My Sisters the Saints

My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir Recently I received a review copy of My Sisters the Saints, a “spiritual memoir” by Colleen Carroll Campbell, and I confess I stayed up late to finish it.

In this book Campbell shares her life with us, both the good and the bad, and along the way she tells about particular saints who helped her get through. The names are familiar: St. Teresa of Avila; St. Therese of Lisieux; St. Faustina, St. Edith Stein, Mother Teresa, and St. Mary, Mother of God. She tells us of their lives and writings, and just what there was about them that spoke to her and helped her to cope with the trials of her life. I was familiar with most of the saints in question, but nevertheless I learned a thing or two about them.

The compelling part of the book, though, is Campbell’s own story, and her efforts to get over herself, and to learn to serve and love God. Running through much of the book is the story of her father’s struggles with Alzheimer’s Disease. These passages resonated especially strongly with me, because my own father was afflicted with Alzheimer’s in his last years.

My father was a brilliant man, and a born problem-solver, and it was horrifying and distressing to watch his capabilities fade. More than that, nothing made Dad angrier than a problem he could nothing about (politics, consequently, always made him furious), and as time went on there were more and more of these. Once he got terribly angry with my wife Jane, because “People aren’t keeping me informed about what’s going on!” Jane, with perfect grace, said, “Yes, Dad, you’re right.” And he was—not for lack of trying on our part, but he was right.

Every since then, I’ve determined that if I get Alzheimer’s in my turn, as seems likely (all of his siblings who lived long enough have shown the signs), that I want to be jolly rather than grumpy. And to be jolly then, I figure I need to stop being grumpy now. It’s a hard thing to do.

But Campbell’s father has shown me a better way. Campbell came to befriend the saints while learning to cope with her father’s illness; but her father had spent the better part of his life learning to know God and his saints. And in the year or so after the onset of Alzheimer’s, when he could still talk and make some amount of sense, everyone who met him was struck by his joy and his faith. Here was a man who was offering up his trials to God, and spreading God’s love and peace to his family and to the others in the nursing home where he lived.

Eventually Campbell’s father deteriorated to the point where he couldn’t even talk anymore, far past where my father was when my father died; and he suffered horribly. But he held on to the joy as long as he could.

So that’s my new goal. I don’t just want to be jolly when I’m old and infirm; I want to be joyful, and a blessing to those around me. May it be so.

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