In his book As I Lay Dying, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus writes about being sick and near death in the hospital:
“The very sick can look simply awful. Although they politely tried to hide it, I saw the recoil on the faces of visitors. A young parishioner arrived unannounced and, before I knew what she was doing, started snapping pictures. Now I’m glad she did. I came across the photos again the other day. I looked nothing short of ghastly, a corpse awaiting the undertaker’s makeup. Little wonder that people think they would rather be dead than lying there so pitifully and humiliatingly destitute of any capacity for life. But they are wrong about that. I do not want to say that it was not so bad, but a little life goes a long way. As we have all the time there is, so also, as long as we are alive, we have all the life there is. There is the cliche that while there is life there is hope, but I do not mean that. At times I had little hope that I would ever be well again. I mean, rather, that while there is life there is life, as much life as there ever was. I suppose I do want to say that it was not so bad. It was not so bad as it looked.”
It kind of reminds me of something Jean Dominique Bauby (pictured right) wrote in his memoir The Diving Bell and the Butterfly after a massive stroke left him completely paralyzed with “locked-in syndrome”:
Like the bath, my old clothes could easily bring back poignant, painful memories. But I see in the clothing a symbol of continuing life. And proof that I still want to be myself. If I must drool, I may as well drool on cashmere.
While many able-bodied people will say that they would rather be dead than sick or disabled, most people actually in these situations (including myself) are quite happy to be alive and want to stay that way.
To paraphrase another quote from Bauby: even a rough sketch, a shadow, a tiny fragment of a human being is still a human being. We might be in extreme pain or unable do all of the things that other fully-able-bodied human beings can (at least not in the same way), but that doesn’t mean that we are deprived of the beauty and goodness that life can bring.