Do you know what your life goal is? From an early age, Mary Koziol did. Growing up at the foot of Thunder Hill, west of Swan River, Manitoba, wasn’t easy for the Koziol family. “We grew up quite poor and my mother didn’t have the best life. All I ever wanted was to grow up and give my parents a life, especially my mother, that she never had.” Her parents never finished elementary school, yet Mary and her siblings were able to finish high school and Mary eventually started taking nursing at Kingsway College in 1969. God’s provision seemed to be setting her up to achieve her goal.

 

Tragedy strikes

The Koziol family. L-R back row: John and wife Cecile, Mary, Lydia. Front row: Carol, Mom (Anne), Dad (Izydor).

The Koziol family. L-R back row: John and wife Cecile, Mary, Lydia. Front row: Carol, Mom (Anne), Dad (Izydor).

 

Mary’s nursing program ran for three years, but after two years into her program her mother was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She was given a year to live.

This was more than the threat of losing a loved one for Mary. “I was devastated because this was my dream of my life going down the drain: my purpose in life.” She had always wanted to improve her mother’s life and make it easier in her later years, yet when they came home during her final school year at Christmas, “[Mother] was hardly walking and I realized that I didn’t think she would live until I graduated in September.”

 

Mary’s First Prayer

Mary’s brother and wife were helping with the upkeep of the farm, but her mother’s care-giving was more than her father and youngest sister could manage. “When I went back to training after being home for Christmas I found it difficult to eat or sleep” says Mary. “I had such a burden in my heart.” Convicted she needed to return home to take care of her mother, but unsure if she should leave her studies, Mary was at a crossroads. She explains:

“I wasn’t a Christian at that time even though we were at a Christian school. I never had the background of being introduced to a personal relationship with Christ. I never prayed. I loved anything to do with churches but I didn’t go to church because I was just an angry person with all the turmoil that had gone on in my life. But I had started reading Patriarchs and Prophets and I knew that I needed something in my life. And so, I prayed the first real prayer of my life and it was, ‘God I don’t know what to do. And because I don’t and this is a serious thing I’m going to pray for a sign like Gideon (because I had read about Gideon). I need to know for sure what I’m doing because I’ve done two and a half years out of three in my nursing and I just don’t know what I should do.’”

So what was Mary’s “fleece?” Sundays were typically a busy day for Mary. As nursing students they often got called to fill in for Sunday shifts. They also had a babysitting service at the Branson Hospital, as well as family living in Toronto, so it was very unusual to not receive a phone call on Sunday.

Mary decided, “I prayed Lord, if you want me to go home, let there be no phone call. I never told anyone. I just waited. By the end of the day there was no phone call so it just reaffirmed what I knew in my heart.”

 

Crisis of Faith

Armed with new confidence from her first answer to prayer, Mary went to the school nursing administration the next day, explained the situation and told them she was leaving. However, she was in for a surprise.

“They told me that the way the program was setup, if I left I could never come back because it had to be done within a three-year period.” The administration implored her to think about it for a week. Mary remembers, “They told me that as a nurse I could help so many people because I was so close to being done.” Torn, Mary decided to pray her prayer again: “Lord if you want me to go home, let there be no phone call again.” And just like the Sunday before, no call came. “So I packed up and went home.”

 

Goal Realized  – Sacrifices & Provisions

Mary’s return home was not without great challenge. Her parents initially wanted Mary to return to finish her schooling, until her sister-in-law convinced them she was here to stay. The home had no running water. They had no wheelchair for her bedridden mother and only received a hospital bed from the Red Cross later on. But Mary remembers, “It was a wonderful time of my life because I had been gone for four years; and you know when you’re younger you may not appreciate your parents the same. We went through and labeled all her pictures; she gave me all her favorite recipes. It was just wonderful to have time there and help my younger sister, see her off to school, do her hair and whatever.”

Mary arrived home in February, but in July her mother had a stroke. Her mother was transferred to the hospital which was 17 miles away. “There was no way of coming in and out,” remembers Mary, “so I would just sleep in the lounge at the hospital. I had no money for food but people from the church brought food. Then two young nurses from the hospital said, ‘Mary why don’t you come stay with us?’ They gave me a place to stay. They provided some clothes for me and so that looked after my needs.”

By September, Mary’s sister Lydia had graduated with her nursing degree and was able to help. “Then we took Mom home and that’s when we had the hospital bed set up in the living room, so she was just part of family life. She could see what was going on. She couldn’t talk because of the stroke. But she could communicate, you know, through looks and pointing. My brother and his wife had had a baby and he brought the baby and she would play in my mom’s bed. Under the circumstances it was still pleasant. I used to go to the dugout and cry till I couldn’t cry anymore and scream. Not asking God why, but just dealing with the grief of knowing that we were going to lose her. But you know, I knew I had to be strong when I was in the house, and basically life was pleasant.”

In January, Mary’s mother stopped eating. Mary was concerned- this was nearing the end. “So I said, ‘Mom do you want to go to the hospital?’ She nodded yes. I took a picture of Christ coming and I said, ‘Mom do you believe in this?’ And she nodded yes again.”

Once they took her to the hospital her diaphragm gave out. This did not deter Mary and Lydia. “My sister and I had to hand-breath her by pushing down her diaphragm to let the air out and the body automatically sucked the air in.” They did this for days, with little rest, taking turns and then catchign fitful sleep, often on the floor. Their mother was eventually transferred to a hospital in Winnipeg, but despite their best efforts, she passed to her rest on February 11, 1973.

 

Care-giving continues

Florian and Mary (Koziol) Yakelashek

Florian and Mary (Koziol) Yakelashek

Mary Koziol's Graduation Photo from Kingsway College

Mary Koziol’s Graduation Photo from Kingsway College

While they were making funeral arrangements, Mary phoned the school to let them know about the situation. She was in for a shock. “They said, ‘Everything has now changed,’” remembers Mary. “’You can come back now and if you come back now you will fit exactly to where you left off the year before!’ And so, after mother’s funeral, I went back and finished my training.”

Mary’s first real prayer of her life had been answered in a powerful way. While she’d not fulfilled her life’s goal in the way she expected, she’d been able to make her mother’s final years a treasure to remember.

Mary completed her nursing degree and still works as a nurse in Swan River to this day. “I have loved my nursing career and still do,” she says. “I know that God worked all this out and He has been faithful to me ever since. It sounds like a miracle but it’s just what God can do with our lives.”

 

By Brian Bell

Communications Director, Man-Sask Conference