Giving Thanks in Illness

Actor Gigi Proietti portraying St. Philip Neri in "St. Philip Neri: I Prefer Heaven."
Actor Gigi Proietti portraying St. Philip Neri in "St. Philip Neri: I Prefer Heaven." (photo: Moris Puccio)

This past weekend at the Drake home was like living in a plague ward. Earlier in the week, two of our children had come down with a norovirus (a.k.a. the misnamed “Stomach Flu”). Late on Saturday evening, it had hit the remaining five of us, with a vengeance. All five of us spent most of the evening in the bathroom, or with a bucket. I’ve had noroviruses in the past, but nothing like this one. Our eldest son, who had eaten a hearty supper, had it worst of all.

For most of Sunday, we sat around like zombies, staring off into the distance, drifting in and out of sleep. It was the first time that we, as a family, have ever missed a Sunday Mass. Never has so little food been consumed in our house.

A few weeks ago, I had read a story to the family about a woman who kept a notebook in which she wrote about the things she was thankful for, even in life’s most difficult moments. She tried to find something to give thanks for in everything.

As I led my family together in prayer on Sunday evening, I prayed, “Jesus, thank you that this illness has given us the opportunity to be together as a family, and that we haven’t had to run anywhere.”

For it seems, as a home-schooling family with three teenagers in the house, that we are forever running somewhere - band, choir, co-ops, CCD, theater, soccer, ultimate frisbee, social gatherings. You know the routine. We become more chauffeur than parent. I can’t help but think that this isn’t the best scenario for our children. We think that by giving them a bevy of opportunities we’re making them better people, and yet, the more we run and the more they get to do, the less appreciative they are of the things they’re able to do, and the less we’re together as a family, which, in the end is the very reason we chose to home educate in the first place. I digress.

So, as we all struggled with the awful effects of a gastrointestinal illness, I discovered that there were many things to be thankful for in it. Being together. Being at home. Serving each other.

My wife, the saint-in-the-making that she is, was throwing in load after load of laundry. She said she was thankful for “hot water” and “washing machines.”

Then yesterday, we found another reason to be thankful. Our illness forced us to take one of the unwatched DVDs off the shelf and watch it together as a family. The selection was truly inspired - St. Philip Neri: I Prefer Heaven. From late yesterday afternoon until evening (it’s a 3 hour film), we huddled around the electronic hearth and watched the beautiful story of this joy-filled Saint who gave thanks in everything. I couldn’t help but be moved by how the Saint responded to adversity. Even when he’s been hit or abused, he thanks God. I used to think that this was impossible.

Yet, as I sat there, giving thanks that the illness afforded us the opportunity to be together, and to learn more about this inspiring Saint, I could see that I’ve grown in my own spiritual life. And for that, too, I give thanks.