“Our once great western Christian civilization is dying. If this matters to followers of Jesus Christ, then we must set aside our denominational differences and work together to strengthen the things that remain and reclaim what has been lost. Evangelicals and Catholics must stand together to re-establish that former Christian culture and moral consensus. We have the numbers and the organization but the question is this: Do we have the will to win this present spiritual battle for Jesus Christ against secularism? Will we prayerfully and cooperatively work toward a new Christian spiritual revival ― or will we choose to hunker down in our churches and denominationalisms and watch everything sink into the spiritual and moral abyss of a New Dark Age?” - Mark Davis Pickup

Tuesday, November 19, 2019


The Canadian province of Alberta is considering a bill to fully protect conscience rights of health care providers: Bill 207. Alberta physicians are not required to perform euthanasia (lethal injection) to patients meeting the criteria laid out in Canada's Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) legislation.  But many Christian doctors are afraid they might be compelled to refer suicidal patients, who meet the legal criteria for MAID, to physicians who are prepared to kill them. Who might compel them to refer? Perhaps the Alberta Medical Association—much like the Ontario Medical Association has done, or some other regulatory body. Bill 207 would simply protect Alberta doctors from that possibility. The bill is being met by the usual suspects from the progressive looney left of the New Democratic Party (NDP) and their allies. 

The NDP want doctors who refuse to participate in euthanatize to be compelled to refer patients to killer doctors who will—which makes them complicit in their patients' suicides.  This is abhorrent to many Christian (and Muslim) physicians. They believe euthanizing people or assisting in their suicides (which referral is) is a grave sin (pardon the dreadful pun) has eternal consequences. 

Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees of freedom of religion, thought and belief, and the expression of personal beliefs. Expression does not merely involve what one says but also involves how he/she behaves.

Over the next few days Bill 207 will be examined by a legislative committee comprised of United Conservative (UCP) and New Democrat (NDP) MLAs. I expect the UCP MLAs to rightfully deal with conscience rights (which is what the bill is about) and the NDP to focus on bogus access issues. It's bogus because there are plenty of amoral doctors willing to engage in euthanasia. If the bill passes—which is uncertain—access issues can be addressed by such things as signage in doctor offices stating which physicians at the clinic do not provide euthanasia or referrals. In hospital settings, scheduling can ensure killer doctors are available or on call for lethal injection requests. 

Leave pro-Life doctors (and nurse practitioners) to practice medicine in peace, without fear of being forced to provide euthanasia referrals. That's what Bill 207 would codify into law: Reassurance, peace of mind, and protection for health care providers now and in the future. I don't think that's asking too much. 

Below is a poster advertising a conscience rights and duties lecture being held at Saint Joseph's Basilica in Alberta's capital city of Edmonton tomorrow. I trust the speakers will not contradict or offend Catholic teaching about euthanasia, suicide, proper end of life care, or murder. I'm sorry for the short notice but it only came across my desk by email this morning.  -- Mark 

Sunday, November 17, 2019



The article above reports that a bill has been introduced into the Ohio state legislature that would ban abortions and declare unborn babies human beings under law.

Could this mark the beginning of society reclaiming the right to call itself civilized? Does this bill represent the first inkling of a change in cultural mindset in how the youngest members of the human community are considered? Could this bill codify—at least in one U.S. state—what we knew in our hearts all along? We all know in our heart of hearts (even if we won't admit it) that the unborn child is a human being, deserving our protection, love and care, and to be valued as an indispensable part of the human family. 

These are questions that spark hope in my breast that the holocaust of abortion will end in the not so distant future in America.  What about Canada? I fear my nation may be a lost cause for embracing the right to life as the first and highest right. All abortions (and now lethal injections of the sick and dying) are all fully funded with tax dollars.

I am reminded of something one of America's Founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, said: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever." If America tempted God's justice over slavery, how much more does America (and Canada) offend Divine justice with the systematic murder of more than 60 million children before birth! 

Perhaps Ohio is leading the way for a national repentance for the
evil of abortion, that may yet stay God's hand of justice. Dare I pray for the same change of heart for my secular nation of Canada?  

Monday, November 11, 2019


The article below was originally posted on the
 HumanLifeMatters blog three years ago.

School children rose from their desks to stand for two minutes silence in memory of soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in
two World Wars. We Canadian children stood tight-lipped and gazed at the Red Ensign flag at the front of the classroom. Every creak, children shuffling, even slight noises from the school’s ventilation system became magnified during our solemn silence. It happened every November 11th. We were told to remember.

But how could we “remember” when the last World War ended eight years before most of us were born?

