Our Christmas and New Year festivities have come and gone, and for many of us they have brought a close experience of family. We may have connected with relatives we have not seen for some time, come together with our loved ones to share quality time, gifts and a meal. Celebrating and focusing on the family has been at the heart of our Church’s life, as we continue the Year of Amoris Laetitia Family.
For Patricia and her family, this Christmas was particularly difficult. In August 2021, Patricia’s son Samuel passed away after a sudden illness at 33 years of age.
Patricia describes Samuel as a “good and quiet boy”, who was interested in cooking and tennis but eventually settled into an accounting career. He later married and he and his wife had a son, now two years old. For Patricia and her husband, educating their children was very important. “Our parents didn’t have anything. We came to this country and stood up on our own, and we can’t forget that. I don’t want to leave this earth knowing that my children don’t have anything”, she says.
Also important for Patricia is passing on her faith to her children. “I know it’s not my place to push my children to attend church, but I still remind them of what I think is right for them.” She knows faith was important for Samuel. “Even though he didn’t attend church often, deep inside I know he was praying. In the weeks before he passed away, when I didn’t know how much he was suffering, he would send me messages asking me to send him prayers, and he said he wanted to go to confession. The last prayer I sent him was the concluding prayer of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. And even though COVID meant he couldn’t go to Confession, he had the eagerness to go.”
For Patricia, Samuel’s strong qualities of generosity, kindness and friendliness were known to me after he passed away. “I realised I really didn’t know Samuel much before he passed away”, she says.
A particularly powerful experience occurred during the novena, she and her family held for Samuel after his passing. “During the novena”, she says, “many people came and shared how he had touched their lives and made them feel special. It was just overwhelming. While I was hearing those stories, I realised that the pain I have is the same pain they have. I couldn’t bear people crying. I was grieving myself, but I wanted to reach out and console them and give them the words they need to feel better.” These realisations make her feel confident that she raised her son well. “I can tell God I did what I had to do”, she says, “and I told everyone I didn’t have any regrets that I should have done more for him.”
These experiences of connection have helped Patricia feel supported, especially during the time of COVID-19 lockdown. “Yes, we have lost Samuel”, she says, “but we have found so many people who have loved us so much. We’ve found so many friends who are praying for us. During COVID, there’s no one who can come and hug us, yet we just carry on, and we can imagine how many people in similar or worse situations.”
Samuel’s passing had a significant impact on Patricia’s attitude. “His passing changed me as a person”, she says. “Before, I would get angry very easily. When Samuel passed, I felt like my heart got chipped. It’s very hard to heal that. But since he passed, I’ve never been negative at all. I try to forgive everybody. I have changed in that short period of time into a very positive person, and I think it’s good for people to hear that. I feel my heart is healing. It’s amazing what God is doing to me, and how he is using me.”
Patricia acknowledges her faith has also shifted on the day of Samuel’s passing. “I stopped believing in God. I said to God, ‘I prayed to you, I offered my life to you, and this is what you do?’
But God is good, He took me back straight away, He answered me right away. This is real love from God. He does not want us to be separated from Him.”
She also felt unable to continue her very active ministry in her parish. “I couldn’t proclaim God’s word or give Communion because they are joyful things, and I was grieving”, she says.
Christmas Day was a difficult, yet particularly moving experience for Patricia. “Father asked me if I wanted to serve, and I said ‘No’, but then I said, ‘if you need help, I’ll do it for Samuel’. One Extraordinary Minister of Communion didn’t turn up, and he asked me to serve. I was in tears during the Mass but eventually got my strength back and was able to give Communion.”
She acknowledges that wishing others a “Merry Christmas” and having the usual family celebrations was a challenge for her. “It was so hard for me to say “Merry Christmas”. What am I merry about? Celebrations are about family and being together. For me, Christmas was incomplete.”
Patricia feels comforted through prayer and supportive messages, through spending time with her grandson. “I see so much of my son in him”, she says. She also mentions several powerful experiences of dreams she and her daughters have had since Samuel’s passing, which have helped them to feel Samuel’s presence.
“My daughter dreamt about Samuel and his wife talking. Samuel asked how his wife is doing without him, his wife said that she missed him so much. He said ‘Why do you miss me? I’m always with you’. So that’s why I believe he will always be with us. Our love and connection will continue.”
When asked what we should say to families who are going through grief, Patricia says it is important to give them time and space to share, to show them love and support, and to remind them that their loved one is still with them. “Keep that going, because that relationship is still there”, she says. “Sometimes people say we need to accept our losses. Acceptance is a big word, it is hard to accept that Samuel is gone, but I am learning to live with it, and I am healing. Trust in God is very important for my healing.”
The Year of Amoris Laetitia Family began on 19 March 2021 and concludes in June 2022. It aims to reach every family around the world with spiritual, pastoral and cultural proposals and initiatives. You can learn more about this special year by visiting the official website.
*We have changed the names of family members in this story.