How My Faith Helped Me to Face Tragedies
As told by Soledad Castillo
Several times in my life, loneliness might have overwhelmed me—but it didn’t. When I was 34, my dear husband died. Six years later, my father died. Eight months after the death of my father, I learned that my only son had an incurable disease.
MY NAME is Soledad, which means “Loneliness.” Strange as it may seem, though, I have never felt entirely alone. When I faced tragedies, I believed that Jehovah God was there, ‘grasping me by the hand and helping me so that I did not feel afraid.’ (Isaiah 41:13) Allow me to explain how I survived my personal tragedies and how they drew me closer to Jehovah.
A Happy Life With Few Problems
I was born in Barcelona, Spain, on May 3, 1961, the only child of my parents, José and Soledad. When I was nine years old, my mother learned the truth of God’s Word. She had searched for answers to her religious questions but had not found satisfaction in her church. One day, two of Jehovah’s Witnesses visited her at home and answered all her questions from the Scriptures. She eagerly accepted a Bible study.
Within a short time, my mother became a baptized Witness of Jehovah, and a few years later, my father followed her example. Eliana, who conducted the study with my mother, soon noticed my keen interest in God’s Word. Although I was only a young girl, Eliana suggested that I have my own study. Thanks to her help and my mother’s encouragement, I got baptized at the age of 13.
During my teenage years, I often turned to Jehovah in prayer—especially when I had decisions to make. Frankly, I had relatively few problems during adolescence. In the congregation, I had many friends, and I had a close relationship with my parents. In 1982, I married Felipe, a Witness who had spiritual goals like mine.
Bringing Up Our Child to Love Jehovah
Five years later, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy whom we named Saúl. Felipe and I were delighted to have a child. We hoped that Saúl would grow up as a healthy, balanced child with a love for God. Felipe and I spent a lot of time with Saúl, talking to him about Jehovah, having meals together, taking him to the park, and playing games with him. Saúl loved going with Felipe to share Bible truths with others, and Felipe got him involved in the ministry at an early age, teaching him to ring the doorbells and offer tracts to people.
Saúl responded well to our love and training. By the age of six, he regularly preached with us. He loved listening to Bible stories, and he looked forward to our family Bible study. Soon after he began to attend school, he started to make small decisions based on his knowledge of the Bible.
However, when Saúl reached the age of seven, our family life changed dramatically. Felipe contracted a viral infection in his lungs. For 11 months, he struggled with the disease, unable to work and often confined to bed. At the age of 36, my husband died.
I still weep when I remember that difficult year. I watched my husband gradually lose the battle against the virus, and there was nothing I could do. Throughout it all, I tried to keep giving Felipe encouragement, although deep inside, my own hopes and plans were being dashed to pieces. I read Scriptural articles to him, and these strengthened us when we could not attend Christian meetings. When he died, a feeling of great emptiness came over me.
Yet, Jehovah sustained me. I constantly asked him to give me his spirit. I thanked him for the happy years Felipe and I had spent together and for the hope of seeing Felipe again in the resurrection. I asked God to help me be happy with the memory of what my husband and I had shared together and to give me the wisdom to bring up our child as a true Christian. Despite the great pain, I felt comforted.
My parents as well as those in the congregation gave me considerable support. Still, I had to take the lead in studying the Bible with Saúl and teaching him how to serve Jehovah. A former employer offered me a good office job, but I preferred to do cleaning work so that I could spend more time with Saúl and be with him when his school day ended.
One scripture emphasized for me the importance of Saúl’s spiritual training: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) This text gave me the hope that if I did my best to communicate spiritual values to Saúl, Jehovah would bless my efforts. True, I had to make some economic sacrifices, but I needed to spend time with my son, and this mattered much more to me than any material advantage.
