Sister Moya Byrne: A Chaplain Reflects on God’s Faithfulness

Many times in the cancer ward we chaplains meet people who are walking the edge. Severe illness and the remedies of chemotherapy or bone marrow transplant bring people to the edge of where they can cope.

Some patients are elderly and spending the last months of their lives in hospital is not the way they had expected to leave their loved ones. Some are young parents and wonder how they will manage to see their young children grow up; others are very young themselves, just ready to get on with their lives.

For fifteen months I had been visiting 22 year old George in my role as hospital chaplain at the Royal Brisbane Hospital. Even though by the end of last year he had received two bone marrow transplants, he was still very ill. His head was covered in sores, his eye had fallen back into his head, all his skin was covered in painful rashes, yet he was cheerful and polite as I called in to visit.

Always with him was his mother, Barbara. George’s family lived in Innisfail, a town in north Queensland. Being in Brisbane meant that he was removed from family support. Over the months I became very aware of Barbara’s struggle to support her son. There were five other children in the family, two of whom were at University, but at home in Innisfail, where her husband was holding the fort, were three school children.

Probably in the beginning Barbara had not been aware that her sojourn in Brisbane would be so long. During the year her husband managed to drive down the 2000 kilometre journey at school holiday times so that George could see his family, and Barbara could relate as a mother to her children. George died just before Christmas, 2009. In the month before his death we had prayed a novena for a miracle through the intercession of Mary MacKillop, our new Australian saint. While George’s physical condition did not improve, he received the grace to lose his scruples and to be at peace about his condition. We considered that our prayer had been answered.

Only this week I heard that Barbara was expecting another child. I phoned her and she told me that her new baby was six weeks old! She was four months pregnant when George died, but they had not told anyone the news at the time because George already had enough to cope with.

They have called the new baby Gerard so keeping the “G” of their eldest child’s name but giving the new baby a chance to be his own person.

I was amazed to think of God’s goodness: After George’s illness over so many years, requiring a mother’s separation from her family for so long, God had gifted this mother with a new life. While Barbara had the satisfaction of caring for George over the weary months, accompanying him through all his illness, God had matched her generosity with another child – a gift which she described as “a great surprise”.

(Names have been changed in this story to protect privacy.)