The buzz around our house at the beginning of the summer revolved around the book by John Green, “The Fault in Our Stars,” and the movie by the same name, released June 6.
Our daughters had read the book and anxiously awaited the teen drama which told the story of a young cancer patient, Hazel Grace Lancaster, who in a cancer support group, meets a young man, Augustus “Gus” Waters, who is in remission from bone cancer, an illness that already claimed his leg.
A romance ensues, but time is not on the teens’ side as they both battle serious illness.
While I have not seen the movie nor read the book, I feel I have done so, since my daughters were chattering about it for weeks.
The book was, in part, inspired by 16-year-old Esther Earl from Massachusetts who, at age 12, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer which had metastasized to her lungs.
Nearly bedridden because of her illness, Esther finds a community of friends online and builds an online presence on platforms such as Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube.
Recently, Esther’s parents spoke in Milwaukee at several events coordinated by Cardinal Stritch University.
I had the opportunity to hear them speak about “Living the Life of Awesome,” at the university’s “Forum on Faith and Work” on Oct. 24.
Showing family photos of Esther beginning when she was a baby in her highchair to her eventual death at age 16 when she was tethered to an oxygen tank, they told the heartbreaking story of their middle child who in her short lifetime made a huge impact upon so many.
I doubt there was a dry eye in the room as Lori and Wayne Earl described how the family gathered around Esther for the last time, knowing their time with her was nearly over.
Their message centered around the importance of community and of finding support, love and acceptance through faith and others.
Wayne described how several people Esther had befriended online came to Massachusetts for her funeral. After the funeral and a service at her gravesite, Lori and Wayne took the group of about two dozen young people to an area restaurant. As they settled around a big table, another diner asked the Earls incredulously, “Are these all your kids?”
The motley group that gathered might not have been their biological family – and Wayne and Lori had only recently met most of them – but they were family to them in the sense that they supported their daughter through her illness and even beyond, with their presence at the funeral.
Community is what brings meaning to life, said Wayne, encouraging people to form communities, whether in person or online as his daughter had done.
Turning to community when faced with challenges is exactly what a family from Oconomowoc has done.
The Brezgels, featured on Pages 6 and 7, “Parents cherish ‘gifts from God,’” written by Jessica Bell, are a couple who, like the Earls, seem to have been dealt an unfair hand in life.
Their first child was born with severe club feet and their second child was premature and is legally blind. While pregnant with their third, all seemed to be going well, even in the moments after Calvin’s birth in 2012. Yet, their boy faced the greatest challenges of the three. He was born unable to see and hear due to a diagnosis that only 40 people in the world have.
Instead of becoming depressed, moping or blaming God, this couple turned to their faith to cope, specifically reaching out to their faith community for help.
The result is Calvin’s Tree, a wonderful source of support for not only Calvin, but for his family.
Mom Deb’s comment that her fellow Catholic parishioners are the ones who are truly there for them is a reminder to all of us to look for opportunities to be there for one another, to be community for those around us.
You won’t be able to read their story without feeling admiration for the way they are handling an unfathomable challenge.
Finally, in our last issue of Catholic Herald Family, Fr. John Yockey, in a guest opinion, set off a firestorm of reaction among the homeschooling community. His piece, “Parents, it’s 11 p.m. Do you know what your kids are doing?” opened with his skepticism about homeschooling.
Numerous homeschooling backers responded to his concerns. Space prevented us from running those responses this issue, but look for that discussion in December.