In the last seven years, I have endured life-altering challenges. I survived a life-threatening surgical error, but I lost my university teaching position in the process. Then, my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and I became a caregiver.
But, along the way, my children married the loves of their lives, and I became a proud grandmother. My husband’s prognosis is looking bright. I am an adjunct professor.
Every day is a blessing.
A friend once said, “You still have the time to be optimistic and deal with your life’s problems with such grace” and wondered, “How do you do it.”
I can only say that loving life, being grateful, and staying faithful and positive go a long way.
And, along the way, God will put positive people in your way.
I am not alone in my optimism. I am in good company.
The comfort of Communion
During my long hospital stay, Eucharistic ministers visited to offer me Holy Communion. As a Eucharistic minister myself, I know how comforting offering and receiving the Body of Christ during difficult times is.
Before my medical nightmare, I visited medically sick parishioners in their homes with the gift of Communion — spiritual nourishment and healing for the soul is as important as medicine is for the body.
Although visiting sick parishioners in their home is a gratifying ministry, responding to the call to bring Communion to hospital patients took me longer. I don’t like to see people in distress, suffering, and/or hooked up to hospital machines and monitors. My eyes well up.
Had I never endured my medical ordeal and experienced receiving Communion as a patient, I might not have volunteered to bring Communion to other hospital patients.
Surviving my medical nightmare gave me the courage to volunteer in the hospital’s Pastoral Care department in bringing Communion to the patients.
The power of patient positivity
I have fond memories of my visits and blessed encounters with my patients.
Sixty-six-year-old Carmen had a great attitude. Her optimism was contagious.
Eighty-two-year-old Evelyn looked stunning with her newly washed hair that was rolled back in a bun. She wore a little lipstick as she sat in her hospital chair. She radiated faith and beauty.
Diane’s polished blue nails jumped out at me. Her hair was beautifully done. She was supposed to be at her nephew’s wedding, but excruciating back pain from her cancer landed her back in the hospital.
She reminded me of me. She was about my age, very chatty, and she loved to tell stories. I was impressed by her attitude, optimism, and faith.
They inspired me.
My patients never complained or expressed a negative thought, despite their difficulties. Some just wanted to chat.
William had a special place in my heart — a sweet, soft-spoken man who just wanted to talk. After he received Communion and I recited the healing prayer, he asked, “Do you have a few minutes?”
We chatted a long while. He told me about his many surgeries. He spoke fondly of his cats, his wonderful wife, and his grandchildren. His right foot was very swollen and bandaged. He asked me to help put his sock on. He was grateful I was willing to listen.
Some patients never stop thinking of others in need, despite their own health challenges.
After she received Communion and I recited the healing praying, Linda asked, with enthusiasm and a smile, “Do you know a prayer for a family member who has breast cancer?” A relative had been diagnosed the day before.
I quickly Googled “prayer for women with breast cancer” and found one on Catholic Online. I asked the nurse in the room for a piece of paper. I wrote the prayer in my best penmanship for Linda to keep. We recited the prayer aloud.
The selfless act of putting the healing needs of someone else before her own was inspiring. Linda remained positive for her own healing and the healing of a loved one.
Having once been a seriously ill patient, I empathized with my patients. How patients responded to the offer of Communion resonated with me.
A woman in pain
One morning, I knocked on a patient’s room door. She was experiencing nausea. She was hooked up to a couple of IVs and sat on her bed with the standard hospital basin resting on her crossed legs. Her head was down. She was crying. Her nurse was with her.
I quietly introduced myself, “Good morning. I’m Miriam from Pastoral Care. Would you like to receive Communion?”
She lifted her head. Through the tears, her eyes sparkled and her lips whispered, “Yes.”
We bowed our heads and recited the Our Father. She received Communion. I recited the healing prayer.
I raised my head.
With tears of gratitude, she uttered, “Thank you. You made my day.”
I left her room, visibly moved by the presence of faith and hope inside her as she endured her pain.
I will never forget Peggy. She was 70. She was sitting in her chair. I introduced myself, “Hi. I’m Miriam from Pastoral Care.”
She quickly pointed out that my name is biblical. “Yes. Miriam, as in Moses’ sister,” I added.
Peggy was very chatty and eager to receive Communion. But before we recited the Our Father, she asked what my birthdate was. I said, “January 2.”
She loudly announced with delight and laughter, “You’re the goat! The goat is the strongest of them all. They’re always going up the hill, and they keep going to reach new heights. The weakest animal is the lion.”
We talked about the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz like children. And then talked about her birthdate.
I shared that I am an ultrarunner, that I run grueling miles, and that sometimes it feels like I’m going uphill like a goat.
She was intrigued. We laughed a lot. Before I left to visit my next patient, I said, “Peggy, you made my day.”
Beaming, she lifted her upper body forward and craned her neck. “Really? I made your day?” she said with a quiet chuckle and a nearly toothless smile.
“Yes, you did,” I said, smiling from ear to ear. “You really did, Peggy.”
Here I went in to bring her comfort, and I received an abundance of positive vibes, humor, and laughter from an ill, but joyful, Peggy.
My encounters with faithful patients are gifts of inspiring lessons on the power of positivity and optimism during illness, medical challenges, and life difficulties.
Joy in my heart
I went in as a Eucharistic minister to lift their spirits with the gift of Holy Communion. I left with joy in my heart.
I was witness to their spirit of positivity and learned that in times of adversities and challenges we can remain optimistic and have some good laughs.
Humor is great medicine.
We can brighten each other’s days with heartfelt words, small gestures, a listening ear, a chat, storytelling, prayers, and gratitude.
Positive and optimistic patients have so much to offer. Their optimism inspires those who can’t see the light at the end of the dark tunnel.
In our pain, we can express gratitude. In times of our own need, we can also put the needs of others first.
We can power through our health challenges with positivity sprinkled with humor, laughter, prayer, and faith.
No matter what curveball life throws at you, the power of positivity will soften the blow and bestow upon you grace and blessings.
A life of positivity is good medicine for the body and the soul, and contagious.
Scarves for Cancer Caregivers
Why I knitted scarves for often forgotten fellow caregivers.
Miriam Diaz-Gilbert (aka Miriam Gilbert) is an adjunct professor of theology/religious studies. She runs ultramarathons, loves to garden, and has written about being a positive cancer caregiver. Thank you for sharing my story. I invite you to visit my website.