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A card for keeping

Opinion

Not long after I started working for the Archdiocese in 2009, I received a letter from a very devout Catholic lady called Therese whose beloved two-year-old grandson Jack had recently died from a brain tumour.

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She wanted to share the story of his suffering but also his beautiful personality and the joy he had brought to her family.
I published her moving tribute to Jack and subsequently she sent me a lovely card with a photo of Jack to thank me for the story. “Today everything stopped! For your lovely presentation…In memory of Jack…filled my family’s heart with joy, something that we have not known for a long time. No words can ever be found to express our THANK YOU!”

I was blown away by her kind words and her thoughtfulness at such a difficult time in her life and I placed the card on a shelf behind my desk where it remained for several years until eventually I put it with a pile of old papers. A month or so ago I had a big clean out of my office and tossed most of these old documents in the bin. I don’t know why but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to throw out this card – perhaps out of respect for little Jack or to remind me of the impact that sharing someone’s story can have.

I remember thinking when I received Therese’s letter that we publish obituaries about people who have lived to a wise old age but rarely do we write about young people who die, and yet surely their short life is just as important. In Jack’s case, it was obvious that although he was here for only three and a bit years, his loving, happy nature had an immense impact on all those around him.

Last month I received another letter from Therese – eight years after the first one – to tell me her daughter Tarina had written a book about Jack’s life and to invite me to the launch. She said Tarina had written from “deep within her soul – struggling with God, wanting to ask why but knowing within her soul that is not going to be answered here in this life”.

Of course I didn’t hesitate to contact Tarina, and organised to meet her one morning at her home after she’d dropped her nine-year-old son Luke at school. As luck would have it, Luke had stayed home with a tummy ache that day and I was able to meet this beautiful young boy who has been such a source of hope and comfort to Tarina and her husband Anthony.She spoke openly about Jack’s death and how she wanted it to be an inspiration to others. She surprised herself when she started crying while speaking about the strength of her relatioonship with Anthony.

We talked about her mum’s faith and her own questioning of God but as she explains in the final chapter of her book, it is believing in herself that has been Jack’s greatest gift: Jack never doubted me. He never judged me. He believed in me. I choose to follow his wisdom and to give myself the greatest gift I can; I will believe.

I have put Therese’s card back on my shelf, in pride of place. It reminds me to be grateful.

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