My father
in England in 1942
As an elementary school student during the early 1960s, I gave the brief ceremony all the respect I could muster in my small mind. I knew something terrible had happened. My father was a veteran of the Second World War. He occasionally told me about the desperate struggle that occurred during 1939-1945 against the Nazis. 

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had summed up the stakes in his 1940 address to the government and the British people about what became known as the Battle of Britain:

British Prime Minister
Winston Churchill
“I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. ... If we can stand up to him, [Adolf Hitler] all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted by the lights of perverted science.”

These words conveyed the desperate hour in which they were spoken. We can tell that there was a Christian civilization that was threatened. I can find no record of howls of protest in the British House of Commons decrying Churchill’s assertion that western civilization was Christian. It was. And my father’s generation was prepared to put everything on the line – even their lives – to defend it. In fact, 400,000 American, 326,000 British and more than 43,000 Canadian soldiers did just that. Such a terrible sacrifice!

The Christian civilization Churchill spoke of had spawned the institutions, religion, laws and legal traditions, culture and mores that made western civilization great. But within two generations after the Second World War, that Christian civilization to which Winston Churchill referred has been largely destroyed. It hasn’t been destroyed by guns but by ideas. Secularism has dismantled it. 

The baby-boomer generation that immediately followed the War years are largely responsible for what the Third Reich could not do through armed conflict. I am told that much of Europe has forsaken Christianity, their great cathedrals sit empty. Large portions of European populations no longer seem to care for the things of God. 

The poison of liberal secularism is changing America and Canada too.  We have gone from being Christian countries to being anti-Christian. The new liberal establishment in government and the media and secularists are even trying to revise history by saying we never were Christian.  The “broad sunlit uplands” we inherited at such a great cost are marred by threatening storm clouds of a new Dark Age of steely secularism. We are sinking into its abyss.  What’s shocking is the new Dark Age looks remarkably similar to Winston Churchill’s prediction. The old man was right!

We have our own holocaust of rampant abortion that has claimed millions more lives than the Nazi holocaust against the Jews. Euthanasia against the sick and disabled is being practised. The perverted science like cloning and embryonic stem cell research is upon us ― and some of it is even funded by governments we elect!

Any semblance of a previous Judeo-Christian moral consensus that guided previous generations is all but gone and western civilization is being left to drift in relativism and vague but dangerous shifting ground of unfettered personal license.

Institutions previously held dear and cherished (like marriage) are being redefined, disassembled or abandoned. 

We should not be surprised. This is what happens when people and nations abandon God. That’s the bad news; the good news is that there are still people, within the wayward culture, who have not forsaken Christ or Christian morality.  It is up to those people to strengthen the things that remain and reclaim that which has been lost.

This is a darkening time when faithful Christians are called to hold up the light of Christ and point the way back to a culture that has lost its Christian moorings.  Do not lose heart when people who prefer darkness speak ill of you. They spoke ill of Christ too. Great is your reward in heaven.

Friday, November 8, 2019


Think about the implications of 'you'. If one genetic, geographic or even timing had been different, nothing you love would be because you would not exist. Your world would not exist. The same is true for me. As that profound children's philosopher Winnie the Pooh once said, "We would not be."

Somebody may respond that it's all abstract because we would not know we don't exist if we did not exist. That's my point: You and I DO exist. It was God's will that you and I—and all we know and love—would exist.* 

My wife's name is LaRee. When I think of our lives together from that perspective, my responsibility to nurture, protect, love and care for the lives God has given me (including my own) becomes clear. Love bears a cost and a responsibility—an awesome and serious responsibility! I wouldn't have it any other way.

Love expands. Out of my romantic love for LaRee came children and parental love sprouted and began to grow. We wanted them to grow-up in a good place so our love for community expanded. Our children had children and our love as grandparents started. Grandparental love is slightly different than parental love. LaRee and I had to learn to love intensely but slightly removed—love from the sidelines in a supportive role to our adult children. In some ways I found grandparental love more difficult than parental love because we have little control. These are the lessons of love as we prepare to meet the Author of love. 

Now, as two lovers preparing for old age, LaRee and I enter our last phase of love in this world. We find ourselves back at romantic love where it all began. When does learning to love and be loved stop? I don't think it does in this world. It is a preparation for the next world and eternity.

If you don't believe in God then you're reading the wrong blog.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019


My wife, LaRee, and I just celebrated our forty-sixth wedding anniversary. I wasn't exactly the best choice for a husband. LaRee married me for better or for worse. Thirty-six of those years have been very trying. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and became seriously disabled. Then, in 2012, I was diagnosed with cancer. And yet LaRee chose to continue loving me. 

