DESPITE his tragic death several months ago, the presence of young Joseph Goodwin is still alive in his Oxley home.
There’s his cheeky-faced photograph on the wall taken last Christmas, not long before his short two years and six months on earth ended, “just before Ash Wednesday”, as his father Anthony said.
Then there’s “Joseph’s Way of the Cross – a devotion from your loving mother”, a reflection on young Joe’s brief, painful but ultimately deeply meaningful life prepared by his grieving mother, Jacinta.
The Goodwins’ parish priest Fr Dan Carroll read Joseph’s 14 Stations to those gathered for Lenten devotions this year.
“Everyman’s version of the Way of the Cross has always held a dear place in my heart,” Jacinta said.
“Joseph’s diagnosis at two months with Williams syndrome and a palliative heart condition was a bitter pill to swallow.
“At the time I remember feeling close to despair, as though, in the words of St Simeon to Our Lady, at the presentation of Jesus in the temple ‘a sword had pierced (my) soul’.
“The doctors had given us the news of Joseph’s impending death, just as Simeon had foretold the death of Our Lord to his blessed mother.”
When you walk into the Goodwins’ home, their Catholic faith is apparent with the statue of Our Lady of Fatima and other devotional items.
Both Anthony and Jacinta have come from strongly Catholic families.
Anthony’s parents, well known for their staunch support of the Church’s teachings in the Toowoomba area, migrated from Zimbabwe. Jacinta recalled growing up, one of seven children in Mackay’s Menkens family, praying the Rosary every night.
“We’d say the mysteries as a family, praying them to the end even if one of us fell asleep,” she said.
“In Mackay we had the most beautiful parish priest – Fr (Kevin) Treacy.
“I remember the way he used to read Scripture. He put his heart and soul into it; his voice, his singing voice was incredible …
“In Lent he would go through Everyman’s Stations of the Cross – a very practical version of how we can incorporate the stations into our daily lives – and every Friday night during Lent our family would attend.
“Fr Treacy read the stations with such devotion that a lot of the words, even as a kid, were etched in my mind and I tried to retain saying those stations into my adult life.”
It was the words of the stations recalled from her childhood that led to Jacinta’s reflections on her relationship with her beloved son Joe in his short time on earth.
“It started as a eulogy for Joe,” she said, “but in the end Anthony and I agreed it was something else, more of a deep reflection on what our son’s short life has meant to us.”
Their faith has certainly stood the couple in good stead as they’ve been struck by challenge after challenge during their brief years of married life.
The couple met through mutual connections in Townsville but, as Jacinta explained, their love blossomed in Brisbane after Sydney WYD2008 as they got to know each other better.
“We dated for eight months and then got engaged,” Jacinta said.
“That was five years ago, and as we were recently saying: ‘Holy smoke, so much has happened’,” Anthony said.
Their first boy Michael was diagnosed with learning difficulties and the stress and strain associated with supporting Joe, who’d sometimes be crying nearly non-stop for 17 hours a day, meant Anthony had to quit his job in an engineering company.
Around the same time they nearly lost the home they were having built.
“I tell you what – I don’t know how people without faith get through in times like this,” Jacinta said.
“In terms of Joe, our one consolation is knowing that he’s in heaven … if I didn’t have that consolation, I’d be yearning for him to be back in this life because I’d be thinking he wasn’t in a better place.”
Anthony recalled Jesuit Father Gregory Jordan’s homily when little Joe was farewelled at a funeral at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church, Darra.
“Joe loved that church – he used to run up and down the side aisles; that’s why we chose it for the funeral Mass,” Anthony said.
“Fr Jordan in his homily that day said we can know with profound certainty that Joe is with God as a baptised child who has passed away.”
For Jacinta this knowledge hasn’t made their loss any less painful “but it’s truly consoling”.
“If I didn’t have that consolation, the yearning for him to be back with us would be unbearable,” she said.
The couple took me back to the point when Joe arrived in their lives.
“He was born at Mater Children’s Hospital,” Jacinta said. “Those first few months were pretty turbulent – he was a very unsettled baby with a lot of feeding issues including reflux.”
“It was when Jacinta visited a doctor to see about feeding issues, they picked up on a heart murmur,” Anthony said. “That was when they also discovered Joe had Williams syndrome.
“The odds of having the syndrome are about 1 in 10,000; they’re not sure because sometimes it might be very mild on the spectrum.
“He had the typical profile of the Williams child – very gregarious, socially aware and very happy little kids.
“You can see that looking up at Joe up on the wall there … very much out there and alive.”
Jacinta remembered the day of the photo vividly.
“That was last Christmas Day; Joe was two then,” she said.
