My Parents

An excerpt from an article that appeared on the front page of the Oregonian on Easter Sunday (April 8th), 2007, written by our friend Nancy Haught, the Oregonian’s religion editor.

The Crossroads of Faith
For Christians, Easter is a time to reflect on their lives and their journey

While many people celebrate Easter with new clothes, brunch buffets and colored eggs, Christians see an even deeper meaning in the holiday. They find their central story in the last chapters of the New Testament Gospels.

There — in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — they read about the life of Jesus, his crucifixion and his resurrection. For Christians, then, Easter is a story about the cross that bears hope, the stone rolled away from the entrance to a tomb, their encounters with the risen spirit of their savior.

In any given year, Easter finds Christians immersed in different parts of their shared walk with Jesus. Sometimes, it is the cross, or suffering, that threatens to consume them. Occasionally, they are struggling to leave behind whatever circumstances seem to bind them, to keep them from the freedom that they believe Jesus promised. Often, the memories of that first Easter remind them to raise their eyes, to look up to see how God may be working in their lives.

This year, The Oregonian spoke to a handful of people who find themselves in different places on their Easter journey: a woman living with an incurable illness, the man who vowed to love her in sickness and in health, a woman on the brink of a new life, and a man who is responsible for a community shaken — and strengthened — by loss. Each offers a few insights in his or her own words, some hard-won hope for everyone else on the road.

“A cross I can deal with”

“There are little crosses and big crosses,” says Theresa Willett of Northeast Portland. “This is a pretty big one.”

Willett, a member of All Saints Parish for almost 30 years and a stalwart of the Roman Catholic community in western Oregon for almost as long, discovered in May 2005 that she has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The mother of four children — the youngest attends Central Catholic High School — is as active as she can be. She was honored at the 10th annual Catholic Charities banquet last month, and she’ll speak at an ALS association dinner in May.

Much of the time, she uses a wheelchair. She sips a latte through a straw at her dining room table, bending over it because she can’t hold the cup in her hands. Her speech is slurred ever so slightly, but her wit and her observations are sharp and her faith is stronger than ever.

I am not a person who separates her faith from politics, home and everyday life. Everybody has a cross. For right now, this happens to be ours. Other things might be more private, more personal, but this one is kind of a public cross, a family thing.

There are things that are worse than this. Mostly I feel pretty good. But there are people who get up and they feel terrible. I don’t lose my hair. I have my eyesight. There are things that it would be much harder to handle. I’m lucky that I have a cross I can deal with.

There is a role for suffering in life. Everyone has something to bear. You can’t cut yourself off and think you are unique or be demanding in your suffering. If someone else is suffering, you have to be there.

What gives me hope is that the world is a pretty good place. On a regular basis, I see a ton of good things in the world, people who are wonderful, fun and helpful.

Because I don’t know anything for sure, all I really need is hope that what I have learned and come to believe is true, that it is most directly confirmed by the goodness of people:

The world is beautiful.

God is telling the truth.

There is something better than this.

“Our faith will show”

Ken Willett is Theresa’s husband and primary caregiver. He isn’t really joking when he says that “managing Theresa’s social calendar” occupies a good portion of his day.

He helps her move carefully among the rooms of their Laurelhurst home. It is the second time they have lived in this house. They owned it for 10 years in the 1970s and ’80s, selling it when their family outgrew it. A few years ago, they bought it again.

“We had always loved this house and knew most of the neighbors,” Willett says. He is a soft-spoken man who wears a simple olive wood cross on a cord around his neck. He says his family is blessed with their children, friends and the resources they need to plan for the changes Theresa’s illness has, and will, entail. He agrees that the ALS is a cross.

But the inference is that it is possible for you to bear it. It is difficult, but it is possible. . . . You bear the cross by thinking about how you are going to get through today, through this week, how you will adjust to the changes. You don’t want to think too far out — five years from now, that’s not too pleasant.

Everybody pays attention to what we are doing. We can help people to understand the reality we are experiencing. If we handle this well, our faith will show. It is an important aspect of faith that it is shared with other people, that they can see how you are living your life.

We could have been just nice people dealing with difficult times, but I’d have to ask myself how long the niceness would last. There is something about this process that makes you turn inward and ask, “How does the way we live our life affect the people around us?”

You can look at it as bad things happen, and we got unlucky. Or you can see it as our ancestors did something, or we did something, and we’re being punished. Or that it is all for the best, that the world will be better because Theresa has ALS.

I believe the reality is much more complicated than that. But we have faith that we’ll get through this, that we’ll survive it as a family, that our relationships will be strengthened.


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