A Life Well Lived

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on October 30, 2021

Ross Douthat has a powerful new book about his battle with chronic Lyme disease. In The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery, he writes beautifully, with honesty and gratitude. I was overcome with emotion when I got to the part about our mutual friend Andrew Walther, who died a year ago.

Douthat describes Andrew as “a Knight of Columbus and energetic global diplomat who was saving Middle Eastern Christians from the Islamic State while I was wandering around our rural property and dosing myself with tetracycline and tweeting against Trump. He and his wife had their fourth child just a couple of months before we had ours, and then it happened: a leukemia diagnosis in the middle of the pandemic.”

I remember it all too well. I had gotten a text from Andrew, who was in the emergency room: “Please pray.” By that evening, he called to tell me he had been diagnosed with leukemia. I was flabbergasted. How could such a tireless man, always working to help others, be stricken down so young?

Faith Makes It Possible to Keep Going

Andrew’s wife, Maureen, is amazing. Spending time with the family is both beautiful and heartbreaking. Faith makes it possible to keep going, even if Andrew’s untimely death doesn’t make sense. Watching Maureen makes me pray more for all single parents. It takes such perseverance and courage. All parenthood does. But without a partner, all the more so.

As Douthat chronicles, Andrew’s cancer treatment seemed to be going well, until it wasn’t. Some of our last conversations were about experimental treatments. I don’t know if he knew his time was coming to an end, but in the final days, we were making plans to meet — in New York after his doctor visit, or over at the house in Connecticut. Because of COVID, I hadn’t even met my goddaughter, his youngest daughter. But everything went too fast. I met her at the vespers service the night before his funeral Mass and burial.

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Andrew died on All Saints Day, which is fitting. Andrew was selfless. He felt called by God to help the Christians suffering persecution in Iraq and throughout the world. There are Christians living in Erbil today because of actions Andrew took with the Knights of Columbus. A university has opened there because of so much of his work. I hear a dorm will be named in his honor.

The Chance to Keep Fighting

When Douthat was first showing the debilitating symptoms of Lyme, he was not being diagnosed correctly. He thought he was having heart attacks, as doctors dismissed him as mentally ill. What a cross to bear, and for someone so smart and capable. Reflecting on Andrew and it all, Douthat is grateful for “the chance to keep fighting,” to not burden his family with his absence, even if he is now a husband and father in “a diminished state.” I have no doubt The Deep Places will be a gift for many. It is for me. I’m grateful that he paid tribute to our friend, reminding us to love in the time we have.

We best not be deluded by false security. Be grateful for life, and keep moving forward together in the hope that even the joys — and certainly the pain — are not all there is.

 

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living. She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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