“He had a couple of words: ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’. Williams’ children are delayed speakers but when they talk they vocalise a lot.
“The main problem with the syndrome is the complex medical conditions associated.”
The couple showed me “something amazing”, a small wooden chalice made by a good friend from Mackay, who happened to meet Joe for the first time in the Mater Private on the day he died.
He knew Joe was palliative and had been praying for him.
“It was an extraordinary thing to make for a child,” Jacinta said.
“We took Joe home later that day in the car; he was being a card in the car, making funny sounds as he and his brother Michael were playing,” Anthony said.
“When he got home we could tell he was absolutely exhausted.
“We affectionately said goodnight, he gave us a cuddle and we put him to bed; later he awoke in real pain.
“We managed to get him to the ambulance before he passed away. He lost his pulse on arrival at the hospital and the medical staff at the LCH (Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital) couldn’t get him back. He had died of a heart attack.”
Since that day, the family has moved on painfully yet hopefully, holding their little lost one’s memory close.
Next month, a remembrance event is planned around Joe’s July 14 birthday at Mt Ommaney Special School.
Anthony said the school’s staff “were so good to Joe”.
“He was so happy there … so fond of rocking wildly on a rocking horse there,” he said.
“The celebration will commemorate Joe’s short but beautiful life, and open a new playground in his memory.”
Jacinta summed up what has been learnt so far from an experience many would see as completely and utterly tragic and even meaningless.
“Joe’s life and death has made us much more aware about serving Christ for others in our lives – for us Joe was Christ in our lives for the short time we had him,” she said.
“Despite the suffering, you realise this service has given you so much more love and joy than any of the pain you felt and continue to feel.
“All we do in this life is take up our cross and follow Him – yet there’s so much joy in our Catholic faith.
“With such suffering, if you accept it, you come through such a better person for it, I think. You become so much closer to Christ and each other … it has really strengthened our family.”
Anthony has learnt “the greatest gift in life is love”.
“You couldn’t experience that in a greater way than in having Joe,” he said. “For myself personally that love was a high point for me.
“About 10 days before he died, I remember reflecting in my diary I didn’t think I could love anyone so much as little Joe.
“Just two weeks before he died, we had a really special moment at Mt Coot-tha – all of us, myself, Michael, Jacinta – all running around together up the top.
“And as that beautiful reading we chose for Joe’s funeral Mass said – you can’t measure a man’s life by his number of years.
“What Joe attained in his short time on earth and what he gave to us, and so many others, is immeasurable; and the love that we experienced, mixed in with all that suffering and joy, is the same.”
Joseph’s Way of the Cross
A devotion from your loving mother
Everyman’s version of the Way of the Cross has always held a very dear place in my heart. Each and every station contains words of great wisdom and consolation. It is a practical guideline on how we can all share in Christ’s bitter passion. Of what significance is this to my account of the life and death of my dearest son, Joseph Xavier Goodwin? Let me tell you a little bit about our lives with this most precious gift from God.
Joseph’s diagnosis at 2 months with William’~ syndrome and a palliative heart condition was a bitter pill to swallow, it was like being handed a death sentence. At the time I remember feeling close to despair, as though, in the words of St Simeon to Our Lady, at the presentation of Jesus in the tem pie, ‘a sword had pierced (my) soul’. The doctors had given us the news of Joseph’s impending death, just as Simeon had foretold the death of our Lord, to His blessed mother.
And so began Jo’s way of the cross. In the first station, Jesus is condemned to death by Pilate. His ready response is one of acceptance and surrender, ‘In Pilates hands I see my Fathers will …. and so the Son of God obeys a Son of man.’ In an act of surrender, we had to accept Joseph’s dire prognosis as God’s holy will.
In the second station, Jesus takes up his cross. Little Joseph’s cross was a heavy one to bear. He carried it bravely. From his early infancy, he suffered with severe gut pain. I will never forget the endless days and nights during those first few months, when Joseph would wail inconsolably for hours and hours. He could not feed and he failed to gain weight. From 5 months, Joseph developed seizures, up to several hundred a day. These threw his body into spasms of pain. He, like Christ, had fallen for the first time. As I cradled that tiny boy, writhing in agony, I often pondered the meaning of suffering, especially in someone so innocent, so pure. The words of the prophet lsiah, in his foretelling of the passion of Christ, were consoling and meaningful.
‘Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring and prolong his days, through him the word of the Lord shall prosper.’
Joseph’s suffering was to be a salvation for others.