Young couples just starting out on their life-journey together,
should not be discouraged when they hear that half of all marriages fail and end in divorce—half of all marriages succeed! If they place Christ at the very centre of their marriage and lives, as their first and highest love, they will discover that Christ gives love and makes love grow to heights they did not know were possible! Why? Because Christ is the definition of love. 

About a year ago, I started hand-writing LaRee a love-letter each morning to accompany her medications that I put beside her favourite chair before she gets up.[1] My dilemma is this: How do I express the inexpressible? How do I put in words my immense love for LaRee?  Our love is what matters to me in this world. My place is with her and her place is with me. We. I am content with life as long as she loves me.

If I dream, let be about LaRee. If I laugh or weep, let it be with
LaRee. I want her to be the first person I see every morning and the last person I see before I go to sleep at night. I want her in every part of my life. "LaRee" is the sweetest word in my vocabulary. Having LaRee in my arms makes me whole: One flesh. Two people united for one lifetime in marriage. LaRee.

If our family turned on me and ceased to love me, it would break my heart. But I would get through it, as long as she loves me. If I became a pariah or an outcast in society, I could still walk with my head up, as long as LaRee loved me. 

And if my dramatic MS remission (that allowed me to walk after 16 years in an electric wheelchair) was to end, and I was forced to return to my wheelchair again, I could accept it, as long as she loves me. If LaRee were to pass away before me, I could carry on knowing that she still loves me, and is waiting for me, and resting in God's perfect love. 

Our love and life together has been blessed by God. I am loved.
[1] I lost the use of my right arm and hand for twenty years and was not able to hold a pencil to write.

Monday, October 28, 2019


Human Opinions and Detractors—by Father Jim Canova

When Jesus went into the house of Zacchaeus many people complained at his association with a sinner. He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house!  Meanwhile, the Lord responded to the conversion of Zacchaeus with some of the most beautiful words of the Gospels: Today salvation has come to this house…
Do not care too much about who likes you and who does not. Why waste time worrying about who is for you and who is against you? Besides, you would be startled at what people really think of you! Just do your best to please Our Lord, and He will be on your side. He will stand by you as long as you hate sin and try to avoid it in your daily life. When He is with you, what does it matter who else is against you?
Never be disturbed when others say things that hurt. If you thought more often of your sins, you might even agree with some of their remarks.
Speak often with Our Lord, and people will impress you less than they do now. The more you advance in prayer, the less will you be tempted to talk against others. What they say or do against you, will seem so trivial when you have learned to join Our Lord through prayer and recol­lection.
Our Lord knows what you really are. What people say about you, will not change what you are nor what Our Lord thinks of you.
Just do your best for Our Lord’s sake, and do not worry what anyone may think or say of you.
Do not fear the judgments of those around you. Live for Our Lord by trying to please Him in your daily life. Then will you enjoy His peace – a peace which only He can give!
In God alone will you find true peace and joy. You must not desire to please others, and when there is question of doing what is right, do not fear to displease them! Only God’s judgment is important. All will agree with God’s opinion of you at the Last Judgment.
This article was  submitted by Fr. Jim Canova to ProLife Corner, and online presence of Stephenson County Right To Life, Freeport, Illinois. Link here

Sunday, October 20, 2019


Businessman Mac Brydon
of Macron, Georgia
American Life League's Culture of Life Studies Program has teamed together with Macron Georgia entrepreneur, Mac Brydon, in support of his peanut business called Bear Food. Mr. Brydon has Down's Syndrome and employs people with special needs. Well done, Mac! Well done American Life League and their Culture of Life Studies Program! Click on the words Bear Food above for a link to an article about this partnership.

Saturday, October 19, 2019


LaRee Pickup addressed the
United States National
Right to Life Prayer Breakfast
about what really matters in life:
Life itself
Nine years ago, my wife LaRee addressed the United States National Right To Life Prayer Breakfast. She spoke to an audience of over 800 people about her experience with the heartbreak of abortion, serious degenerative disease and disability of a loved-one, end of life issues, and how love (both human and divine) can transcend it all, if we let it. She spoke of the innate value of every human being for no other reason than we are all made in the image of God and deserve to be loved, included, nurtured, and protected. Her story captivated the audience from all 50 states. She spoke from her heart to their hearts about the importance of faith, family and interdependent community. You could have heard a pin drop. People openly wept at the simple yet profound truths of which she spoke—truths that build and sustain every civilized society. 

