TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: "She Does Not Leave, She is Not Gone..."

The last time I sat to write my message to the diocesan and wider community was on Sunday, 20 December. I had drafted my last message for the year, having finished my Christmas cards, Christmas letter and gifts. 

My reflection in that message was on Mary and part of it contemplated the image of the wood of the cradle and the wood of the cross. I went off to bed, tired with all that Allen and I had achieved in our preparation for Christmas. Like most of you, we had the next few weeks of our lives planned. 

Then early the next morning, we received a very distressed phone call from our daughter Angela, informing us that our five month old granddaughter, Ada Teresa Bradshaw had not woken up. She had died during the night, and in their house were ambulance and police officers as well as one of my other daughters, Monica.

The six weeks that have passed since then have been filled with great grief. The first week was really raw, with Angela and her husband Sam in deep despair, and the rest of us struggling with the reality that our beautiful Ada had died from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Each day of that week felt like a week. Angela and Sam had done all that was recommended in caring for a baby, and yet still she had stopped breathing, and was no longer with us to bring us joy and hope. Ezekiel (Zeke), her two year old brother has also been struggling to understand where his new little playmate has gone and the pain his parents and others are experiencing.

Along with Angela, Sam and Ezekiel, none of us are the same people we were on Sunday 20th December. We are all changed and we are trying to learn how to live this ‘new normal’. We have lived a reality that is beyond imagining. Each day is a struggle as we take a ‘stab in the dark’ as to how best to live in the present with each of us experiencing and expressing this great loss.

I am grateful for the gift of faith and the amazing words of comfort and prayer that have been extended to Allen and me, especially from so many around the diocese. Angela and Sam have also experienced the generosity of their friends and work colleagues who have reached out to them. I feel as though we are truly living this ‘Year of Mercy’ each day.

When Angela, Sam, Ezekiel and Ada holidayed with us in November, I recall Angela holding Ada in her arms and expressing the absolute love which Ada held for her in her eyes. Ada had a way of looking into her world with love and those who held her and encountered her knew this. I hope, with time, that this gaze of love will fill up the empty hearts of her parents and those of us who knew her more intimately.

At her funeral, Father Paul Eloagu, from Sacred Heart Catholic Church, part of Surfer’s Paradise Parish, spoke of Ada’s mission, even though she had lived just a short time. Powerfully, Angela and Sam continue to speak of her purpose and how everyone’s life is changed by her life and death.

So our Christmas, New Year, Australia Day and the day that was to be her Baptism Day have been forever changed.

I would like to share with you the Celtic Blessing with which Sam, Ada’s dad, concluded his reflection at her funeral:

Celtic Blessing

She does not leave, she is not gone
She looks upon us still
She walks among the valleys now
She strides upon the hill
Her smile is in the summer rain
Her grace is in the breeze
Her mem’ries whisper in the grass
Her calm is in the trees
Her light is in the winter snow
Her tears are in the rain
Her merriment runs in the brook
Her laughter in the lane
Her gentleness is in the flowers
Her sigh in autumn leaves
She does not leave, she is not gone
‘Tis only we that grieve

So I do not know how this year will unfold for me or for our beautiful family. I have held my daughter and felt her deep pain, a pain that has no healing, and a pain that seeps into our cells and our DNA. We will gradually learn to live with this, and our God will be with us and carry us. I know many of you will continue to hold us in prayer, and for that support, I thank you. It is comforting to know that people are remembering you, and holding you.

I hope for those of you who have experienced a similar loss, that you too know the love of God and God’s people.

Just a reminder to you that we begin Lent next week. Each year the diocese launches Project Compassion and each year, I am disappointed that our parishes are under-represented. This year the launch of Project Compassion will take place on Tuesday 9th February at the Cathedral commencing at 10.30am. Pancakes will be served afterwards and so I hope you consider joining us. Project Compassion raised approximately 11 million dollars last year to assist overseas communities and some of our indigenous communities. Unfortunately, the Government has reduced the funds it commits to assisting the poor of the world. I appreciate the generosity of people in our diocese to the cause of overseas aid and development.

My last message was written on the last Sunday of Advent and this message precedes Lent by one week. How good it is to have our liturgical seasons to keep forming and informing us in our ways of being and living.

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is the Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.