In December 1961, I migrated to Australia with my wife, Sarah, and my two sons Thomas, 17 months, and William, four months. William had amazed doctors by surviving in the womb when little hope was given. When we set out, both boys were strong and healthy. However, shortly after leaving Bombay, William became very ill with a gastric disorder. Thanks to the skill and dedication of the ship’s doctor (an old school friend) he was kept alive until we reached Adelaide where he was taken by ambulance to the infectious diseases ward of the Adelaide children’s hospital. Once again he fought to survive and was returned to us some three weeks later cured and full of life.
Later, we lived at my wife’s family home. Her father worked in Woomera and came occasionally to stay with us. On one of these visits one evening we noticed that William was restless, would not eat and just wanted to drink. Sarah noticed the door to her father’s room was open and an opened bottle of quinine tablets lay on the bed. Now we were really troubled and rang the doctor who suggested we should try to make him vomit and take him immediately to the hospital.
William did vomit but on the way to the hospital, the situation changed dramatically, William began to writhe in pain and after a few minutes lapsed into unconsciousness. I tried mouth to mouth resuscitation and could taste the terrible bitter taste of quinine. When the first nurse saw him as we ran into the emergency department, she immediately rang the emergency bell and doctors and nurses came from all directions and took William away.
I tried to reassure Sarah that everything would be alright: after all, hadn’t he come through so much and wasn’t he a survivor? He was now in the hands of professionals who had all the necessary equipment to help him through.
However, it was not to be. A doctor came to tell us they had tried everything but could not save him. I had to go and identify William’s body and we then returned home.
The four days to the funeral were like a bad dream. I would wake from fitful sleep believing that William would come running through the house. Sarah was inconsolable and later angry. Pregnant with our third child, she withdrew into herself trying to sort out how she could have lost William. Thomas was also dramatically affected. He would call out for William during the night, hide himself in the wardrobe and for a long time was afraid to go into a car because his little brother went into one and never came back. Our little family was totally devastated.
God didn’t seem near at all. We were asking Him why, or at least to be with us and comfort us. There appeared to be no response. I sought peace in the Eucharist. I knew there were no answers I could understand but always in the past in times of crisis I felt God’s presence at the Eucharist. As before, God was there again.
The reception of the body and blood of Christ was where I particularly experienced the sense of love, peace and healing. Yet I doubt that without the various aspects of the total Eucharistic liturgical service that this deeper experience at Communion would have occurred. The gathering of the church, our union in prayer and adoration, the Scriptural Readings, each of the beautiful Eucharistic Prayers, the Consecration and the sign of peace all played their part.
The Mass as a whole has always taken me into a different dimension where the presence of God, and therefore love and healing can be experienced in a way which is much more evident than in any other sacrament, form of prayer, meditation or liturgical service. What has always been the source of strength for me in handling the challenges of normal everyday living is also obviously the source of healing when I experience crisis, turmoil, confusion and helplessness.
Slowly but surely the pain eased and I became more conscious of the graces that God was giving me. Despite the trauma that my wife and I had undergone, our third child was born and we later had a fourth and a fifth. We are very proud of our four children who are still alive and we all celebrate William’s life of 14 months. It was short to be sure but all of the family, even those who never knew him, have felt the impact of his life on their journey.