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Harry McAvoy: The importance of a grateful heart

By  Harry McAvoy
  • February 4, 2021

By my estimation memory loss ended my career 12 years before I was ready or able to retire. Even worse, in the four years since, the doctors haven’t been able to determine what happened or whether my memory will ever improve.

I sometimes wonder, “What was God thinking?” You see, I am the father of six adult children, who had made his career working in the charitable sector, helping others in need. The Bride spent most of her earning years at home loving our children and providing child care for the children of friends, or working as a part-time sacramental coordinator in our parish.

Far too often there was more month than money, and our second mortgage is a constant reminder of this. I had accepted I would probably need to work full-time until I was at least 70, and then part-time in my twilight years. I was well insured in the event I died, but didn’t have the extra funds for disability insurance. Why God, did memory loss start when I was just 58?

I look around our century home, which the Bride dearly loves, and I see everything that needs to be done. I always figured many of the bigger projects like refinishing the wood floors or replacing windows would come when I retired and had a bit of extra time and hopefully money to get things done. A recent estimate from a contractor confirmed it will have to be the next owners who refinish the floors.

When I went back to university in the late ’80s to upgrade my college diploma to a degree, I had the same teacher for three courses. What I enjoyed about this instructor was that he hadn’t adjusted his teaching style to suit his mostly adult audience. If someone complained about the work load, or that a deadline wasn’t fair, he would light up and loudly declare “life isn’t fair,” and usually tack on “get over it.” I believe he relished those opportunities to deliver this important life lesson, one I have never forgotten.

But how do you use this bit of wisdom to make sense of an illness that steals your ability to provide for your family many years too soon? Accepting life isn’t fair helps with a grade that is a few percentage points off what was expected, but how does it help with a career-ending illness?

Recently the Bride and I had a visit with our dear friends, Frank and Marion Doyle. Jennifer and I met Frank in the early ’80s when we worked together helping street kids and it was just a few years later that Frank introduced us to Marion, his Irish sweetheart. I think of Frank as my “brother by a different mother.” Over the years we have had many long walks when Frank and I have discussed the joys and challenges of marriage and being a dad, my work and his tree business, and our shared love for God and our Catholic faith. 

On a recent walk I said, “I am so grateful I have faith to help me with memory loss, I don’t know where I would be without it.” Frank responded, “Gratitude is key. We have to keep grateful hearts and remain mindful of how God has blessed us.”

In his younger years Frank had a rough and tumble life but somehow managed to come through it with a gentle heart full of forgiveness and gratitude. I have always welcomed his wise counsel sprinkled with a healthy dose of humility and humour.

If we live long enough, each of us will run into pain and suffering that shouts “life isn’t fair.” On those low days, months and sometimes even years, we will be blessed if we have good friends who remind us of God’s love and who raise us up with encouraging words and their example of faith lived with a grateful heart.

Equally important, having witnessed faith lived well, we too will be a blessing if we choose to be intentional, grateful witnesses to God’s goodness and love, even when life seems particularly unfair.   

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

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