He’s a marriage and family therapist who started a ministry to heal couples and families. Little did Dr. Bob Schuchts, founder of the John Paul II Healing Center, know that he would one day have a need for exactly the kind of healing he preached – and for the support of the community that he himself created.
This week, the author of “Be Healed: Encountering the Powerful Love of Jesus in Your Life,” (http://bit.ly/BeHealedDrBob), and “Be Transformed: The Healing Power of the Sacraments,” was interviewed on EWTN’s “At Home With Jim & Joy,” about his new book, “Real Suffering: Finding Hope and Healing in the Trials of Life,” http://bit.ly/RealSufferingBook. The book shares what he learned from the suffering and death of both his beloved wife Margie (short for Margaret Mary) and his father, who died within two weeks of each other in 2017.
His daughter, Kristen Blake, traveled to EWTN with her dad for his appearance on “At Home With Jim & Joy. (Watch Part 1: http://bit.ly/realsuffering1, and Part 2: http://bit.ly/RealSuffering2. Purchase at http://bit.ly/DrBobOnEWTNJJ.) When her mother became terminally ill, Kristen moved into her childhood home with her husband to help her dad care for the woman they both loved. She says her dad’s marriage and family therapy practice took a giant leap forward, along with his faith, when he founded the “John Paul II Healing Center,” where she serves as the Office Administrator, https://jpiihealingcenter.org.
She says: “What [my dad] has taught for so long, he has now lived. The fruit of being able to say that the Lord was with us and inviting people into that, has been amazing. The prayers, Masses, phone calls, and support [from our community] has sustained us.”
Providentially, Dr. Bob had already agreed to do a series of videos on suffering when both his wife and dad came down with terminal illnesses. The videos he was working on featured testimonies from people suffering from an abortion, from the death of a spouse, and from cancer.
But as Dr. Bob was going through this valley of the shadow of death, he began to focus not only on the painful illness and death of his wife and his father, but on the impact it was having on his entire family, including his brothers, his sisters, his two daughters, their children and his eight grandchildren – all of whom belong to the same parish. After the videos were completed, Dr. Bob decided to write a book – the fruit of his lived experience and his prayer.
“As I prayed, I began to see Jesus as the model of how to suffer physically; Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, as the model of how to suffer emotionally, Simon Peter for how to heal spiritually,” he said. “I focused not only on how to suffer, but how to find hope and healing in the midst of suffering.”
To prepare his commentary for the videos, Dr. Bob also read the Encyclical by St. John Paul II on human suffering as well as “Interior Freedom,” a book by Spiritual Master Father Jacques Philippe. One quote stuck with him: “It’s not so much suffering that hurts us, it’s the fear of suffering that hurts us.”
Says Dr. Bob: “Father Jacques Philippe explains that it is the fear of suffering that hardens us. Entering into the suffering softens our hearts, opens us, frees us. Every time I wanted to pull back and deny, I remembered his advice: ‘Don’t be afraid.’ Every time fear came, I said to myself, ‘Don’t harden. Don’t self-protect. Bring it to Jesus.’”
How does a person sustain hope in circumstances like this? Dr. Bob said he found his hope in God.
“Once in prayer, I felt the Holy Spirit saying: ‘Would you be willing to risk her [your wife’s] salvation for a little more life?’ I said, ‘No!’ He said, ‘So where is your hope? In having a longer life or in where she will be for eternity?’”
Unlike most people, Dr. Bob had spent years reflecting on different kinds of suffering, and in helping others do the same as part of a ministry that not only spans North America, but countries overseas. He says all of the prayers and support he and his family received “kept up a level of hope that God was doing something more beautiful than what we were experiencing here. It was a beautiful time, but a hard time.”
When he was younger, Dr. Bob also endured the death of his brother who had fallen away from his faith and his family and eventually contracted AIDS. “I had seen the incredible healing that happened in my family. Watching his conversion, his witness, took away a lot of the fear. He was so radiant with the Holy Spirit. It gave me a great sense of hope that God would be present and doing things for us. I thought no matter what bad is happening now, something good will come of it.”
God’s presence manifested itself in many practical ways. His wife had a brain disease that sometimes caused her to lose control of her limbs. At one point, Dr. Bob was the only one in the house with Margie when her arms began to flail. “Usually, I would pray and things would calm down.” But this time, they didn’t.
Dr. Bob saw the frantic look on his wife’s face and he says his prayers became equally frantic. “Jesus, please help, please help.” Immediately, he remembered that one of things his daughter often did was play music. His wife had a favorite worship song so he quickly put that on. She calmed down.
He says this is only one example that helped him see that “God is present and He meets us right here and right now.”
About a week before his wife died, she began to lose the ability to speak. Dr. Bob could see she was struggling to say something to him and he strained to hear it. The last thing she said to him was: “Thank you for your kindness towards me.”
“To have those be the last words… I went after that and started to pray. There was a lot of sadness. I said, ‘God, how am I going to hear her needs if she can’t express them?’ I sensed Him saying, ‘You still have other forms of communication – touch, non-verbal communication.’”
He later spoke with his sister-in-law, a nurse, who told him the same thing: “The eyes – sometimes that is even more intimate.’ That became a real grace over the next two weeks. A gaze that fixed. The two of us looking at each other. God’s presence in the middle of that.”
Dr. Bob said his grandchildren, who were 3 and 5 at the time, had been very close to their grandmother, but they were scared to see the changes taking place. But instead of hiding them away, Dr. Bob said his daughter Kristen sat one of them on his wife’s lap and said, “’You don’t need to be scared of Dodo [a pet name]. Look in her eyes. It’s the same Dodo.’ They saw her kind, loving look. After that, my granddaughter wasn’t afraid. She needed the kids and the kids needed her.”
Dr. Bob also remembers resisting the idea of hospice putting his wife in a hospice bed, where he would be unable to lie with her and hold her hand at night. Instead, the family moved Margie onto their sectional sofa. She sat in the seat in which she liked to watch TV and the entire family gathered around her.
“We ended up spending the last two nights on the couch, watching and being with her as she was dying. It was hard, but beautiful.”
The final chapter of Dr. Bob excellent book includes eulogies from his two daughters, which demonstrate why it’s so very important for a family to walk with their loved one until the end – and not cut that important time short, as society often demands.In her eulogy, daughter Carrie shared that her mom was typically the one who gave, insisting, for example, that she be the one to do the dishes. During her illness, she allowed the family to give back. Carrie says: “So that’s what we did. We loved her. And we loved every second of it. Don’t misunderstand me. It was hard! Hard to see her suffer. Hard to hear her mumbled and desperate sounds. Hard to feel her confusion. But it was also beautiful because, in my heart (and the hearts of many others), there were no longer barriers and pretenses or defenses. Just love between us.
“This type of love is different than a feeling; it’s a knowing. Like the knowing you have when you wake up six times in the middle of the night to feed your newborn baby. No one chooses to lose sleep, but you choose to nourish and cherish the vulnerable life that is before you. In these last few months, I’ve experienced greater intimacy with my mom than I have in my entire lifetime. I think we all have.”
The book ends with this reminder from Dr. Bob: “Our suffering will end. But if we keep our focus on Jesus, our faith, hope, and love won’t ever end. Neither will our lives have an ending. Death and suffering do not have the final word. They are merely birth pangs giving way to a life that is no longer fragile. We are all being born into a world where there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more suffering, and no more death. There will only be glorious, unblemished love shared between all of our loved ones, who are finally whole. We will be completely healed because we will be in the presence of the Source of all Love: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have nothing to fear in our temporary suffering because his perfect love casts out all fear.”