Life is not merely surviving, we need meaning and purpose
Being a Catholic priest I was on-call for a major hospital as well as doing a full day’s work in the parish. As things gradually got worse I found that I could no longer push myself to work 60+ hours a week and that my disability was affecting the parish.
Looking back the decision that things had to change really happened when I was called to the hospital one night. At two o’clock in the morning I staggered into the A&E unit on my walking sticks. The only thing holding me up was the wall. I often had comments from medical staff or parishioners that I looked worse than the people I was going to help.
I remember two of my friends in the parish used to run a book on how far into Mass it would be before I fell over or had to sit down.
Major changes had to be made so it was agreed that I retire from being parish priest with all the responsibilities and commitments that go with it. The decision was taken over a period with some very good advice from Prof Rodney Grahame and the team at Stanmore. It became clear that I would have to slow down massively. Luckily being a member of a religious order it was not a discussion around salaries but what I could safely do and what the limits are. I had to effectively retire in my 40s.
For a few years I did virtually no ministry at all, celebrated Mass quietly but not publicly. I did not feel happy with this as I was never designed for sitting down doing nothing but needed to find a balance between looking after my EDS and also fulfilling what I was ordained to do. First step was to look after some of the smaller services, this then increased to Sundays.
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In the last two years a new door opened which has improved things for the better. It’s a charity called Across, which works with people with disabilities and also need priests to help them as chaplains. It means effectively I can do everything that I should as a priest, only it is all disabled-friendly.
I would advise people to think out of the box. Obviously having to retire, apply for benefits and needing carers to help with basic functioning means a major transition in life, which is not easy emotionally. My advice to others facing giving up work is: keep your brain functioning, have something focussed beyond yourself; consider volunteering or working part time is OK; keep some of your dream alive; be honest with yourself: avoid isolation. And remember, life is not merely surviving, we need meaning and purpose.