Dcn. Tom Kroll holds a photo of his late wife, Sue Kroll. She suffered from a number of physical ailments throughout their married life; the deacon’s passion for helping caregivers was inspired by their story. (Catholic Herald photo by Joe Winter)

Joe Winter
Special to the Catholic Herald

A Hudson deacon has worn many hats over the decades, during which his beloved wife had enough medical conditions to make the afflicted Job seen as a source of identity.

Tom Kroll, deacon at St. Patrick’s, recently lost his wife, Sue, after many years of illness.

This decades-long journey started when she was 30 and understandably, she soon lost most of her energy – although she fought to keep it going as a former go-getter – as more medical conditions mounted through the years.

This, and the fact that her husband began formally pursuing the diaconate at 58, meant he juggled duties as a caregiver and then as a deacon, not to mention minding the rest of the family and employment. The times were often very challenging, Dcn. Kroll said, but through a spirit of spirituality, also brought them, almost conversely, much closer together. And others prospered, too.

‘To be clear, my journey is not unlike that of many who care for a loved one prior to (their) passing. The commitment and love that is shared is the same for all of us and the care is often given as a labor of love albeit, at times, extremely burdensome,’ he said.

Being a deacon means that he sees things through a different lens, one that clarifies the significance of his wife’s needs (and those of others) and the sacrifice and charity to which a caregiver may be called.

“As a deacon, I am also attuned to seeing God’s graces that may not be apparent during an ordeal but emerge through the cloud of suffering as goodness,” he said.

Both of the Krolls continually adjusted to whatever the new normal was – and its ever-evolving challenges – knowing that God would lead them through, the deacon added.

While always in mind, the couple rarely articulated concern over how it affected the diaconate call, he said, noting Sue listened intently to the spiritual expressions during their cherished coffee times. When the formal decision was made to initiate deacon formation, Sue’s response was: “Sure. Of course. Why are you asking?”

His perspective: “Well, for the time being, we are able to manage, but if things start requiring more, I am prepared to immediately drop my pursuit.”

Sue unselfishly never said, “I need more of you,” but in another repeating theme, Tom had to take care not to ignore her needs. Part of that was allowing Sue dignity as these needs increased.

As with many people, Sue often overestimated her fight-through-it abilities, and a gatekeeper was needed involving oft-difficult decisions such as when she could no longer drive a car.

And why didn’t they get someone to provide in-home care? “Body dysfunctions can be a very personal thing and best handled only by someone with an intimate relationship with the impacted person,” Tom said, adding that those needs created more time crunches.

The health insurance through his employer was crucial. “I had considered retiring early, I realized that Sue needed that security of knowing I had both a paycheck and health insurance. It seemed to make her ‘nest’ feel safe.” The work dynamic placed him in constant prayer. Should he simply put trust in God? Presumably to God’s plan, Tom retired 30 months prior to her passing and was present for much of the ‘heavy lifting,’ he said.

Prayer and time in adoration were the most strengthening parts of the journey.

“God gently pulled me into an increasing life of prayer by showing ways in which I could accommodate prayer during my work travel and incorporate it into my exercise time,” Tom said. ‘My designated Friday afternoon adoration time became my weekly relief.’

It was, at its root, God taking over the anxiety.

“Prayer also opened my eyes to the needs of so many others who were also suffering from numerous emotional, physical and spiritual ailments. It also opened the gates of understanding to life beyond this world, and when Sue passed, it was not the dramatic transition I have seen with many others.”

In his providential manner, God sent a host of people to give him comfort at just the right time, and of people who were in desperate need of a pair of ears to listen to the dilemmas of their lives.

“God has a funny way of healing our needs through the administration of comfort to others. Prayer allowed me to clearly see his beautiful graces,” Tom said.

Family was always a part of the journey.

“Providentially, (again), my daughter was returning from living in Seattle and my youngest son was in transition in a move to Denver to live near our eldest son,” he said, showing the layers of care that were needed to make things work.

“Their presence was the spiritual boost she needed,” and raising them to be responsive people came full-circle.

The journey also opened his eyes to the many people who need to manage similar distress – on both ends: “As a result of this insight, the emphasis for the next phase of my diaconate is in developing and implementing processes for those and their caregivers.

“God’s direction is most apparent when we look back through the lens of difficult times. In so doing, I could clearly see Sue’s humble acceptance of her ailments and the quiet appreciation of the simple joys that life had to offer her,’ he said. ‘She was almost always in a cheerful mood.”

Others were uplifted by her positive demeanor.

“Her faith, though often unspoken, was very deep and expressed not in words but in thanksgiving for life’s simple pleasures of family, friends and nature,’ he concluded. ‘And from her, I learned that humble acceptance is the foundation upon which true faith is built.”