not fading even though her memory is. And now it is his job to care for her.
This is true compassion.
Walking with someone through suffering should never involve taking their life. It means giving part of yours to make what’s left of theirs better.
Organizations like Compassion & Choices don’t understand this. So it is our responsibility to teach them and to teach our family, our friends, and those within our communities that compassion is not about getting rid of a person; it’s about standing strong with them.
Susan Ciancio is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and has worked as a writer and editor for over 20 years; 14 of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently, she is the editor of American Life League’s Celebrate Life Magazine – the nation’s premier Catholic pro-life magazine. She is also the executive editor of ALL’s Culture of Life Studies Program – a pre-K-12 Catholic pro-life education organization.