Oscar Knox from Mallusk died on May 8th.
“Oscar Knox, the County Antrim boy whose long battle against an aggressive form of cancer captured the hearts of many people in Northern Ireland, has died.
Oscar, who was five, died on Thursday after a two-and-a-half year battle with neuroblastoma.
His family launched the Oscar Knox Appeal campaign during his illness.
On Friday they tweeted: Our beautiful, amazing and much loved son Oscar James Knox gained his angel wings yesterday afternoon. Sleep tight little man.”
The first I heard of Oscar was a couple of years ago when I was interviewing two men up in the Glens for the Community Builder column. I have to admit that I did not follow the story carefully but I had read several items about Oscar in the intervening period.
Then when the news came out that he had died I felt the same sadness that most people felt for the little soul.
“Our little superhero achieved so much in his short life and inspired so many people throughout the world to do so many amazing things. It is something we are incredibly proud of.
We wish to take this opportunity once again to thank all of Oscar's followers the world over for everything they have done for us and for the wonderful kindness and generosity that has been shown.
We also want to thank the teams at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and NI Children's Hospice whose kindness and compassion has been nothing short of amazing.
Nothing can ever take the pain away but knowing we were supported so much and that Oscar was loved so much, brings great comfort.”
“Stephen Sutton's mother held her son's hand as he slipped away, having inspired millions to raise money to fight the disease that claimed his life.
One of the 19-year-old's best friend James Andrews today said Stephen drew great strength from his family, whom he loved deeply.
The teenager's 'inspirational' legacy has seen donations to the Teenage Cancer Trust soar, surpassing the £4million mark within 24 hours of his death.
Nearly 160,000 people have donated via Stephen's Just Giving page, with a surge in the day since his mother Jane announced he had lost his fight with bowel cancer yesterday.”
Friends, classmates and complete strangers today paid their tributes to the fundraising teenager, with chalk messages being left across Birmingham and a floral carpet dedicated to Stephen emerging at his former school in Burntwood, Staffordshire.”
Then later his mother wrote:
”My heart is bursting with pride but breaking with pain for my courageous, selfless, inspirational son who passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of this morning, Wednesday 14th May.”
Earlier this year Stephen gave a speech to a financial institution in London in which he spoke about his life. Some of what he said is absolutely marvellous.
After giving a brief description of his life up to age 15 he says:
“I was feeling pretty content with my life. But then, dun dun dun – unfortunately, three and a half years ago, aged 15, I was diagnosed with cancer. After 6 months of crippling symptoms I underwent surgery and got a 21 cm scar down my stomach and 6 months of chemotherapy which made me sick and tired and all sorts.”
The cancer left and came back and Stephen was making no real progress. Then he said this:
“I do not know how long I’ve got left to live. One of the reasons for that is because I haven’t asked – and you know, that’s because I don’t see the point in measuring life in terms of time any more. I would rather measure it in terms of what I actually achieve you know. I’d rather measure it in terms of making a difference, which I think is a much more valid and pragmatic measure. And I’m here to encourage you to have a similar outlook.”
Stephen Sutton had learnt a lot as he lay in his sick bed. He had time to reflect and he had obviously used his time well.
We have all been to funerals and heard that beautiful reading from Wisdom 4:7-15, which seems to really apply to young people.
“The righteous, though they die early, will be at rest. For old age is not honoured for length of time, or measured by number of years; but understanding is grey hair for anyone, and a blameless life is ripe old age. Being perfected in a short time, they fulfilled long years; for their souls were pleasing to the Lord.”
The world is a queer place. On the one hand we have all this killing and war and on the other we have national grief over a couple of lovely young people dying. And yet death is a part of life; we die simply because we are born, if we were not born we would not die.
The death of a child leaves a hole in the soul of a person, a hole that is so big that nothing can fill it and just when you think you are over the death of a child a memory or thought of your loved one comes and pierces your heart with a lance. The pain never goes away.
God has ordered the universe in his infinite wisdom in such a way that everything makes perfect sense. The problem for us is that we cannot see the full picture; we cannot fathom the world as God comprehends it.
