The Observer—Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford
Publication date: April 1, 2005
By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Director, Respect Life Office
As I approached the pro-life bulletin board at our parish last week, I paused to look closely at the picture of Terri Schiavo positioned at the center. Although I had seen this particular picture many times, I was suddenly struck with the realization that 41 year-old Terri bears a striking resemblance to 32 year-old Ann Brodeski who is a member of our parish. Ann is the daughter of Sharon and Ray Brodeski. She has five siblings including our vocations director and pastor of St. Patrick-Amboy, Fr. Aaron Brodeski.
On February 25, 1990 Terri fell into unconsciousness from unknown causes. Eighteen days later (March 15, 1990) Ann slipped into a coma following complications from mononucleosis.
Both women are severely brain damaged, unable to speak, have limited physical movements, and receive nutrition and hydration through a feeding tube. Both are loved and valued by their parents and siblings. There is a huge difference between their circumstances, however. At the request of Terri’s estranged husband, the courts ordered her feeding tube removed and she is slowly dying from dehydration. Tragically, she may be dead by the time you read this.
Ann’s family cannot even imagine removing her feeding tube. Sharon Brodeski believes Ann’s life “serves a greater purpose.” She said “I believe God is using Terri and Ann for a greater good. Their limited lives are being used as a sacrifice.” Sharon adds, “People have told us that Ann has changed their lives.” She notes that her own life is different because of Ann’s condition. Fr. Brodeski concurs when he says, “Ann is uniting her suffering with Christ and her suffering has brought a lot of grace into the world and into my life.”
Lucy Wedemeyer’s husband, Charlie, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1977 and was told that he did not have long to live. He has been on a portable ventilator since 1984. He is fed through a gastronomy tube and requires 24 hour a day care. The only voluntary movements he can initiate are with his eyes, his eyebrows, and his lips. Lucy can “read” Charlie’s lips and that allows him to speak through her. He is loved and cared for by his family and friends who celebrate his life. He is known for saying, “I live to give others hope” and that is exactly what he does.
Kaye O’Bara has cared for her comatose daughter, Edwarda, for the past 35 years. Edwarda lapsed into a diabetic coma when she was 16. Kaye says, “What I do is not a burden, it’s an honor. I asked God for two daughters. I didn’t put restrictions on it.”
As a speech and language pathologist for many years, I worked with many patients who were severely physically disabled. Some were very intelligent and some were severely cognitively impaired. Some were blind, deaf, or hearing impaired. Some were autistic. Many had feeding tubes. The one thing they had in common was that each one had value, dignity, and worth simply because they were divinely created in God’s image. Each was set apart by God for a special purpose.
Terri Schiavo, Ann Brodeski, Charlie Wedemeyer, Edwarda O’Bara, and all those who are disabled are valued members of our human family who have a special purpose. Please pray for them.
Pray also that someday we will live in a society where material pursuits and worldly pleasures do not trump the Gospel of Life. A society where all human life is valued regardless of physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual condition. A society that cares for the infirmed and disabled and does not view them as burdens. A society that understands the value of suffering for a greater good and a society that recognizes true compassion rather than misplaced compassion.
As Pope John Paul II writes in Evangelium Vitae, “true compassion leads to sharing another’s pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear.”