My son was born on December 9, 1999. We called him Peter. And what joy his life brought to Anna and me! On Christmas Eve our parish priest baptized him—so he was spiritually born on the same day as Jesus. And for me his birth was a miracle nearly as important. He grew before my eyes with speed and vitality.
When he was four years old I began doing a lot of ‘father-son’ activities with Pete. He captivated me with his innocence, simplicity, and love of life. I remember well the first time I bought him a soccer ball and his first attempts at playing. We went to soccer games often and at other times we would camp close by the river that passes near our house. Anna spoke to him a lot about God and taught him to say little prayers during the day. He had a special inclination to piety. Pete also enjoyed very much the walks that we would take in the evenings. In these moments he asked us about everything, as is normal for kids his age.
One afternoon in January 2004, Anna, Pete, and I were walking through a park. A cold and dry breeze was gently blowing. The sun had sunken beneath the horizon and the only the silvery light of the moon and stars lit our path. In the winter the sky is very clear and the stars are many times brighter. Pete looked up, impressed.
Anna’s answer seemed overly simplistic to me—I never would have said something similar. “Pete,” she said, “don’t you know that the stars are lights of God? They’re signs of God’s love for the world. Remember—at Christmas the wise men found Jesus with the help of a shining star. It brought them to Christ. They say that this star was an angel sent by God to guide men to Jesus. In a night like this God is watching us through his stars with much love and warmth.”
Later we returned home. I forgot at once this small religion class and life went on as usual.
But a few weeks later something happened that struck me to the core. I returned home on February 5th and found Anna very worried. “Come over here right now!” she said, “Something happened to Pete and I don’t know what’s wrong with him.” Pete was lying on the couch. He looked a bit pale. Anna lifted up his short. On his left shoulder I saw a brownish-yellow bump.
I took him to the doctor. He looked at the lump with a tight frown. “It looks very serious, but I can’t say anything for sure. Go to the hospital for a specialized analysis.” We went right away. The diagnosis they gave crushed me. It was cancer.
We took Pete to an endless line of doctors, looking for a solution. We accompanied him to chemo-therapy for three months, but nothing worked. His condition went from bad to worse. When the doctors gave him only several months of life I began to blame God for everything. My heart became bitter against the one who was permitting all this, the one who didn’t consider my child’s need nor my own happiness. Anna kept praying.
During these days Pete said almost nothing and become more and more reserved. He didn’t understand what was happening. Anna and I decided it was better not to talk with him about his death. But in November, when he had only an estimated month to live, Anna told him that soon he would go to be with God.
“Hey, so that’s all that’s happening to me?” Anna nodded, but Pete smiled. “That’s it? It’s not so bad if I’m going to be with God.” He closed his eyes, lost for a moment in his boyish thought. “And in heaven I’m going to be like a star to guide people to Jesus.” From that moment Pete was changed. His suffering didn’t matter any more and he had his old enthusiastic smile again.
Pete, at least, was happy. I was still full of my complaints, which weren’t completely egoistic. I didn’t want to let him go—he was mine, my suffering boy. Where was God’s justice in Pete’s sickness? I am still convinced that the one who loves suffers much more on seeing the pain of the person he loves than the one suffering it. I would have made whatever sacrifice, paid whatever price—even my blood—to relieve my son’s suffering… But I could do nothing.
On December 16th his condition become much worse and we took him to the hospital. He was in his last days of life. On the night of the 22nd he began to feel very bad and was moved to intensive care.
“Daddy,” he said, “are there a lot of stars tonight?” I went to the room’s window. The sky was brilliant with them.
“Yes, lots,” I said.
He looked at me for a moment and said, “This year I’m not going to celebrate Christmas.”
“No, you’ll celebrate it,” I replied with a choked voice.
“Can you read me the story about the star of Bethlehem?”
“Of course.” I picked up the Bible and began to read:
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. (Mt 2: 9a-11b)
When I finished reading Peter was no longer listening. His pain had become much more intense and his breathing was forced. “Daddy, from heaven… from heaven I’m going to bring a lot of people to be happy with Jesus. I’ll wait for you there.” His voice dropped to a whisper. I heard him say, “The stars are taking me to God. I see so many…” He fell into a coma and never spoke again. An hour later he was dead.
Two days later I went to midnight mass with a hurting and bruised heart. Above the church entrance there was a sign that made me think deeply. I entered and dropped to my knees. In the depth of my heart I prayed, “My God, forgive me. Now I understand.”
Photo Credit: Kela Truja