On His way of the cross, Jesus then goes on to meet His loving mother. ‘(Mary) sees him kicked and driven like a beast, she counts his every wound …. she shares his suffering …. his martyrdom.’ Man’s understanding of the meaning of this station is clear. He responds, ‘I know what You are telling me (dearest Lord). To watch the pain of those we love, is harder than to bear our own. To carry my cross after You, I too, must stand and watch the sufferings of my dear ones.’ For us, to watch Jo suffering, was to share in his suffering. He was purifying the souls of those who cared for him, those who loved Him so tenderly. By his suffering, he was helping us on the road to salvation.
The fifth and sixth stations are a beautiful example of Christian charity, both voluntary and involuntary. In the fifth station, Simon is made to help Jesus to carry His cross. Christ opens with the words, ‘My strength is gone, I can no longer bear this cross alone, so the legionaires make Simon give me aid.’ In the sixth station, Veronica lovingly provides Him with relief, on that long journey to Golgotha, as she tenderly wipes his blood stained face with her veil.
These stations are teaching us to serve Christ in others. Joseph was Christ in our lives. He was Christ in the lives of all those who cared for Him. Every act of service, whether out of duty or love, was an act of service to Christ. Every bottle that was prepared, every nappy that was changed, every bath, every cuddle, every kiss. The loving nightly vigil his Dad made by his bedside. The medical assistance given by doctors. All these acts of charity, were acts of service to Christ, through little Joseph.
From 8-12 months, Joseph was relatively well. His gut issues subsided and his seizures resolved. We enjoyed a period of peace and joy, as we watched him gain little milestones, such as smiling, feeding and sitting up ….. God was providing blessed relief to both him and his family, as he continued his way of the cross. Just as Joseph’s progress was sustained by the prayers of family and friends, and the support of those who loved him, so was Jesus sustained by Simon’s aid, as He travelled forward on His way of the cross.
Sadly, at 18 months, Joseph had a series of tonic seizures, which caused him to have several respiratory arrests and then saw him deteriorate. In the seventh station, Jesus fell again. He says to us, ‘This 7th step ( … ) is one that tests your will. From this ( … ) learn to persevere ( ….. )The time will come when all your efforts seem to fail and you will think, I can’t go on. Then turn to me, O heavy laden one, and I will give you rest. Trust me and carry on.’
Almost miraculously, Joseph’s seizures again subsided, and for another 12 wonderful months, a period of general stability followed. This has filled us with many joyful memories. Jo’s development was amazing. He fought hard and worked tenaciously to achieve the milestones that come relatively easily to healthy children. He learned to stand, to walk, to run and to climb. He was incredibly interactive and engaging. He learned to say ‘mummum’ and ‘daddad’. He smashed out tunes on the piano and began his discovery of the world.
Just as Our Lord consoled the women of Jerusalem on the way to Calvary, Joseph was consoling those who cared for him, especially myself and Anthony. He gave more love than was given. He gave us more joy, than we gave to him. His final act of consolation was particularly selfless and giving. Some very dear friends of ours were in town, they were with visiting their daughter in hospital. She had recently been quite unwell and there were grave concerns for a poor outcome. The day before your death, I had wanted very much to see them. You, however, completely drained of strength, from being awake for most of the night, remained in a very deep sleep for the entire morning. I remember feeling frustrated with you and wanted to wake you up, so that we could go out. I can also recall being anxious that you would wake and have a serious seizure, as your sleep was so profound.
You awoke, however, smiling and calling out cheerfully. I ran into your room relieved, not only by your state of happiness, but also by the fact that we could now take you to visit our dear friends. As much as you wanted rest, you were prepared to make this final act of charity, dearest boy.
These wonderful people had prayed so hard for you and had borne many of their own trials. They had not met you before. Upon seeing you, the father told us that he had just made a little wooden chalice for you, inscribed with the words, ‘Joseph, God bless You.’
On the eve of His death, Our Lord invites us all to share in His last supper.
In the same way …… He took the cup saying,
‘Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.
Jesus Himself, handed you His very own cup of salvation that night, and you drank from it.
When we received the wooden chalice a few days later, it was not filled with blood; your suffering was complete. Instead, we found a pair of rosary beads inside. The rosary is a wonderful symbol of Our Lady, and, not to mention, your favourite toy. Those ‘glow in the dark’ beads are now lighting up your coffin as they fall gently around your dear neck.
In this 8th station, Jesus says, ‘How often had .I longed to take the children of Jerusalem and gather them to Me( …. ) But now these women weep for Me and My heart mourns for them–mourns for their sorrows that will come. I comfort those who seek to solace Me. How gentle can you be, My other self, How kind?’
Joseph, this final act of charity was your way of saying, weep and pray for me no longer. Your own sorrows are yet to come. Don’t worry about me anymore but turn your attention to others. From heaven you will solace all of those who comforted you on earth, especially those who stormed heaven on your behalf.
