Around four years ago my family was faced with a situation that was totally devastating to us. My first-born son, who was the second of eleven children, and 15 years old at the time, was diagnosed with a terminal, incurable brain disease. There was NO treatment, and NO cure, and death usually occurred within one or two years. The symptoms would include loss of hearing, loss of sight, loss of speech, loss of the ability to walk, and memory loss…
Emmanuel had been healthy his whole life and I could not believe that this was happening to us! We went to Mass every Sunday, and somehow I really thought this gave my family a special force field of protection. I also wondered how this could be happening to Emmanuel. Out of all my children, Emmanuel was the one who always tried his best to be good. He was always respectful and obedient, and a loving brother to his many siblings. He loved his Catholic faith, and was inspired by the lives of the saints from a young age.
In the first few days after finding out about the disease, it felt like a nightmare, and it was hard to find the words even to pray. In my room I had this picture of ‘Divine Mercy Jesus’ with the words: "JESUS I TRUST IN YOU,” printed on it, and this is all I could say. Those words started to calm me, and I probably said it about 50 times during the day, just to get through the most difficult moments. Those words made me feel better and stronger, and gave me a sense that my family and I were not alone in all of this, and that through God’s mercy, that he would be there to get us through this.
When I finally told Emmanuel he was sick, I assured him that we would pray every prayer in the world, to beg God to heal him. I even told him that we would start praying the Divine Mercy Prayer, as well as our usual family Rosary. My 15-year-old boy said two things that struck me that day. He said to me that he was already praying the Divine Mercy prayer every day since he was 9 years old, and that at the end of my prayers, I needed to say “Thy will be done,” because he was only going to be healed if it was God’s will. On this day I saw the mercy of God in action. I thought that I had taught my son about his faith, but I realised that when you introduce your children to Jesus, you allow our merciful Saviour to have a relationship with your child, where he would always look after them, even if you as a parent could not.
As Emmanuel’s disease progressed, he needed and wanted to be closer to Jesus, and this relationship gave him the strength to carry his heavy Cross. He wanted to go to daily Mass to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, and asked to go to Confession every week, so that he would be ready to meet Jesus, a person he called his best friend. His journey was inspiring to many, and many people started to pray more themselves, in the hope of his recovery. In his last six months Emmanuel became bedridden, but still insisted on daily Eucharist. Through the grace of God we were able to see the truth of Jesus’ words when he said: “… remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).” That daily presence of Jesus definitely became my son’s source of strength.
My Emmanuel did eventually pass away, on December 1, 2013, about 18 months after his diagnosis. It was definitely the most painful experience to share, but at the same time it was an honour to watch him cope with his Cross, with such faith, strength and dignity. My family is so proud of Emmanuel’s journey, and he is still a role model to us of how to persevere in our faith, and how Jesus can provide the strength to get through anything.
I did not set out to share my son’s journey on purpose, but Emmanuel’s story spread through Catholic circles on social media (while he was still alive) where many people became inspired by his faith. His story was printed in a Catholic magazine three months after his death, and demand for his story began last year, with different schools wanting to hear about how this 15-year-old boy coped with his terminal illness.
While he was still alive, I bargained with God, and promised that if he healed Emmanuel, that I would share the story with anyone who wanted to hear it. It seems that God had his own plans, and has given me the grace to be able to share Emmanuel’s journey anyway. From the feedback that I receive personally, and in emails, it seems to be a story that inspires parents to be more vigilant about taking their children to Mass, and the Sacraments, and to develop a deeper relationship with Jesus within their own families. This reaction helps me to understand that God did indeed have a plan for Emmanuel that was always going to involve his living a short life. However, in seeing that so much good has come from this quiet boy’s journey, in bringing others closer to God, I can still feel joy in all the memories of his life.
For more information about Wednesday night's event, please click here to read flyer.
The event is proudly brought to you by the Federation of P&F Associations, Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.