Friday, October 11, 2019


Your connection with God, and your connection with other people is the most important thing you can do in life. Love is where meaning is found.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019


It’s federal election season in Canada. Canadians have the Liberal Party, the Conservatives, the New Democratic Party (NDP), the Peoples’ Party, Bloc Québécois (Quebec's separatist party) and the Greens to choose from as the next government. The Liberals and Conservatives are in a dead heat for 1st place. On the 7th of October 2019, we were treated to a English debate amongst the leaders. A pretty motley group but there’s our choices. They shouted over, er, I mean debated about the economy, each others’ faulty characters, the economy, energy, the environment, immigration and so forth—the usual topics one would expect in such an election forum. At one point, the topic turned to abortion. 
The only pro-Life candidate is the Conservative Andrew Scheer. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported: 
“The debate turned briefly to the subject of abortion and a woman's right to choose, which saw Scheer facing attacks from all on the stage. 
"The laws of access on this issue have not changed for 30 years under Liberal prime ministers, under Conservative prime ministers, they will not change when I am prime minister," Scheer said.” [1] 

Pretty soft pro-Life! What’s the point of Scheer saying he is pro-Life if he’s has no intention of trying to extend Canada’s constitutionally guarantee of the right to life to the youngest and most vulnerable members of Canadian society?
What I found revealing is that the Liberals, the NDP and the Greens will not allow a pro-Life candidate to run for Member of Parliament in their parties. Liberal Leader, Justin Trudeau, challenged Scheer about why he would even sign the nomination papers of any pro-Life candidate? To 21st Century progressive thought, it’s unthinkably to the Prime Minister that the Conservatives would allow any candidate for Parliament who would not wholeheartedly embrace a woman’s right to choose death for her unwanted or inconvenient unborn child. After all, it’s a Canadian value.
In Canada, a woman can have an abortion for any reason at all, or no reason whatsoever; and she can have as many abortions as she wants—all paid by the Canadian taxpayer. All she needs to do is call her friendly neighbourhood abortion clinic and make an appointment. Remember, It’s a Canadian value. The unfettered right of women to kill their unwanted pre-born children is so deeply ingrained into the Canadian political psyche; anyone who might give any modicum of concern to the child’s life is anathema. We are unfit for public office and should not be allowed to be Members of Parliament. The People’s House is now only for those people whose views do not offend the sensibilities of Canada’s new progressive elite in government and the media.
The pressure is on Andrew Scheer to close the door to pro-Life people in Canada’s Parliament. Our mainline secular media are fully supportive of the idea and are prepared to shame Andrew Scheer into not allowing pro-Life candidates within the Conservative roster of candidates for Parliament. I predict he will cave to the pressure.
The allure of power corrupts people and the Conservatives are no exception. They want back in power. They will throw anybody under the bus who dare speak for protecting the most voiceless of the Canadian family: Unborn children. It's an affront to the progressive ideal of Choice even when it involves killing another or oneself. Choice and autonomy trump all other considerations.
In "Canadian values" it’s now wrong to oppose euthanasia. Progressives like to use the flowery innocuous sounding euphemism Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) for lethal injection of our sickest and most disabled citizens. After all, Canadians are a polite people even when embracing what previous generations called murder. We like euphemisms that disguise ugly and unpleasant truth or deeds.
The concept of the sanctity of human life is passé—so hopelessly old fashioned for Canada’s Brave New World. Dinosaurs like me who still hold dear the concept that every life is worth living and deserves protection and care, has no place in public office or even the arena of public discourse. My views are unwelcome with Canada’s political elite. Indeed! 

I refuse to pledge my allegiance to this new Canadian value of unfettered choice, regardless of how barbaric it may be. People like me are effectively shut out. I do not fit into the country of my birth. I am a pariah.

Mark Davis Pickup 

Thursday, October 3, 2019


There is a respectable bigotry amongst Canada's liberal and progressive elite. It is a prejudice against people of faith, and particularly a  prejudice against Christians. American author Wesley J. Smith has just written a penetrating article about this politically correct bigotry in an article entitled "CANADA GOES SOFTLY AUTHORITARIAN: Morality now begins and ends with government," in The American Spectator, 03 October, 2019.


Monday, September 16, 2019


Here is holy ground. Where is that? It is that special place where we happen to be when we find ourselves at the end of our resources; our hearts are broken, and there’s no more pretending we are not okay. We are not okay! It is that place in the broken human heart where we are about to give up. We desperately cry out to a yet unknown God in a universe that seems empty and without meaning. And yet we hope as though we are making our last stand with a last inkling of hope against hope. That is when we stand on holy ground, although we don’t know it. It is holy ground because that is the place where God can finally reach us.  We discover that there really is a God who can and does intervene in human affairs and even the lives of individuals, like you and me.  We discover that the universe is not empty—there is a Word that created it all that somehow that Entity is concerned about a insignificant tiny being like you and me in than insignificant place in an immeasurable vast university. 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”— John 1.1-5

Somehow, a spark of hope appears and shines through our despair where it was only darkness .  Slowly, yet wonderfully, that spark breaks into an open flame that leads us out of our darkness into the light of the Entity we desperately cried out to and we discover that Entity has a name: Jesus Christ.  He is the ‘He’ who was with God in the beginning.  Once we have encountered Him, we know we will never be the same again. The Word encompasses the idea of Divine love and is found in the person of Jesus Christ, just like those fanatical street evangelists, preachers and popes, and Christian praise and worship songsters keep saying.

