Before I became a Franciscan I was married. We had three children and a good family life, including a good relationship with extended family such as our parents and sibligns on both sides.
One day my wife drove me to the airport. My father, two sons and daughter were with her. When I landed on the other side I was told by an airline official to call home.
My mother answered and said there had been an accident and I should return immediately. I shuddered. I got on the next plane home.
When I arrived at the hospital they put me into a small room. A social worker came in and told me that my wife and father had been killed in an accident on the way back from the airport. My son was in intensive care and I could see him. My other children had walked away without a scratch.
My son was brain dead. He was being kept alive by machines. The bleeding in his brain was coming from too many places for the surgeon to fix. There was no medical hope that he would ever wake up, because his brain had been smashed by the collision. Other than that, his other organs were functioning as long as the machines were attached.
That night I sat there with hin and watched the monitors. I observed one of the monitors and there was a spike. I asked the nurse what that meant in the hopes that she would tell me that he had some brain activity. She looked at it and said, “His brain is now so swollen because of the blood that it has sponged up that it can no longer fit into his skull, so it is herniating.”
After two consulations, the verdict was in. His brain had imploded. They could keep him breathing and his heart going indefinitely, because his heart and lungs were only seven-years old. I would have to find a home for him, because there was no use keeping him in the hospital. They could do nothing for him.
I went home and told my two children, then 9 and 4, that their mother was dead, their grandpa was dead and their brother was going to die within the hour. I invited them to come to the hospital to say good-bye. They did.
My daughter brushed her brother’s hair and washed his face. The younger brother held his hand for about an hour. I told the two that I was going to turn off the machines. They just nodded. After an hour my daughter said, “It’s time Daddy.” I asked the doctor how to turn off the machine. He pointed to all the right buttons and I pressed each one. In seven minutes my son stopped breathing and his heart stopped.
I remember crying because I was frightened. I was alone with two young children and a widowed mother. I also remember feeling very jealous, because my family was going to the very place where I wanted to be. I wanted to be with God and see him.
My love for the Eucharist has always made me feel very special in the eyes of the Lord. When I’m there I’m with a friend who loves me very much. All I could think about that night was how much I wanted to see this friend face to face, not under the appearance of bread and wine, but as he really looked.
Years later my son said to me, “My mom and brother died because they did what they came to do. I’m not angry, because they went home. I just miss them a lot.” My daughter once said to me, “I’m not lonely without mom, I’m just homesick, because home is not the same without her and my brother.”
Today, they are adults. I never married. I joined he Franciscan Brothers and became a celibate. I studied theology and psychology. I work among children and families who have loved ones with brain damage and I minister to their souls. I’ve learned that those who love and have lost a loved one either to death or to a tragedy such as a handicapping condition or health impairment, need to hear the voice of God that says, “I love you more than anyone else, because you hurt.”
I’m not sure if this helps you or not. But our holy father Francis always told us that God loves all his sons and daughters, but like the parable of the talents says, he gives more to some. He distributes his love accordingly. Those who have lost more are also loved with a deeper tenderness. God’s tendernes toward us is just. It is always proportionate to what he takes away.
Please pray for me and I for you.
Br. JR, OFS