Thursday, May 19, 2016

Winning Essay on Mercy as Lifelong Married Love in Sickness and in Health

With this moving tribute to her grandparents' lifelong married love, tenth-grader Allyson Swartzberg won second place in the Jubilee of Mercy Essay Contest sponsored by the Department of Catholic Studies at Seton Hall University. I'm proud to know Allyson and her parents, Pam and Mark!

When most people hear the word “sick”, they experience many emotions, including sadness, sympathy, and compassion. Sometimes sickness even causes us to be patronizing. Because of my grandparents, those are emotions I no longer feel when I think about visiting the sick. My grandfather, Jim, was an amazing man, perhaps the best man I’ll ever meet. For as long as I can remember, my grandpa had Alzheimers disease. I’ve heard it said time and time again that when someone has Alzheimers, he becomes a different person. In my experience, the opposite is true. When I think of Alzheimers, I will always think of love, mercy, and compassion, and that’s all thanks to my grandma and grandpa.

My grandmother, Diva, cared for her husband at home as long as she could. When that was no longer possible and he moved to a nursing home, my grandma went to be with my grandpa every day. She never once complained that he had forgotten her, nor did she ever decide to stay home and let someone else take care of him simply because it was easier for her. She could just as easily have let the nurses care for him in her stead, but she wouldn’t dream of it. Diva would go and feed my grandpa, even if it took hours. I remember days that my mom would take me to see my grandfather at the nursing home, only to find my grandma leading my grandpa in a slow dance, just as he had once led her. She was never impatient with him, nor was she spending time with him out of pity or to give herself a sense of fulfilling her duties. My grandma went, not out of duty, but because she wanted to be with him. Up until my grandpa’s death, Diva and Jim were the definition of “relationship goals”.

I may have been young when my grandfather passed, but when I think of love, Jim and Diva are the first people that come to mind. Love is selfless, it is entirely self giving, and that is what my grandparents had. From the first time I watched my grandma care for my grandpa, I knew without a doubt what it meant to love someone completely. I learned that love isn’t jealous. It isn’t self serving, nor is it a give and take. True love for others is a complete and total giving of oneself, without worry about what you may or may not receive in return. When you put someone else’s needs before your own, you free yourself from the pain of expectation.

My grandpa spent his life helping others, first as a helicopter pilot in the army and later as a working father of five and loving husband. Not once did my grandpa ask what he would get in return for his support and charity, and because of his selfless love, he was anything but alone at the time when he was most vulnerable. For the years that he was totally dependent on others because of his disease, he didn’t need to rely on paid caregivers to nurse him through the pain; everywhere he turned, there was another family member or friend waiting to help him. He never asked for anyone’s help, but because he had been so loving and selfless to others, he found himself surrounded by compassion, kindness, and tender care.

My grandparents have shown me what mercy really is; love for your neighbor. To show mercy to another is to love another, regardless of whether you’ve known the person for a day or a decade. When you truly love someone, you care not about what you might get, but rather what you might have the chance to give. Jim and Diva showed me what I could only dream was real; they showed me that true love does exist. I know now that true love isn’t just something you see in the movies and that it can exist between more than just a “cute couple”. True love is the ability to know that you may get nothing in return, and still want to give all that you have to another, whether he be a stranger or someone you’ve known all your life. Mercy is love, and if we all show mercy, we can change the world.

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