It all belongs to God

October 1, 2016 - 12:00am -- Anonymous (not verified)

It all belongs to God
A family rallies as they care for both grandmothers and battle cancer together

By Susanne Janssen

Movies sometimes illustrate a rosy picture of family life: happy, healthy children playing in a beautiful house, with two parents who dearly love each other and welcome their grandparents to a festive dinner.

Reality is often different. Amid struggles that rise from different personalities, families commonly face economic setbacks, illness, failure and even death. Maria and Claude Blanc, together with their four daughters, Natalie, Isabelle, Laura and Sophia, tasted some of these bitter trials recently. Yet if family members treasure the love that links them together, something good can come out of all hardships, as the experience of the Blanc family from New Jersey shows.

“There are times in anyone’s life where significant events converge. Often, these are composed of both joyful moments and challenging ones. However, at particular moments the challenges seem to overwhelm,” says Maria. “It is at these moments that we recognize, ‘but for the grace of God …’”

A little over four and a half years ago, Maria’s mother, who was previously very independent, was diagnosed with stage-four brain cancer. Together with her cousins, Maria tried to find the best possible cure. However, after two brain surgeries in five days and a month spent in rehab in New York City, doctors gave her six months to live. “We didn’t know it then, but my mother would outlive all the doctors’ expectations.”

Maria’s mother came to live with the Blancs since the therapy was demanding and she was in need of a great deal of care. All of their four daughters were still in school, Claude often worked from home and Maria’s job was only 10 minutes away.

“Mom was always surrounded by our family, who came together in force to care for her. It was our way of giving back all the love she had so generously shared with us through the years.”

Natalie, who was between school semesters, took her grandmother Monday through Friday for chemo and radiation. After six weeks, she needed bimonthly chemotherapy, which Maria’s sister handled during the school year while Maria took over on days off and during the summer.

Sophia, the youngest, remembers how having Grandma move into their home was exciting and helped the family grow closer: “We had fun with her and enjoyed having her around all the time, despite the circumstances. During the first few years I was still in high school, so I was able to help out on a daily basis and feel like an active member in the family force.”

When things started to worsen, Sophia was in the middle of her first year of college and had to deal with the fact that she could not always physically contribute to the family effort. “It was frustrating at times, but I was always impressed by the dedication of my family, and especially my parents.”

While this all seemed to be the most the family could handle, Claude’s mother, who was living in France, also fell ill. Claude remembers, “Our daughter Natalie had planned a relaxing vacation with her grandmother, but ended up spending a month accompanying her instead from hospital to hospital. Eventually, my mother, who previously had been fiercely independent, would have to enter an assisted living facility.”

Last December she took a turn for the worse. “Our daughter Isabelle, who was in England at the time and Natalie, who lives in Luxembourg, had made plans to spend Christmas with their grandmother. And after a conversation I had with my mother’s doctor, I decided that I too should go sooner rather than later,” says Claude. His mother was grateful that all three were with her, and his daughters were thankful that they didn’t have to face this time on their own. Claude decided to stay one more week; the day before he was scheduled to come home his mother died, one day before her 92nd birthday.

After all these challenging times, life still had more in store. A month after he returned home, Claude was diagnosed with cancer. Instead of fighting with God or asking, “Why me?” he was able to accept it and continued to believe in God’s love.

“After the original shock, I recognized that this was a countenance of Jesus on the cross, Jesus who felt abandoned by his Father, to be embraced wholeheartedly.”

Maria and the children immediately rallied around him, and Claude shared the news with the members of the Focolare community and other close friends and felt their strong support. “The same was true of our parish and work communities and our close neighbors. The support of so many people was palpable and helped me to face the situation with a positive attitude,” he shares.

As the family was absorbing the news of Claude’s diagnosis, and still grieving the loss of Claude’s mother, the health of Maria’s mother began to seriously deteriorate.

“While watching her decline was extremely painful, I couldn’t help but also think of the blessing she had been to us, and I hope we had been to her,” Maria reflects. “After all, six months turned into four and a half years, most of them good ones,” she affirms and points out the particular gifts that each had to offer: “Sophia, who always kept me organized, was particularly vigilant when it came to making sure my mother had her breakfast and pills in place at the table each morning. Isabelle, with her joyful and calm disposition, had a way of making my mother smile. Laura made sure my mother had lunch and did her exercises. Claude would make my mom laugh and prepare her tasty looking plates of food to entice her to eat …” Through it all Maria’s mother had an incredible sense of humor and was a joy to be around.

Sophia had a more intense schedule at school when her father received his diagnosis: “It gave me the ability to remove myself from the intense emotions of the situation and to see the beauty that was emerging from the chaos,” she shares. “Thankfully, my family has somehow handled these challenges handed to us all at once in a smooth and sometimes seemingly effortless manner. Although it was certainly not a given that we would all come together in strength this way, it never occurred to me throughout the process that we could have reacted any other way. Our trust in each other and faith in the will of God has proven invaluable, and I am thankful to have learned this from a set of otherwise seemingly unfortunate situations.”

Claude just ended a cycle of chemo and radiation and will know sometime in December if and when he needs surgery. He is confident that God accompanies not only him, but also his entire family.

“This experience has been, and continues to be, an experience of death and resurrection, grief and joy, dismemberment and unity. It is an experience of freedom in the certainty that it all belongs in God’s plan of love for each one and it reaches well beyond the confines of our family.”


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