Mercy Living

For two years Lucette Lagnado lived a double life. By day, she was a typical urban professional, commuting to midtown Manhattan from her East Side apartment in New York City. But by night—well, until recently, she feared to tell anybody what she did by night. She cared, at home, for her mother. You wouldn't think that this makes for high drama of the 007 sort, but in our cynical age, it does. You see, Lucette's mother was elderly, sick, and dying. Lucette first placed her in a reputable nursing home. However, when the nursing care didn't match its reputation, Lucette did what any loving daughter should do: She brought her mother to her own home. This seems "normal" enough, doesn't it? But numerous people criticized Lucette's decision. They were "generally troubled," she discovered. Why? Because, she explained, "This . . . is the age where mercy killing . . . [or] assisted suicide is a `hot topic.' " In the media Lucette found only reports emphasizing "death with dignity," which she wisely describes as "a code for letting loved ones die—with a clear conscience." "No personal friends" visited Lucette and her mother during their final two years together. And medical professionals urged Lucette to let her mother die. Lucette recently told her story in the Wall Street Journal. She deems herself and her mother to have been among the "lucky few" who are "capable of understanding that which isn't obvious" to many Americans anymore. And what is it that isn't "obvious" anymore? It's that love makes life precious even during the decrepitude of age, the deterioration of disease, and the descent into death. What Lucette and her mother confronted— and conquered—is what Pope John Paul II described as the "culture of death" that America now celebrates. So many of us are so preoccupied with what we call "the quality of life" that we've forgotten that life is its own "quality" because it is the gift of an all-wise God. Sure, sometimes life is difficult and dreary. Sometimes we face cruel disappointments or shattering defeats. Sorrow haunts our joy, and tragedy looms beyond comedy. And one of our major problems as Americans today is that we want only the joy, not the sorrow. Many of us mistakenly believe that life is life only when it is healthy and comfortable. But God knows better: To make us whole, He makes sure that we experience every season—not only the springtime of youth but also the austerity of winter. As C. S. Lewis remarked, this fullness of experience is so necessary to our souls that "perpetual Springtime is not allowed." Lucette Lagnado gave a name to the choice she and her mother made: "Mercy Living." By that she doesn't mean the frightened prolongation of life by artificial means. No, she means the faithful love that cherishes a mother no matter the difficulty. This is the love that lends life its eternal and imperishable quality. This is the secret that Lucette and her mother shared in their New York apartment. This is the joy of the "lucky few."


Chuck Colson


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