“… but in these last days he [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” – Hebrews 1.2-4.

If creation is God’s general revelation, then Jesus Christ is the personal revelation of God’s love.  It’s hard to believe there is a Cosmic Truth and that Cosmic Truth is the very definition of love. We are astounded to discover that we have access to that Love through Jesus Christ—but there it is: Truth.  So simple yet so utterly profound and vast.  I believe this truth of Love is simple so it can include imbeciles like me yet profoundly vast —beyond human understanding—because God is love. The experience doesn’t make sense yet it’s the only thing that does makes sense in a way that is inexplicable but brings us weep with a child-like Joy. We discover that we are not insignificant at all! 

When we first encounter God through Christ, who is the light of the world, His light does what light always does: It drives back darkness in our lives. If you are anything like me, that light with its intense purity reveals what men of older times called sin. Sin is what separates us from a perfect God. God takes you and me just as we are but He does not leave us as we are. He wants us to be perfect just as He is perfect and be with him forever.  A perfect God must that or He would not be perfect. Imperfection and perfection cannot co-exist any more than light and darkness can occupy the same place at the same time. God does not want us to remain where we are He wants the best for us. But how can we move toward His perfection when we are so imperfect? We have and will continue to fall short of His perfection. We know (in our hearts) we don’t deserve to be in the light of Christ. How do we become worthy of God perfection and love? Well, on our own, we can’t.  We have fallen short of the glory of God and always will fall short of the glory of God, if we are left to our own means and devises.  We know it.  But that is no reason to fall back into despair. We are justified before a holy and righteous God through Christ’s righteousness.  

“… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” —Romans 3.23-26.

If our sins make us unworthy to stand before a perfect, holy and righteous God, why would He give us His Son for us? Love.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” — John 3.16-21.

Real love involves both mercy and truth. Mercy is grace and truth involves righteousness. 

If God is all about love then why isn’t He willing to just forgive and forget our sins?  He is, that’s what the cross is about. Christ takes away your sins and mine through four aith, confession of our sins and repentance. Like love, it’s that simple, so simple even a small child can understand and accept it. In fact, Jesus said that unless we become as a child we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. 

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Sonfrom the Father, full of grace and truth.” — John 1.12-14.

Through faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, we become children of God. Small children are totally dependent and trusting of their parents. That is how we are to be with God, our heavenly Father: Child-like faith that trusts not childish faith that demands. We rest in the assurance that our heavenly Father knows what is best for us and so we surrender to His will—whatever that might be. We pray Thy will be done, not my will be done. Surrender.

That is a place of holy ground. We discover a beautiful and heart-rending mystery. It is in surrender to God that we find freedom and liberty. That is holy ground.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


I was recently interviewed by Colleen Swindol Thompson for Reframing Ministries podcast, part of Insight For Living ministries. To listen to this podcast, click here


The Texas based online magazine The Stream published an article about my pro-Life message across North America: FIGHTING EUTHANASIA: Man With Multiple Sclerosis Travels North America Speaking On The Value of Life. My last speech was in Dubuque, Iowa on the day the Governor signed into effect "The Heartbeat bill" meaning abortions can not be performed in the state after a baby's heartbeat can be detected.

After 35 years, it seems that my time for public speaking has, for the most part, drawn to a close. I am going to dedicate my remaining time to writing this blog (it has more than 800,000 hits) and Christian and/or life-affirming screenplays. Will they be produced? I don't know but I'm going to do it anyway.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019


I've been asked for an update about walking after more than 15 years in an electric wheelchair. Well, it's been a number of months and the remission is holding. The photo at the right was taken July 16th 2019. I'm walking with one cane around the house & two when my wife and I are out in the community. Gait is coming back slowly but I have no stamina yet so I still use a walker or wheelchair when exhausted or for longer distances.

As you may know, remissions are rare with late-stage MS. A recent MRI revealed my brain is riddled with plague but there's been no new activity since the last MRI. My doctors stumped about my remarkable turn-around: What's happening to me right now is not supposed to happen with late-stage aggressive MS. 