God sees the universe in all its totality; he sees the material world and the spiritual world all at one time. We are severely limited in our sight. In fact we are worse than a blind man because at least a blind man can have some understanding of how the world works. We have no idea of heaven and eternity or the wisdom of God.
Any wisdom we have comes as a gift from the almighty and Stephen Sutton received some of that wisdom. Read what he says again:
“I don’t see the point in measuring life in terms of time any more.”
Life is not a measurement, a succession of hours and days. Life is the time given to us by God to achieve, or as Stephen says:
“I would rather measure it in terms of what I actually achieve you know. I’d rather measure it in terms of making a difference.”
Surely he is talking about making a difference for the good or for the betterment of society. It is inconceivable that he meant anything else.
We all make a difference every day in the thousand little events that happen. Do we smile, laugh, be pleasant or ignorant? There are many times each day that we make a difference; unfortunately we are too busy to notice it.
Dante Alighieri was undoubtedly the greatest Catholic poet of all time but his love life was a bit of a disaster: he fell hopelessly in love at the age of nine to a young lady called Beatrice, only to be married off by his parents to a better catch, one Gemma Donati, and Beatrice married a year later to another man.
Sadly Beatrice died at the age of twenty four and poor Dante was inconsolable.
In his great epic poem, the Divine Comedy, Dante meets Beatrice in the afterlife and asks her why she died so young?
Beatrice does not tell him why she died so young, that is a secret hidden in God, but she does tell him that her death should have caused him to reflect upon the shortness of life and the foolishness of gathering worldly possessions for their own sake.
I don’t know if this is a good answer or not. In fact I think that it may be as good an answer as any but to the people left behind there is no real satisfactory answer to why children die young.
Parents of children who have died have only one choice, to go on in the faith and hope that one day they shall see their loved ones again. They have to trust in a God who will someday reveal to them the answer to these mysteries and live in the hope and faith that God shall not let them down.
Many times they shall cry in anguish, wanting the answer now, but the answer shall not come.
The death of someone very close forces us to reassess all our beliefs. But it is not all negative. There is a lot that is positive, the memories, and the feelings of joy when we think back on the special moments and the realisation that such a love could never die.
Then we have the new outlook on life. The fact that every moment is treasured, the knowledge that death can come in an instant, that someone is there and then they are gone.
Eventually we come to realize that the death of someone we love is a part of the journey of our life even after they are gone. The child does not leave with death; their influence on the family goes on.
All over the world this very day, many people’s lives are seemingly coming to an end as someone very close to them dies; the grief is almost unbearable but somehow they have to go on. We all know that moment when we say after a funeral of a parent or brother or child, “Where did we get the strength to go through all that.”
The same person who gives us that strength gives us the strength to rebuild our life, and gradually that wonderful acceptance comes to us that everything is as it was meant to be. The rebuilding of a life after the death of someone you love is a long hard struggle but life goes on for us and for those around us and we cannot live our lives on the pity of others.
Life is beautiful; but if death is part of life then death must, in some way, be beautiful too. I can’t see this yet but in my heart I believe it because it is only if all of life, this one and the next, is beautiful that life makes sense at all.
So we journey in faith, all of us who have lost loved ones and that is everyone in this world. God can only work in our lives if we allow him to and we allow him by making space in our hearts for him. We must be open to all the little touches he gives us on our journey; the memories, the sadness tinged with joy, and the belief that our loved ones are near.
At this time of the Easter season when we are still celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, we recall that God is with us.
The parents of Oscar Knox and Stephen Sutton are grieving deeply for their child but as Christians we believe that God is with them in the midst of their sufferings and that he shall walk with them every inch of the journey.
What a pitiful life this would be if God was not in the midst of it, a journey of sorrow and a valley of tears. But our God walks with us, right into and through our pain; he is that sort of God.
This week, Stephen Sutton and Oscar Knox made a difference to my life. They reminded me of how beautiful a life can be, even a short one, and they once again signify the great depth and strength of the human spirit.
And their very public death and the grieving of their families help me on my journey through life and give me the courage to go on; they have made a difference and it has been for the good.
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