Ten days prior to Joseph’s death, he again developed seizures. This time it seemed too difficult. I honestly felt as though we would not be able to get them under control. His suffering again commenced, as he underwent many different types of seizures. I was filled with a sense of dread that the poor little fellow would not only suffer physically, but also suffer the loss of all of those early achievements he had worked so hard to gain.
In Christ’s gth station, He falls a third and final time. He almost sounds defeated, ‘Completely drained of strength I lie collapsed upon the cobblestones, my body cannot move, no blows no kicks can rouse it up. And yet, My will is Mine …. ‘ Man’s response to this is, ‘My dearest Lord, I see you take a moment’s rest then rise and stagger on … so I can do because my will is mine.’ Dearest Joseph, this was your brave response. The first day after the seizures began, I remember seeing you literally staggering around the house, reeling from the sedative effects of you seizure medication. In the days that followed, your dear little heart began to weaken and your body visibly began to weary. You remained incredibly cheerful and remarkably active. You hid your pain and suffering. You fought to the very end. Your death came as a shock to us all.
It pains my heart deeply to recall your final suffering, dear Jo. On the eve of your death a strange incident occurred. Your elder brother stole your beloved blanket from you. This was something he’d never done before. At the time, we thought it rather amusing and waited for your reaction. Slowly you made your way across to him, gave the blanket a weak tug, then collapsed in a heap, too tired to take it back.
Only now do I see the relevance of this incident. In the tenth station, before being laid on the cross, which was His deathbed, Jesus is stripped of his garments. Dear Joseph, before being laid in your cot that night, the cot that was to become your deathbed, you were stripped your blanket.
It is almost too painful to give an account of your final hours on earth and yet, it is your calvary, and therefore the pinnacle of your earthly existence. Christ depicts the painful details of his crucifixion in the 11th station. ‘My executioner’s stretch my arms, they hold my hand and wrist against the wood and press the nail until it stabs my flesh. Then with one heavy hammer smash, they drive it through and pain bursts like a bomb of fire in my brain. They seizure the other arm and agony again explodes.’ Darling boy, young as you were, you shared in Christ’s crucifixion. At 1 am on Sunday morning, you awoke writhing in agony, thrusting about inconsolably. Some minutes later, the same happened again. I believe you suffered 2 heart attacks that night, both of which were dreadfully painful. Your worn out heart was then thrown into an irregular rhythm and your breathing became shallow and laboured. This was your calvary.
‘O blessed cross that lets me be a co-redeemer of my fellow man.’
Finally, dearest Joseph, despite the frantic attempts of the ambulance officers and doctors to revive you, your mortal life ended and your innocent, pure soul was taken to heaven. It was 3 am on Sunday morning.
When we were taken to you in CCU, the doctors had all abandoned your little body on a hospital bed, intubation tube still in your mouth, dirty nappy by your side, both of your hands had tiny bloody wounds on them from cannulation attempts and both of your little legs from intraosseous injections
Your heart had been heavily pressed, time and time again, during CPR and pierced with sharp needles as they injected adrenaline. God gave you the honour of bearing your own stigmata. A sign that you had shared in His calvary.
I remember rushing your side with daddy, moaning in agony. The sight of you almost filling me with despair. The nurses lovingly cleaned you and removed your tube. They placed cotton wool buds over your small bloodied wounds. Then, just as Jesus was taken down from the cross and handed to his mother, the nurses took your body from the bed and handed you to me.
A sense of grief engulfed me. Your tender words from the 13th station played over and over in my mind, ‘My mother must cradle the lifeless body of the Son she bore.’ You then go on to console the reader by saying, ‘You too must part from those you love and grief will come to you. In your bereavement think of this: a multitude of souls were saved by Mary sharing in My calvary. Your grief can also be the price of souls.’
Finally the lowering of your tiny white coffin into the ground. In the 14th station of the cross, Our Lord is laid in the tomb. His words to those who were left to mourn are firm and challenging, ‘So ends my mortal life, my work as man is done, my work through and within my church must now commence. I look to you My other self ….. be my apostle, victim, saint.’
Yes dearest Jo, your suffering is over, your fight complete, your race is run to end and you have reached the finish. Your reward is the gift of eternal life. The everlasting joy of being in the presence of God. You no longer have the inhibitions your earthly body imposed upon you but share in the divinity of Christ, the majesty of the angels the wisdom of the saints.
Now it is left to we who mourn your loss, to offer our sufferings to God. The service and love I failed to give to you, I will try to give to others. Dearest Joseph, help me to continue to carry my cross.
Help me to run my race as bravely and fiercely as you did so that, when I am at the finish line, you are there to meet me and gather me in your dear, loving embrace.
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