There was a time when things became so serious
that my neurologist put me on a risky experimental treatment using a powerful chemotherapy drug to try to stave off quadriplegia that was threatening me. Things got that desperate! The therapy was abandoned because of adverse effects. All I had left was my faith for many years.

Now, unexpectedly, the course of my devastating disease seems to have changed course from continual degeneration. This is an example of why people in dire circumstances must not give up on life and opt for suicide or euthanasia! We just don't know what tomorrow may bring. 

What's happening to me is not supposed to happen after 35 years of aggressive multiple sclerosis and a brain so heavily damaged and riddled with plaque. 

Believe in tomorrow even when logic tells you not to. Where there is life, there is hope.

Saturday, July 13, 2019


I am writing about heart disease because Google featured a doodle celebrating the birth
of Dr. René Favaloro. He developed the heart-bypass surgical procedure. It gives me an opportunity for me to write my own experience with heart disease.

The 1960s were a revolutionary time in medical treatment of cardiovascular disease. Open-heart surgery was making major advances. The first coronary arterial bypass surgery was conducted in Cleveland by Dr. Favaloro. Pacemaker technology was developing quickly. 

Then on December 3rd 1967, South Africa surgeon, Dr. Christian Bernard
performed the first heart transplant on a man named Louis Washkansky. It was front-page news around the world. Washkansky died eighteen days later just before Christmas. Not to be deterred, Dr. Bernard performed the world’s second transplant in early January of 1968, on a retired dentist named Philip Blaiberg. Again the daring of Dr. Bernard was front-page news. 

One warm summer evening in 1967, my dad and I were sitting at a small table playing chess near a lakeside log cabin we owned. The last vestiges of a glorious sunset sparkled on the lake before fading into dusk.  A fire crackled in the fire-pit giving us light. All was tranquil. Suddenly and without warning, Dad grabbed his chest and pitched forward. The table tipped over sending the chess pieces flying. I yelled, “What’s wrong Dad!” He assured me everything was fine and recovered his composure. He said he thought he was coming down with something. No kidding! Conceding the game he went into the cabin and laid down. I told my mother what happened and she asked him about it. He brushed off the incident as a minor ailment.  The next incident happened in late August while Dad was driving the family car. Suddenly and without warning again he convulsed in pain, clutched the steering wheel, moaned, and with difficulty brought the car to a stop at the side of the road.  He leaned his head against the driver side window. This time my mother saw it. She was horrified! So was I.  Mom badgered and grilled him for details about his chest pain and demanded he see a doctor.  When my father recovered sufficiently he quietly slid across the bench-seat to the passenger side. Mom drove the rest of way home still harping at him to see a doctor. He finally mumbled something about being too late, and doctors couldn’t help him. It was the first time I saw Dad being irrationally obstinate.

Over many decades of diligent practice, my mother honed the not-so-gentle art of nagging into a precise and piercing science. But nagging often has the opposite effect of its intended purpose. My father was of an era when men loathed to acknowledge personal sickness and recoiled at the thought of going to a doctor. It was seen as a sign of weakness. My dad made sure his family was well-tended but neglected himself.  In my perception as at fourteen years old, my dad seemed so strong and invincible – so much in control.

The family doctor diagnosed angina and wrote a prescription for a medication called digitalis. Dad
had a heart condition. To allay our fears, he explained to the family had people with various medical conditions lived normal lives. He pointed out a merchant who lived down the street who had diabetes; with the exception of daily insulin shots and watching his blood-sugar levels, he lived a normal and active life. But despite my father's assurances, a twinge of fear hung over me. My innocent and happy life was about to change forever.

After the 1967 Christmas break, life got back to a regular routine.  It was a typical day at school. In the middle of my grade eight class, there was a knock at the classroom door. It was the school principal. He and the teacher whispered at the door then the principal called me. In the hallway, he looked at me gravely and said: “You need to go home right now. Get your jacket and leave.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Your mother is waiting for you.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“Your dad had a heart attack. You need to leave right now.”

I rushed home. Something inside me seemed to know my life was changing and it would never be the same again. When I got home my father had already been transported by ambulance to a hospital. It was not a moment too soon!

Tempest of the heart & soul

When my siblings and I arrived at the hospital, we
were sent to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). We found Mom crying in the waiting room. Through her sobs, she told us that the doctor told her Dad could die at any time! It was like somebody kicked me in the head! Reality became unreality. I went into shock. My mind refused to take in her words. It’s impossible to describe my fear.

That long night, Dad’s heart stopped three times and he was revived three times.  He hung in a dreadful delicate balance between life and death.

Visitation rules for the Intensive Care Unit were restricted to immediate family and only one visitor per hour for ten minutes. The rule was strictly enforced. That meant I could only see the hero of my life for ten minutes every fourth hour and he could die at any time. Each visit could be my last. 

