By DR. TONY SCHAPKER
We are emerging from our time of darkness. The cold and darkness of winter is behind us. Spring has arrived. We now find ourselves in Holy Week. The great solemnity of Easter is almost upon us. Jesus Christ brings us the hope of the Resurrection.
In like manner, we have been in a time of disorientation. We are emerging from a great pandemic that has been with us over the past year. Over 500,000 people have died in our country alone. There are hopeful signs appearing that the worst may be behind us as the case numbers decrease. However, caution remains with the emergence of new variants. We have had a good rollout of promising vaccines that hold hope for the future. We long for normality in our lives.
How have you fared during this time? What has been your bedrock of stability that has helped you get through this difficult time?
I, for one, have also felt greatly disoriented. Just prior to the beginning of this pandemic, I lost my wife of 40 years, Nieva, to pancreatic cancer. We fought the fight together for 20 months before reaching the end. There was some relief when it was all over, yet there was also a great sadness. Even though I knew the chances were not great for a cure, I wasn’t ready to let her go. Fortunately, I was blessed with wonderful support at the time of her death from my children, family, friends, colleagues and my parish family of St. John the Baptist in Newburgh.
Unfortunately, without being able to discern the events of her death and what impact it would be on my life without her, the pandemic hit the country and I was called back to active duty in my medical practice. Like the remainder of the country, I had to orient myself to a new life of social-distancing, the last thing that I wanted or needed. All of us have had to grieve in remaining apart from many of the people we love out of concern for their health. Fortunately for me, being able to go to the office every day has been a Godsend. I have seen up-close that people are greatly suffering. Many of the adolescents I care for in my practice are suffering from anxiety and depression. The pandemic has been very tough on our children. Being there for them has helped me feel needed.
Despite my own grief, I count my many blessings. I know that others have also had to endure great suffering. The increase in the time of solitude that has been forced upon me has given me more time to think about life, death and hope. One of the unexpected blessings that came to me one day was a box concealed in a corner of my basement that contained the letters that my future wife and I wrote to each other during the time that we were dating. Reading through them brought back memories of how our relationship and love for one another developed. It helped me recall that our life together was not all about sickness and cancer. The good times that we shared together far outweighed the suffering and pain of the last couple of years. God had blessed us in so many ways, very importantly with a strong Catholic faith that brought us together and endured throughout our married lives. This was the bedrock of our marriage. Despite the disorientation that I have endured over this past year, it is still my Catholic faith that gets me through each day.
Our lives have all been greatly disoriented over this past year. Despite our suffering, we are not alone. God is ever present, even when we aren’t looking for Him. He is always near, waiting for us to acknowledge him, waiting to offer all the grace and love we need. God is our rock. If you have also felt this disorientation, direct your thoughts and efforts back to your life of faith and to our moral compass, the Catholic Church, which always directs us to Christ our Savior and to the resurrected life that He offers us.
In addition to his medical practice, Dr. Schapker serves as deacon at St. John the Baptist Parish in Newburgh.