Walking Through Tragedy: The Good That Comes From Grief
Blog Article Featuring Elena Sorrentino
In 1972, the economy in my Italian hometown was terrible, so my brother in Canada sponsored my husband, my two oldest children and me to move where he lived. My brother was a born-again Christian, and I went to church with him soon after we got here. I had grown up in a Catholic church but hadn’t really found fulfillment there. I wanted more, and when I went to church with my brother, I found it. I believed in Jesus, received the Holy Spirit and was baptized.
Soon after coming to Christ my third child was born. His name was John—I called him Johnny. He was a wonderful child.
I worked at a hospital as an occupational therapy assistant, then as a medical technician in the operating room. I enjoyed the work very much, and I was there 31 years. In occupational therapy, some of the patients I cared for had ALS—Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, as it’s commonly known. I watched as their muscles stiffened, speech became more difficult and health gradually declined. ALS is a terminal illness—it’s like a death note. In most cases, there was nothing I could do but care for them with kindness.
My husband died in 2000, but my three children continued to flourish. Johnny was always ahead of himself, like somebody was chasing him. He could not wait to do things. I was always telling him, “Slow down. You’re only 12. You’re only 15.” He was planning his life ahead of him.
He went to the University of Windsor and got his Bachelor’s Degree in Science, then decided he wanted to be in accounting. He did that online after he was married and had two beautiful children. He reached the top of his career by the time he was 29—five years after graduating college.
But by the time he was 30, he was sick. The doctor diagnosed him with ALS. The death note. My own son.
I heard the news and was instantly broken. I knew from work what my son was going to face. I knew it was terminal, and I could not believe it was happening to him. I went through denial. “No way,” I would say. “They made a mistake. He’s been misdiagnosed.” But there was no denying reality as I watched his health decline and the ALS symptoms increase.
“It doesn’t matter,” I told myself, “because we’re going to find the cure.” We did everything we could to help him. We even took him to Germany because they said we should give him an intravenous injection of multivitamins. But it didn’t work. Nothing worked. He just went down and down and down.
At the beginning, when he was still able to care for himself, I was there whenever his family needed me. I would keep their two little boys, one of whom was only one-year-old. But as time went on and John’s illness progressed, I needed to be there pretty much around the clock.
I retired and moved closer to help them. I was there to help John’s wife care for his hygiene needs. When he could no longer drive, I would drive him to work and pick him up at the end of the day. (He worked up until four days before he died.) Every morning, I didn’t think I could face another day. I was completely numb. I couldn’t move, couldn’t even get out of bed to face the tragedy once again. I just couldn’t do it anymore. But I would always pray the same thing. “God, give me strength to face another day.”
And after I prayed that, He would give me the energy I needed to get up and get another day going. God was so real in my life as I walked through the pain of watching my son’s health slip away. I was always reading my Bible, and I spent lots of time in the Psalms. Whenever I read the Bible, it was like God was talking to me.
My family, relatives, friends and church family were all present in my difficult days, encouraging me with their words and supporting me however they could. Much of that support came from John’s next-door neighbors, Pastor Garth Leno and his wife, Patty. When I moved to be near John, I looked for a church. I found Garth and Patty’s church and never left. They always cared for John and his family. Patty stayed in touch with me, calling and asking if I needed any help, always a constant support.
Eventually, Johnny was confined to a wheelchair and couldn’t talk anymore. He communicated through a little gadget attached to a computer. Before he died, he went into septic shock and was rushed to the hospital. Pastor Garth came to see him multiple times, and if he couldn’t come during the day, he would come late at night.
The night before Johnny died, Pastor Garth came and talked with him alone. Then, on the morning of February 26, my son peacefully passed away. Just went from sleeping to death. And I was right there with him.
I was in turmoil. I could not make myself go forward. I was confused. I believed in God, but I couldn’t understand why this was happening. Pastor Garth, Patty and The Gathering church came around me and helped me through this dark time. In humility, they all came close and took care of me. They gave support to my grief. They’ve made me want to be more like Jesus, to walk in His way, to be more compassionate towards people. Their support has enabled me to minister and care for other families whose loved ones have ALS.
Through the tragedy of John’s death, I can say God brought good out of it. He used it to bring me closer to His heart.
Elena Sorrentino continues to serve on the hospitality, care and compassion teams at The Gathering church in Windsor, Ontario. Pastor Garth Leno started The Gathering from a Bible study in his home, and, since then, the church has grown to over 200 members. For more information about The Gathering and the Lenos, visit their profile page.