My first visit was more like a journey into a dreadful unknown. When it was my turn to enter the ICU, I trembled to push the intercom button and identify myself. The greenish-white metal doors unlocked and I entered an anteroom to death.

In the middle of the large open Intensive Care Unit, an observation center was raised for a proficient and clinical cadre of nurses and doctors. They peered out across the large room at their half-dead patients. They watched beeping monitors, examined charts and fanned out across the room to various patient’s beds. One side of the unit was for cardiac care. Other assorted life-threatening conditions lined the other three walls. The atmosphere was sterile in more ways than hygiene. It was like something out of a Robin Cook novel. I walked past numerous beds, separated only by curtains and medical equipment until I reached my dad.
I was stunned!

His skin was waxy grey. Electric cardio-shock must have still in its infancy because he had numerous burn marks on his chest as though hot stove elements had been held against his skin. The sight of him broke my heart. But even in that very critical state, he smiled at the sight of me. I had only ten minutes for the next four hours so I cut through any possibility of small talk. In four hours he might be dead!

Choking back tears I blurted, “I thought you were going to die!” He became serious but in his usual unflappable way he said, “I thought so too, Mark.”

“Weren’t you afraid?” I asked.
“Yes, I was afraid of dying before you kids were raised. I was afraid of leaving your mother to finish the job alone.”
“Your heart stopped three times, Dad! How can you be so calm?!”
My dad looked at me intensely then said,

 “I want you to understand that Christ was with
me, Mark. We all must die. We can either die with Christ or without him, but eventually we all die. This has been the point behind everything I’ve tried to teach you, son. How you respond to Christ and His sacrifice at Calvary is all that matters when you die. I want you to give your life to Jesus and live for Him.”

Silence, then tears.

Growing up in a Christian home, surrounded by evangelical Christians, I often heard the refrain, “Have you given your life to Jesus?”  As a child, I did make a commitment to the Lord. But it was a cultural commitment of a boy who worshipped his earthly father and wanted to please him rather than my heavenly Father. Now my earthly father lay at the edge of death. I held his hand and we looked at each other.  In that quiet sacred moment, we lived centuries. 

Suddenly, the silence was broken by a gurney bursting through the doors with a team of medical people frantically working on a man.  A nurse unceremoniously ushered me out of the ICU. I founded myself standing outside the doors looking at some poor wretch’s wife with soggy cheeks. She had a terrified expression on her face. I knew exactly how she felt.

Dad remained in the Intensive Care Unit for weeks. It seemed like an eternity. My family watched other heart patients either die or recover enough to be moved to hospital wards. We remained in a limbo of shadows—a no-man’s land that swung back and forth between life and death. Doctors tried to stop the downward slide of my father’s failing heart—and various other serious crisis’s that befell him. We were living in a nightmare.

The heart specialists worked valiantly to save my dad and their skills were spectacular. But I detested their casual detachment from the humanity of suffering. It was not the patient in bed 7 — he was my father! His name was Howard and he had a family who loved him, and our hearts were breaking! He was not the sum total of his electro-cardiograms, blood tests and whatever else was on his chart. He was not the patient in bed 7. He was a man and that man was my father!

The head of the cardiac team was a brilliant young cardiologist I will refer to as Dr. T. I remember he called a meeting of families of all the cardiac patients in the intensive care unit and forbade newspapers or discussions about the world's second heart transplant patient: Philip Blaiberg.  Dr. T. did not want to raise false hopes in us or his patients. He believed that Dr. Bernard’s sensational transplant operations in South Africa were doomed to failure because anti-rejection drugs were still in their infancy. Although Dr. T. was right, Philip Blaiberg lived another 18 months before dying or organ rejection on August 17th 1969. 

I remember a debate arose in South Africa because Philip Blaiberg was a white man who received the heart of a multi-racial black man. I was disgusted! What did race have to do with heart transplantation? Apparently, in Apartheid South Africa of 1968, it meant a great deal.  Heated debates erupted about the “ethics” of interracial transplantation. Ethics! It had nothing to do with ethics and everything to do with racism. My father was living at the edge of death and people had the audacity to bring racist bigotry about a medical procedure that could possibly save people like my Dad?!  I was deeply offended, as I’m sure thousands of families were offended who had loved-ones dying of heart disease.  (My father’s case was remarkably similar to Dr. Bernard’s first patient, Louis Washkansky.) 

