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Were You There: Bearing the Unbearable News

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Editor’s Note: A friend of FMS, Mickey Edwards reflects on the First Station of the Cross and how being present with another person through their suffering can be a sharing of grace.

The First Station: Jesus is Condemned to Death

I imagine the devastated disciples and ask myself, “Who told Mary?” Who could summon the courage to tell a mother that her son had been sentenced to such a horrific death?

My sister Mary was the oldest of four daughters and I, the youngest. We were nine years apart. More than a big sister but not quite a parent, Mary could sometimes be bossy, but she was always the funny, creative, and generous center of my world. She brought home the best library books, sewed stunning wardrobes for my many dolls, and taught me all kinds of crafts. When she left home to become a Dominican sister, I was bereft.

Geographical proximity, shared passions, and Mary’s delight in the role of doting aunt kept us close in adulthood. Her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer in the early 1990’s seemed only a minor interruption in her busy life as president of a small Catholic college. With each clear scan, we put the episode farther from our minds.

When she called me on a sunny September afternoon in 1999, I had a hard time processing the words: lymph nodes, tumors, biopsy, malignant. And then she asked, “Mickey, will you come with me to Florida to see Dad? I have to tell him face-to- face.” Still numb from shock, I was invited to take the first step on the Via Dolorosa we would walk together for the next five and a half years.

Somehow, Mary and I carried the heavy secret until the final afternoon of our visit, when she calmly said, “Dad, I have something to tell you.” She explained that her well-credentialed oncologist had a promising treatment plan that she would start the following week. But Dad’s sober expression left no doubt that he knew how the story would end. I don’t remember that I said anything; I just silently pleaded with God to help us get through it.

Years later, whenever I met with patients facing a difficult diagnosis during my hospital ministry, the memory of that day in Florida would return to me. Only then did I clearly see God’s love and grace at work, in my presence to both my sister and my father.

We are not meant to bear the unbearable alone.

Reflection Questions: Have you ever been a support for another in giving or receiving bad news? How have you encountered God in that experience?

Mickey Matesich Edwards holds a Master of Divinity degree from Washington Theological Union. She lives in Reston, Virginia, where her ministry includes adult faith formation and spirituality.