A Lesson in Joy: The Death of a Young Catholic Wife and Mother

Although I never met Emilie Lemmons, a writer for The Catholic Spirit newspaper (Archdiocese of St. Paul and Mineapolis), I saw her work regularly, and I was shocked and saddened to learn of her death on Christmas Eve from lung cancer. She was just 40.

One of her final columns was a wrenchingly honest account of her struggle to find true joy in the midst of her painful trek toward her own Calvary. . . .

“On a recent Sunday morning at Mass, I was glancing at the program and saw an invitation to participate in the Advent liturgy with “a joyous heart, mind and spirit.

Immediately, I became angry. How on earth can a person with stage 4 cancer that is progressively getting worse feel joyous, I thought. My resentment seethed, and I sat like a hard stone all through Mass.

When the intentions mentioned those who are ill, I identified myself immediately and felt like such an outsider — just like the homeless people and other people on the fringes with whom I was lumped in the same intention. I felt miles away from normal, and it was hard to accept.

I’ve been like this for a few weeks now, ever since I was hospitalized for a week in November for a pulmonary embolism and fluid build-up in my lungs, ever since a CT scan found even more tumors growing there.

It’s hard to cope when I’m so angry, depressed and hopeless — yet somehow it feels fitting in this dark season of Advent.

In these weeks, we watch and wait, lighting candles that progressively light the way to Christmas Day. In my own life, when I feel so plunged in darkness, I watch and wait as I contemplate what those candles might illuminate. . . .

Sometimes I see myself in the description of people who fight toward a specific outcome and are “haunted by the specter of failure and disappointment.” It’s the mother in me. I rage against the possibility that I might die and leave my children motherless, my husband a widower. Even though the medical odds are against me, and my rational mind knows I could die, it is hard for me to accept death as an outcome.

What if I just let go of that? What if I trust that even if I die tomorrow or next month or next year, things will somehow work out? What if I allow myself to put the outcome in God’s hands and just live intensely in the present, absorbing and em bracing life as it happens? It’s not indifference or admitting defeat; it’s seeing the bigger picture. . . . (read more)

Emilie’s blog was “Lemmondrops,” where she wrote “sweet and sour stories of life, love, and little ones.”

As a father, I can only imagine her sadness and sorrow at knowing she would soon have to let go of her little ones, say goodbye to her beloved husband, and pass alone through the portal of death into the life beyond. Surely, her emotional sufferings were purgative, and her writings toward the end reveal how much she desired to trust in God and draw as close to Him as possible. Let’s all remember her husband and children in our prayers. May the Lord bring them joy in the midst of their suffering. And may perpetual light shine upon Emilie, and may God grant her eternal rest and peace and joy in heaven.

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