The success of the Philip Blaiberg heart transplant led to an explosion of heart transplantation by doctors around the world.[1]  Today it is quite common.
Dr. T. was a rude and blunt man with an audacious bushy moustache that matched his personality. My father didn’t like him. He thought Dr. T. had a god-complex and a colossal ego that was fed by his extraordinary and dazzling skill of saving patients other doctors were losing. Most of Dr. T. patients were in awe of him. When he entered the room, one felt he expected its lowly occupants to shrink and genuflect before the superior intellect standing before them. My father was suspicious that Dr. T. saw his patients as a group of sustained arrhythmias, myocardial infarctions and faulty ventricles—problems to be solved rather than people to be healed.

Dr. T. showed my mother dad’s electrocardiogram. Before explaining the medical problem he said, “That’s the heartbeat of a dying man.” My mother broke down and wept like a mere mortal. But in the final analysis, despite his rudeness and tactlessness, Dr. T. used his vast medical knowledge and skills to pull my father back from the grip of death and saved his life.  I have always been grateful to him.

The first man I saw die

One day while visiting my dad in the ICU, a man a few beds away went into full cardiac arrest. Within seconds nurses and doctors pounced on him. It reminded me of wolves attacking a crippled prey – except this pack was trying to save a life not take it. It happened so quickly nobody had time to throw me out of the ICU. A nurse made a haphazard attempt to close the curtain but the patient’s feet were still visible. I could hear shouts of medical lingo between doctors and nurses jostling around the bed, then the sound of electro-cardio shock paddles being applied to the man’s chest. His body convulsed. There was a pause. The paddles were put to him again, again and again. With each shock, his feet jumped less. Finally, the medical team stopped their frantic work. Somebody closed the curtain around the man’s bed and they walked away. I watched in wide-eyed horror as the whole thing unfolded. It was the first time I saw a person die. 

Slowly I turned and looked at my father. I don’t remember what he said — or if he said anything at all ­— but we held each other knowing that his feet might be next to bounce on a bed. I dared not speak for fear of weeping.  A nurse told me it was time to leave. I nodded assent and made my way to the double-doors of the ICU then turned to look back at my father. It would be four hours before I could see him again. Would he be dead by then? He waved to me and smiled weakly. I left.

Then something happened. I experienced one of those inscrutable human moments in which we live a lifetime.  At such moments, a lifetime’s worth of love and sorrow (much of it still unlived) simultaneously floods our hearts. Our souls cry out in primal anguish; our pain lays open like a raw gaping wound. Such moments are stark and terrible, yet they are necessary. If our souls’ remain unstirred it would a crime against our own humanity.

How I longed to be in a boat fishing again with Dad bobbing gently on a lake in a cool morning mist. Sobbing and blinded by tears, I fell against a wall then slumped to the floor and bawled like a baby. 

Then, through blurred vision, I saw
a pair of black shoes in front of me and followed them up to see the face of a priest. He was a friend of my dad: Father Edward Lynch.  He sat on the floor and silently hugged me.

About ten minutes later those same nurses walked out of the ICU and passed us on their way for a coffee break. They were chatting and laughing, talking about their plans for the weekend or their kids’ basketball team. I hated their detachment from suffering humanity!  Somebody’s family was trying to fathom the death of their loved one, and the nurses and doctors were heading off for pie and coffee? I hoped they’d all choke on the crumbs and dregs. (I understand now, as an old man, that detachment was necessary or they would have burnt out.)

Just being there

Father Lynch gave me the invaluable gift of his presence. It was a simple yet profound witness. His compassion was real and visible—a bastion of human decency that made sense in my unravelling world seemingly gone mad and callous.

The Apostle Paul said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”[2] The priest was not afraid to enter my pain and sit with me in my sorrow and fear. He did not try to set things right. He couldn’t. He did not spew empty platitudes about knowing how I felt. He didn’t. He simply showed me Christ-like love by his presence. His greatest comfort was simply being there with me in my anguish. Even at fourteen years of age, I understood that. It was something my family’s United Church church community did not do. 

I do not remember our own United Church pastor or church members sitting with my mother in those dark hours as my dad’s life hung in the balance. (I must be fair, they probably sent a Get Well Soon card.) It was a Catholic priest who was consistently there for my family. He wept with us and prayed with us and consoled us. I grew to love Father Lynch like a – well, a father.

I want to help you to understand the important Christian witness of your simple presence with those who hurt or mourn. I have often said that it was not cleaver theological debates that led me to the Catholic Church. I was loved into the Catholic Church. Love in action is the best witness for Christ.

[1] By August of 1968, there were 34 heart transplants. By the end of 1969, ninety-eight people received new hearts. As of 2001, over 100,000 heart transplants had been performed with a nearly 100% success rate. According to the World Health Organization about 5,400 heart transplant operations occur every year, mostly in the United States.
[2] Romans 12.15.