A love story about faith, family and miracles

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/11/23/a-love-story-about-faith-family-and-miracles/

There’s something compelling and unshakeable in the simplicity of this elegant love story. Like most great stories, this one begins unexpectedly, there’s a sense of wonder and a time of coming together. There’s a realization; this is meant to be. Everyone around feels the inevitability of it all. A desire to celebrate the mysteries of love’s many gifts becomes timely. It feels like destiny.

This love story isn’t of youthful burning desire, rather one of embers that have warmly glowed for more than 80 years. It’s a love story about faith, family and miracles. It is the story of Susan Szetela and of how her family prayerfully brought her to and through hospice. To the Szetelas, and their countless friends, Susan’s story feels like a miracle.

Seven years ago, a hale and hearty wife, mom, and grandmother of 17 fell down a steep flight of wooden stairs. Recovering from bumps and bruises was, of course, painful. But the trauma from the fall precipitated a series of health problems for Susan that left the staff of Mercy Medical Center in Springfield wondering “what next?”

Chet, Susan and Susie Szetela (Courtesy of the Szetela family)

Chet, Susan and Susie Szetela (Courtesy of the Szetela family)

Originally, Mercy’s doctors believed the stress from the fall triggered an outbreak of shingles in Susan. After that diagnosis, life-threatening conditions were discovered. Symptoms snowballed one after another. With determination, Chester, Susan’s beloved husband of more than 50 years, along with their children and friends, gathered around helping to pray her through surgeries and long periods of recuperation. Susan had unshakable faith. She knew she’d be fine whatever lay ahead.

With every medical visit further declines were discovered, more medication ordered. Years of prolonged hospital stays challenged the Szetelas’ confidence but not their commitment to see Mom through this together. Eventually, doctors said the never-ending series of hospitalizations needed to end. Susan was worn. Her daughter, Carolyn, said “Mom simply stopped thriving, her always-animated personality quieted, her inner light dimmed.” Susan’s multiple health problems had resisted all treatments. With resignation, doctors agreed they had done all they could. Everyone needed to realize the end of life for Susan was near.

The family was advised to transfer her to a nearby nursing home for care and comfort until she passed. With a sense of inevitability and before the family made nursing home arrangements, they called their parish priest to give Susan the last rites of the Church for the seventh time in five years.

The nursing home tried to be accommodating, but with a large, loving family, and so many lifelong friends, the Szetelas had a difficult time squeezing all their love into one room. Carolyn remembered the family was brought to tears and hysterical fits of laughter each time Mom wanted to say her goodbyes in private.

Cradled in the arms of a loved one, Susan would muster her frail body out of her nursing home bed. She’d say “take me into the bathroom, I want to tell you something before I go Home.” One by one, each of the loved ones got a private meeting in the “office.” Comparing notes later, it turned out that though Susan’s words of wisdom varied, each “meeting” included a clear review of loving times, a promise to look down on the family from heaven, and a reassurance from Susan that she would be fine with whatever God had planned.

After a week at the nursing home, and the appearance of time running out, the family decided that Susan could be care for most lovingly, if she were brought home with visiting hospice care. Finally free from hospital regulation and nursing home mandates, Susan asked she be allowed to rest in a reclining chair rather than a bed. Immediately, the family set up camp sleeping on the floor around her, taking turns tending to her every wish, praying non-stop with her and for her, as she had always done for them. Hospice nurses visited the Szetelas daily, offering medical comfort but noted with surprise that, week after week, not much was happening.

With quiet confidence, one wise man from hospice questioned why Susan needed to be treated for the untreatable. He suggested the family consider suspending her drugs. In his opinion as a nurse, the medication was taking Susan further away from her faith and the love of her family. He wanted Susan to share the gifts of life that remained within her rather than dim her spirit.

With faith, the family followed their heart and the advice of the wise hospice nurse. Susan slowly recovered, her symptoms subsided, she became pain-free, and remains carefree two years after being discharged from hospice care. Neither 81-year-old Susan nor her family can explain how this all happened. They simply accept the miracle on faith with love.

This Thanksgiving, before all the Szetelas return to the responsibilities of managing the Paul Bunyan Christmas Tree Farm outside Chicopee, Mass., the family plans to gather as they always have, to enjoy Susans’ homemade gravy and traditional stuffing and, once again, celebrate the mysteries of love’s many gifts.

Diane Kilgore is a Boston-area blogger.