Editor’s Note: Rick and Laura Cabral, parishioners at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Irvine, have experienced a depth of sorrow most people fortunately never have to endure.
They have lost three sons to a rare genetic disease.
Michael (age 18) died in 2009, Daniel (also 18) died in 2013, and Simon (16) died in December 2018. Along with a fourth son, Christopher, 26, all were born with a rare condition called PCH Type 1, a combination of cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.
The Cabrals have four other daughters and one son, all healthy.
Orange County Catholic asked Rick, 55, and Laura, 54, to share their thoughts on faith, tragedy, and prayer.
Here is their story:
Can you briefly describe your Catholic journey?
Rick: I was raised as a Catholic. My family went to Mass on most Sundays. We tended to meet the minimum requirements of the Church. However, I really became more focused on my faith while I was in high school.
Laura: I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic grade school and high school as well as two years at a Catholic university until I transferred to a non-Catholic college from where I graduated.
I always identified myself as Catholic. I met Rick on a retreat when I was 16.
We have been married for 30 years. We were blessed with nine children and six more children that I miscarried.
How long have you been parishioners at St. Thomas More? Are you involved in any ministries there?
We’ve been at St. Thomas More since its inception in 1996. Prior to that, we were at St. John Neumann (also in Irvine) since 1989 when we moved to Orange County.
Over the years, we’ve been involved in various ministries including Knights of Columbus (Rick), Christ Renews His Parish, Cursillo, Young Ladies Institute (Laura). I (Rick) served on the parish pastoral council as well as the diocesan pastoral council.
What was one of the first ways you dealt with what happened, and has it changed over the years?
Rick: One of the things we have always tried to do is focus on the present, where we are and who is with us. My wife taught me this important lesson. It’s not that we forget about the boys that have passed. I frequently think of them and miss them greatly. But I am still here on Earth for a purpose, and I need to stay focused on that purpose.
In order to know, to love, and to serve God and to seek to spend eternity with Him in heaven, I have to help my wife, my kids, my family and friends, and everyone else I can influence make it to Heaven also.
Laura: I think God is constantly teaching me. He shows me different things at different times. He is patient with me. He allows me to go through situations, fail and then I try to ponder what I did wrong and how I can do better next time.
With each suffering, He also shows me insights on a different aspect of His love or His Mother Mary’s love for Jesus and us. He showed me as I had my hand on Daniel’s chest, feeling it rise and fall, I remember thinking of Mary at the foot of the cross and her watching Jesus’ chest rise and fall.
If God asked her to suffer and watch her Son, Jesus, suffer and die and she accepted it as His will for her, whom am I not to withhold my son, Daniel? Shouldn’t I also accept God’s will for me? It was this insight along with others that God has shown me as I have imperfectly continued this journey that He has placed me on.
How often do you pray?
Rick: I pray frequently, but not enough. We try to go to daily Mass four days a week, we say the Rosary, we say grace at our meals. I informally say short impromptu prayers several times throughout the day as I need help or when I think to thank God for some grace I just received. Laura and I pray nightly at the end of the day.
Laura: I try to say the Rosary daily, go to Mass four times a week, but I always see my day as a prayer. I am constantly calling on God, thanking God, and try to see God in everyone and everything I do.
Each person that I see each day is part of my missionary work and I am a part of theirs. They are there to touch my life as I am to touch theirs. There is no separation. We are all in this together.
I need everyone God places before me. They are the instruments that God is using to help me to become a better person. And to the extent that I am following God’s will, I am an instrument in God’s plan for their life.
How do you reconcile losing three children with your faith?
Rick: Romans 8:28 (“We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose”) is one way I deal with it. Also, the hope that they are in Heaven and the hope that I will someday join them there again is another way. The faith has helped me deal with these losses.
Another gift has been the community, the prayers and support of our Church family and friends. I cherish the stories of people who have reached out to us to tell us how one of the boys had impacted their lives or brought them back to church.
I also turned to the Mass and Adoration. I often feel a closeness to my boys during the consecration at Mass and during Adoration. It is a time when we are in communion with the saints in Heaven, and I sometimes get a real feeling my boys are present with us at Mass.
Laura: There is only one thing I have ever wanted for my children, and that is Heaven. That has been my only goal in the raising of my children. On Earth, they were given unique opportunities to witness the love that God has for us. They used these gifts that they were given to help others feel the love of God.
Although they have left this world physically, they have not left us at all. Their journey and mission that God has set out for them has not ended; it has only changed in how they will accomplish it.
If they have attained Heaven, which I pray and hope that they have, they are now working hard to help people here on Earth obtain Heaven. They now pray to God for us and are constantly sitting at the foot of God begging God for all who ask them. They are as close as ever to us and we will be with them when our time comes, God willing.
Saying this, it was hard to lose my children. I still mourn over losing them.
Any tips for other people/families going through a loss?
Laura: Who am I to tell anyone how to mourn or live on after their loved one dies? I can only tell you what I have done and how I handle what God has blessed me with.
After Michael died, we went through the year attending all the holidays and birthdays.
As the anniversary of his death arrived, I wanted to celebrate his life, but I did not know how. I wanted to do something that would represent everything that I believed. So, we began a new tradition: It became the Cabral family day. We first go to Mass and offer the Mass for the repose of his soul. Then, we go to breakfast.
We then drive to the cemetery and say the Rosary for the repose of his soul. We bring red roses (red is Michael’s color) and then we each share a memory of Michael with everyone.
After that, we ask Michael for a special favor from God. Sometimes, this is shared out loud, but mostly we keep them in our hearts. We place the rose in the flower holder, spend some time there, then the rest of the day we celebrate the life that God has given us. We are still on our mission on Earth and we still need to fulfill what God has called us to do.
Any other thoughts you would like to share?
Rick: We’re very grateful for our parish communities and priests at both at St. Thomas More and St. John Neumann, and for the blessing of the Norbertines from St. Michael’s Abbey and the Bishops of the Diocese of Orange. We have received many graces through the sacraments they provided for us and the prayers they have offered for us over the years.
Laura: None of this could we have done on our own. It is the community of saints working hand in hand that has been such a blessing. The many Masses, prayers, sacrifices of people that we know and even many those that we do not know have offered prayers for us.
The sacraments have been a vital part of our journey. It is the sacraments that continue to send down enormous grace upon us. It was the religious and laity who have been the instruments of God. For all of those who ever offered a prayer or kind word, we are truly grateful. You are the face of God in this world.