persons, places and things: Gifts come in different packages


By Barb Arland-Fye

Reading Father Ron Rolheiser’s column in this week’s Catholic Messenger causes me to reflect, once again, on how his message relates to my life.

Fr. Rolheiser tells the story of a wife and mother whose widowed father suffered a debilitating stroke when her four children were still young. The dutiful daughter took her father into her own home and cared for him — even though it disrupted her family’s routines. Eventually her father had to move into a hospice, but she visited him daily with one or more of her children.

Some years later, her oldest son expressed appreciation to his mother for that precious time, which he described as a great gift to the family. They had sacrificed much, but in the process had grown in their love and appreciation for one another.

Fr. Rolheiser observed that sometimes “a gift does not always look and feel like a beautifully wrapped Christmas present.” It can, he said, “seem like a burden, an unwanted imposition, an awkward inconvenience, an unfortunate duty. But those feelings themselves eventually contribute to the depth of the gift.”


That gift can be an elderly parent, a disabled child, or anyone else whom the world might view as helpless or nonproductive.

I asked my husband, Steve, a locomotive engineer, to read the column when he arrived home from his latest road trip.

Both of us admit that at times while raising an autistic child, we failed to recognize the gift because we were consumed with the challenges. In the early years, we were physically and emotionally exhausted caring for a child who couldn’t explain what was bothering him or why he reacted in ways that typical children did not. The strain tested our marriage. But we prayed to God every day, leaned on each other, our family and friends. And we never gave up on that brown-eyed boy who was proof of the love that unites us.

Through the grace of God, we’ve passed each hurdle and in the process our love has grown stronger for each other and for our first-born son. A lump forms in my throat when I think about this beautiful young man who loves unconditionally and has a faith in God that I would like to emulate. He has staff to assist him with apartment living and who love him almost as much as we do, and a volunteer job that makes him feel valued.

When times are trying for him, I sometimes lose sight of the gift, but not for long.

Initially, in reading Fr. Rolheiser’s column on this subject, I felt a pang of guilt. Are we doing enough for Colin? Do we spend enough time with him? Some of our routines have changed, which is disconcerting to Colin. Is that wrong?

But Steve didn’t read into Fr. Rolheiser’s column what I did; he looks at the nurturing we have provided and the efforts we do make to accommodate our son’s needs. Among those needs are for him to develop friendships and positive relationships with others. That’s a way to extend the gift beyond our lifetime.

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