“So tell us your story,” we often ask people who come to help with Todd’s care.
Those who show particularly deep compassion tend to have their own story of suffering, or they’ve loved and cared for someone who suffered. A stage IV cancer survivor. A disabled parent. A sibling who died.
You don’t have to dig deep to find that the best charitable organizations were founded by people who’ve experienced loss.
A few years ago, a tragedy struck our community in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Two men and a boy never returned from fishing on Lake Superior.
On Sept. 17, 2016, Keith Karvonen, 61, Steven Chartre, 41, and Chartre’s 9-year-old son, Ethan, set out on the big lake on a 16-foot boat.
Their families reported them missing that evening.
The U.S. Coast Guard and Michigan State Police searched by land, water, and air. Local law enforcement joined the effort, along with the Canadian Coast Guard, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Tribal Police, and many individuals. Our community waited and prayed.
After four days and a search that covered 14,000 square miles, Keith, Steven, and Ethan were presumed drowned.
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But the families needed to know for sure, so Bruce’s Legacy came to help.
Bruce was a firefighter who received a call about a drowning victim. A man and his daughters had been canoeing when they fell into a flooded river. The daughters survived, but their father perished. Bruce died in his attempt to recover the body.
His brother started Bruce’s Legacy in his honor. He purchased the best equipment he could find to help other families get closure.
Using advanced sonar equipment, volunteers from Bruce’s Legacy found Keith Karvonen’s boat in Lake Superior and recovered the bodies in 280 feet of water.
Years before, Bruce had compassion for a grieving family. Bruce’s death resulted in his brother having compassion for the families of the lost Lake Superior fishermen. And one of the people who has helped with Todd’s care is the sister of Keith Karvonen, one of the men who drowned.
Suffering connects us all.
When we suffer, our hearts are joined to other people who are suffering. When we suffer with someone, we develop compassion. That’s where the word compassion comes from — Latin for “with suffering.”
When life is going as planned, we can become arrogant and pin others’ misfortunes on poor choices. We can think that we’re healthy because of our diet or exercise routine. We can think we’re financially secure because we’re hardworking and intelligent.
However, life sometimes gets in the way. We get sick through no fault of our own. We lose a job in a down economy. We have an accident. In those times, we need people to come alongside us.
Shortly after Todd’s ALS diagnosis, when I was feeling overwhelmed by our future, I sought out my Aunt Phyllis’ advice.
Why her? Because she lived with my uncle for years after he became disabled by a stroke. I knew she would get it. She was one of my biggest emotional supports because of what she had been through.
Several years later, she was diagnosed with cancer. As I sat with her and sang hymns to her in her final days, she told me that my presence was comforting.
I’m thankful that I was able to be with her. I also recognize that my knowing how to be with and sit with her was born out of my own grief.
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