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Harry McAvoy: Staying in the game one day at a time

By  Harry McAvoy
  • November 9, 2019

The Bride and I recently had a return visit with the doctor who specializes in memory problems. New tests had been done, and we were about to receive the results. 

As we waited, we prayed and grappled with the what ifs, and the possibility of having to face a dementia diagnosis.

I tried to find the silver lining in finally being told the cause of my memory problems. 

I knew such news would be sad, but at least we would know, and we could get on with accepting, making peace and somehow finding a way forward.

When the doctor sat with us, we didn’t hear the anticipated words. Instead we were told what sounded like good news. 

“You did very well on the first test,” he said, referring to a test where I had to remember and repeat back sequences of numbers, or words and draw simple shapes. “You also did well on the Spect test, and even improved as compared to the last test. On the third test, the MRI of the brain, there was shrinkage, but very much at an age-appropriate level.”

For a wonderful but brief moment it felt like we should celebrate. I could feel Jennifer squeezing my hand. Then it occurred to me: While it sounded like good news, why after two and a half years were my memory issues persisting, or even slightly worse? Memory issues that have cost me my career and great financial hardship. Why? 

The doctor had no answers. He revisited the fact people with similar issues have been known to get better and others stay the same, and yes, others progress on to dementia.

 As he stood to leave, he said, “I will see you next April.”

On the drive home Jennifer and I wondered, was it good news? Kind of. Was it bad news? Kind of. How do we spend another seven months waiting and wondering?    

I have been married to Jennifer for 35 years. Our anniversary was a couple days before the meeting with the doctor, when the family had gathered to celebrate. 

Jennifer loves the Lord, works at her faith and was given the gift of resiliency. 

We met in 1982 when she came from Cincinnati, by way of New York City, to live in faith community and work with street kids at a new charity called Covenant House Toronto. We and our companions would sit in the chapel in the early hours of the morning reciting prayers from the breviary before going to work with the kids. 

While I thought I was contemplating the priesthood, I was actually falling in love with the pretty brunette, but that is a different story.

If I must carry the burden of memory loss, I am richly blessed to be journeying  with a woman of such beautiful faith. Occasionally I ask her, “How would we do this if we didn’t believe in God? How do people do it?” 

This reminded us again to persevere in our prayers for those who are walking without a relationship with the Lord, and also those poor souls who are suffering, without the consolation of faith. 

Over the past two years, I have spent too much time in darkness preoccupied by fear and what ifs.  These have been scary, anxious times. 

Still, I continue to fight back. I want to stay in the game. 

For a few months I have been working part time trying to help two smaller Catholic agencies raise funds. I also recently signed an application to become a member of the Knights of Columbus, where I hope to experience faith-filled comradery and some good times. Finally, with the Bride’s encouragement, I said “yes” to sponsoring a young man in the RCIA program in our parish. 

Of course, there is also the daily ebb and flow of being a husband, father and grandfather.      

On a daily basis I seek God’s grace through prayer, the Mass and reading Catholic literature. Recently I read this quote from St. Teresa of Avila that spoke to my mind and heart. “In light of Heaven, the worst suffering on Earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.” 

I sure hope St. Teresa is right.   

(McAvoy has been sharing his journey of dealing with memory loss with Register readers.)

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