Joan Hogan

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

August 8, 2001


            What would you do if you could not move anything but your eyes and eyebrows?  You could not turn you head.  You could not talk or swallow. You could not walk, dress, or bathe.  You had sit motionless until someone came along to move your hand, wipe your chin or brushed away a fly?

Would you go mad?  Would you be angry at God?

This condition really exists.  It is rare.  It is called an “imprisonment stroke.”  A friend of mine had it.  Rarely does anyone survive for long in such as state.   Most people succumb in few days. 

But Joan Hogan, lived for seven years in such a condition.  Her life was a testament to the power of love and prayer.

Joan confounded the textbooks and the doctors.  She had great care from her nurses, doctors, and aides.  She also the love of her family, especially her husband John who was at her side nearly all day, nearly every day for seven years.  She was seldom alone for long.  Her children and grandchildren and friends were always in and out of her room.

            Joan died this year.  Although she was nearly motionless, she was anything but imprisoned.  Her spirit was free.   

Before the stroke, Joan was very active as a wife and mother of six children in suburban New York.  She had flown to Denver for the first communion of her eldest grandchild, who was named after her.  The Sunday after the first communion, she felt tired and lay down.  She had a massive stroke, which nearly killed her.  

            After the initial trauma, she had to live again. 

            She could communicate by moving her eyes and eyebrows, and by blinking.  She moved her eyes “up” for yes and “down” for no.

Eventually she learned to write using a computer, which she controlled with her eyes.  She could move the cursor and then select a letter.  Writing was slow, but she could get her point across.

            What did she say?

            She did not feel sorry for herself.  She would have preferred good health, but she accepted her condition and offered it up for others.  She thanked God for her life.

Mostly Joan asked about others. She was still concerned about her family.

She understood that stroke was not all bad.  It had kept her close to her grandchildren.  It brought her family together.  Gradually, nearly the whole family moved to Denver to be close to mom.

Her life was not boredom.  She had her favorite TV shows, especially the ones in which her son appeared in bit parts.  She listened to books and tapes.  Her family taped photos and pictures to her wall and ceiling in her line of sight.

            She prayed constantly.  Her life became prayer.  She prayed with her husband.  Although she could not swallow the Eucharist, she took great joy in the mass.  She received communion by “desire”.  Once I was privileged to celebrate mass for her.  She participated in the liturgy with an extraordinary intensity. Her eyes could convey interest and mirth better than many people’s words.

            When she was dying, nursing home employees came in on their days off to say goodbye.  Former employees came back to visit.  They said they used to go into her room and tell her their troubles, and seek her advice.  For one thing, they knew she would tell no one.  But they also knew she was a woman of wisdom.  She knew how to find joy in life, even in the midst of suffering.

In a world when people are counseling euthanasia and assisted suicide, Joan Hogan’s last seven years have something important to teach us.  She was ever joyful.  Her life shows that God can use every life to bring grace to others, even one that can only look out on the world with eyes of love.