A few months ago, I wrote a post about the Little Sisters of the Poor and their loving, life-giving ministry to those who are nearing the end of their lives. I’ve thought about that post, and the work of the Little Sisters, a lot since writing it.
I thought of it when learning of a friend’s death this summer from brain cancer. I thought (and continue to think) of it when hearing about Ebola victims in Liberia, where many die without the comfort of human touch or even simple, loving attention, due to the (well-founded) fears of transmitting the disease. I thought of it the other day while listening to yet another episode of the Diane Rehm Show, this one about “Being Mortal: What Matters In The End.”
And I have especially thought of it while reading Facebook and blog updates from Mary Lenaburg, of Passionate Perseverance. For those of you unfamiliar with her blog, Mary has a 22-year-old daughter, Courtney, with some very special needs. Courtney is unable to talk or walk, to feed herself, even to see. She also experiences frequent, frightening, and often severe seizures. Sadly, it now appears that Courtney’s life is nearing its end.
Mary and her family have spent years (and a not-insignificant amount of money) caring for Courtney and providing for her every need and comfort. Doctors’ visits, therapies, surgeries, medicines, tube feedings, illnesses, hygiene care, round after round of wrangling with insurance companies – the Lenaburgs have done it all.
That’s remarkable enough – the sheer work and angst of caring for a completely dependent, very ill child for 22 years. But what’s more remarkable, and more to the point, is that the Lenaburgs have loved.
Courtney Lenaburg has been loved unlike anyone I’ve ever encountered in my life.
Mary and Jerry Lenaburg and their son Jonathan have loved Courtney through their work to care for her. But they’ve also talked to her, prayed with her, read to her, laughed with her, held her, clasped her hands, given her massages, sewed her clothes, dressed her with great attention, made her surroundings beautiful and cheerful… and so much more.
Honestly, nothing I write here can come close to describing all the ways in which the Lenaburgs have loved Courtney.
Mary and Jerry have also, through their extended family, their church, and Mary’s blog (and many other avenues, I’m sure), built up an incredible community of friends around Courtney, and around themselves. They’ve loved those friends too. They’ve prayed for them, they’ve helped them, and they’ve afforded them the great privilege of doing the same.
(When I was in labor with my youngest, Mary sent me a message to tell me that she and Courtney were praying for me. I’m sure that I’m one of many, many people to have received such a message from the Lenaburgs through the years.)
I don’t know Mary well. We met last summer at Like Mother, Like Daughter’s DC meet-up. We enjoyed a great Cuban dinner together with another Mary friend a couple of months later. And my boys and I had the opportunity to visit with Mary and Courtney at their home this past spring. Yet I feel like I know Mary well. Part of that, I think, is the mark of a good blogger. But the bigger part of it is that Mary puts her love out there for the world to see, and that love has a way of catching you, of drawing you close and folding you up as if it were your own.
In this year of knowing Mary (and through her, Courtney), I’ve learned something about love. (An undefined, powerful kind of something that I feel in my chest, but can hardly describe except to say, “I’ve got to love more.”) I’ve learned something about loving your child, your husband, your friends, about loving God. I’ve learned something about loving through hardship, about tenacity and stretching to meet the challenges put before you.
And I’m just one person.
I have a hard time conceiving of just how many people have been touched and taught by the Lenaburgs. Courtney’s love has gone out into the world and done amazing things, I’m sure of it. It’s softened hearts, it’s shored-up relationships, it’s brought people closer to God. It’s spurred generosity and engendered gratitude. It’s helped people to see the value in those around them. What a beautiful legacy.
As Courtney’s time here comes to a close, I am comforted (not that I have any right to require comfort) by the knowledge that when she passes, Courtney will be surrounded by as much love as one could possibly be. And that she’ll be passing straight from the loving arms of her earthly family to the loving arms of her heavenly Father.
Love, love, love.
The beautiful thing, of course, about the Little Sisters of the Poor is also love – their love for Christ, their love for those whom they serve. Just as the Lenaburgs care for, love, and pray for Courtney, so do the Little Sisters care for, love, and pray for the elderly poor.
What a gift.
It is this love – between Mary and Courtney, between the members of the Lenaburg family, their friends, and their online community, between the Little Sisters of the Poor and the elderly poor – it is this love, a gift from God, which touches us and teaches us and gives us a glimpse of the divine.
Thank you, Mary, for sharing your love with us – for sharing Courtney with us.
To learn more about Mary and Courtney, please visit Passionate Perseverance. The Lenaburgs are having a particularly rough (and now in some ways, a particularly blessed) time of it right now. Not only are they caring for Courtney and preparing to say goodbye to her, but they’re also planning Courtney’s funeral. On top of that, Jerry is slated to be laid-off from his job at the end of the month. And (can you believe there’s an “and”?) they’ve just learned they’ll need to make some major (read: expensive) repairs to their sewage line.
In the past 24 hours (the 24 hours it took me to finish this post!) there’s been a tremendous upsurge of support for the Lenaburgs, so it looks like the repair costs will be taken care of. But they could still use help in covering the cost of Courtney’s funeral and in paying down their medical debt. I hope you’ll consider helping them out if you’re able. GoFundMe and PayPal buttons are located on Mary’s blog. Thanks in advance for any assistance you provide – and for your prayers!