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Carolyn Michaelis, right, works with her special needs daughter, Kelly, on a jigsaw puzzle Oct. 26 in their West Point home. Despite difficult challenges over the years, Michaelis, a member of St. Mary Parish, maintains an attitude of acceptance and gratitude.

Carolyn Michaelis places fall decorations on an “all-seasons” tree in her home.

Thankful for life’s blessings

Four miscarriages. A bout with breast cancer. Her husband’s recent death. The demands of caring for a daughter with special needs.

Such a series of trials might break most people. Not Carolyn Michaelis.

Despite life’s sometimes painful struggles, she’s maintained a spirit of acceptance and gratitude.

"People say, ‘How can you see the glass always half full?’" Michaelis said. "Well, it feels more comfortable than thinking it’s half empty. Sure, we’ve got our challenges, but it could be a lot worse."

She is most thankful for God’s gifts of faith and family, especially her 51 years of marriage to a loving husband who never missed their anniversary or her birthday, usually bringing her flowers.

A member of St. Mary Parish in West Point, she and her late husband, Bob, were blessed to raise four children to adulthood, including one, Kelly, who has special needs.

The couple were grateful when Kelly was born at almost 7 pounds, considering the four miscarriages and three low-birth-weight deliveries. But a year later, Kelly’s developmental challenges became apparent, Michaelis said.

So began a long road of doctor visits, evaluations, physical and occupational therapy, and Michaelis’ decades-long role as Kelly’s primary caregiver.

Kelly weighed heavily on her mind when, 10 years ago, a routine mammogram indicated Michaelis had breast cancer. With a history of the disease in her family, she said she was not surprised by the diagnosis.

But the prognosis would impact Kelly, and Michaelis turned to God. "You gave me a child with disabilities, let me stay around to take care of her," she prayed.

Michaelis and her husband decided a double radical mastectomy would be the best treatment to assure that all the cancer was removed. She was thankful she survived, and never needed chemotherapy or radiation.

"When bad things happen, she doesn’t dwell in a pity party," said Michaelis’ daughter Michelle Aylor, a member of St. Peter Parish in Lincoln. "She accepts the things that come along, sees the good things and does the best she can.

"She’s a lot like her dad," Aylor said. "He was a faith-filled man who never doubted that God would provide."

 

GRATITUDE AND FAITH

Michaelis also found reasons to be grateful during her husband’s recent two-and-a-half-year battle with cancer.

She said she was thankful for the chemotherapy that forced the cancer into remission in time for them to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 2012, and a second successful round of chemotherapy when the cancer returned.

Through their battle with the disease, they leaned on their faith for strength.

"We went to church as much as we could, and he had the sacrament of the sick several times," Michaelis said.

"We also prayed the rosary, and when we went to Omaha for chemo, I had a CD of church music. I could put it in at West Point and it would last till we got to the oncologist." He found it comforting, she said.

Then in 2014, he was diagnosed with an aggressive mantle lymphoma in his brain and spinal fluid. This time, treatment would carry very severe side effects, Michaelis said.

"Bob said, ‘What should I do?’ and I said, ‘You know how much you can take, what do you want to do?’ He said, ‘I’m your husband, I’m supposed to take care of you, but I can’t handle any more,’" she said.

"I will be there to support you all the way through," she told him. And she reassured him that having raised their children to adulthood, he’d fulfilled his life’s responsibilities. "This is part of the cycle of life," she said.

Bob died Aug. 12, 2014.

 

SMALL BLESSINGS

Michaelis’ life now revolves primarily around Kelly, 45, who has physical and mental challenges, and a limited vocabulary. But she approaches her care of Kelly with joy and patience.

"When you have a child with disabilities, I always remember Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children to come to me.’"

"I’m helping another human being," Michaelis said. "You’re supposed to take care of family, and she doesn’t have the ability to do it herself."

And Michaelis is thankful for small blessings. "She can feed herself. She can dress herself. I can leave her home here for an hour to an hour-and-a-half if I have to run an errand."

On weekdays, Kelly participates in developmental activities at NorthStar Services, and when she is home, Michaelis reads to Kelly from the Love Inspired series of history, suspense and romance stories, plus biographies and lives of the saints. They also enjoy watching movies together, especially musicals.

Once, when a grandchild asked her why Kelly can’t do things other people can, Michaelis told her, "God gives us all different gifts. He didn’t give the gift of a lot of intelligence to Kelly, but he did give her the gift to walk, and someday when we die, God will say, ‘How did we use the talents that have been given to you?’"

Michaelis is grateful that, given Kelly’s limitations, she was able to receive religious instruction and make her first Communion in her early teens. "I don’t think there were too many dry eyes in church that day," she said.

Attending Mass, Kelly’s anticipation builds as Communion time approaches, Michaelis said. "After the Our Father, she gets giggly because she’s getting so excited. It means a lot to her."

 

GRATEFUL FOR GOD’S GIFTS

Michaelis said she is grateful for all of God’s gifts – wonderful parents, a loving husband, four grown children, living in the United States, having good food to eat – and her faith.

"I’m thankful that I’ve got a church to go to that’s close, a good parish family, close family ties, a hospital that’s close that’s ranked in the top 100 in the country and good medical care."

Planning to celebrate at a sister’s home near Blair, Michaelis will share that gratitude this Thanksgiving with up to 40 extended family members, including her children and spouses, eight grandchildren, five siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews.

And despite life’s difficulties, Michaelis accepts God’s will.

"We have to think, God has a reason behind things, and we don’t know what the reason is," she said. "Maybe it’s to make us have more empathy for someone else dealing with the same situation."

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