When Saúl was 14 years of age, my father died. Saúl felt especially devastated, since his grandfather’s death brought back all the pain he had felt upon losing his own father. My father had also set a fine example of love for Jehovah. After this loss, Saúl decided that he had become the only “man” in the family, and he would now have to take care of his mother and his grandmother.
Eight months after the death of my father, our family doctor told me to take Saúl to the local hospital, since he was suffering from extreme fatigue. After a series of tests, the doctors informed me that Saúl had leukemia.*
During the following two and a half years, Saúl was in and out of the hospital as he struggled to cope with the cancer and the chemotherapy the doctors used in their effort to fight it. The first six-month program of treatment led to a remission that lasted about 18 months. But the cancer returned, and Saúl had another shorter treatment of chemotherapy that severely weakened him. The cancer went into remission for only a brief period, and Saúl could not cope with a third course of chemotherapy. Saúl had dedicated his life to God and had expressed his desire to be baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but he died just after reaching the age of 17.
Doctors often recommend blood transfusions to counteract the aggressive nature of chemotherapy. Of course, transfusions cannot cure the disease. When the doctors first diagnosed the leukemia, both Saúl and I had to make clear that we would not accept this treatment, since we wanted to obey Jehovah’s law to “abstain . . . from blood.” (Acts 15:19, 20) On several occasions, Saúl had to convince the doctors in my absence that he was making his own decision in this matter. (See box on page 31.)
The doctors finally came to the conclusion that Saúl was a mature minor who understood perfectly well the nature of his disease. They agreed to respect our stand and offered us bloodless treatment, although we were under constant pressure to change our decision. I felt very proud of Saúl when I listened to him explaining his stand to the doctors. Clearly, he had developed a close relationship with Jehovah.
During the summer when we first learned of Saúl’s disease, the book entitled Draw Close to Jehovah was released at our district convention in Barcelona. That invaluable book proved to be like an anchor to keep us firm as we faced our uncertain and daunting future. During the hours we spent in the hospital, we read portions of it together. During the many difficult times that we endured afterward, we often recalled its contents. That was when the text of Isaiah 41:13, mentioned in the prologue of that book, came to have special meaning for us. It says: “I, Jehovah your God, am grasping your right hand, the One saying to you, ‘Do not be afraid. I myself will help you.’”
Saúl’s Faith Touches the Hearts of Others
Saúl’s maturity and optimism deeply impressed doctors and nurses at Vall d’Hebrón Hospital. He endeared himself to the entire team that took care of him. The chief hematologist handling cancer cases has since treated other Witness children suffering from leukemia, and he has accorded them great respect and dignity. He recalls Saúl’s firm decision to uphold his beliefs, his courage in the face of death, and his happy outlook on life. The team of nurses told Saúl that he was the best patient they had ever had in that ward. They said that he never complained and never lost his sense of humor—even when he was about to die.
A psychologist told me that many children who have to face such a terminal illness at this age tend to rebel against doctors and parents because of discomfort and frustration. She noticed that this did not occur in the case of Saúl. To her, it was amazing to see Saúl so calm and positive. This gave Saúl and me an opportunity to witness to her about our faith.
I also recall how Saúl indirectly helped a Witness in our congregation. He had suffered from depression for some six years, and medication had not improved his condition. On several occasions, he spent the night caring for Saúl in the hospital. He told me that Saúl’s attitude in the face of leukemia deeply impressed him. He noticed that despite his exhaustion, Saúl tried to encourage everyone who visited him. “Saúl’s example gave me the courage to fight my depression,” this Witness says.
Three years have now passed since Saúl’s death. The pain, of course, is still there. I am not strong, but God has given me “the power beyond what is normal.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) I have learned that even the most difficult and painful experiences can have a positive side. Learning to cope with the deaths of my husband, my father, and my son has helped me to become more unselfish and more understanding toward others who suffer. Above all, it has drawn me closer to Jehovah. I can face the future without fear because my heavenly Father still helps me. He still grasps me by the hand.
Saúl had lymphoblastic leukemia, a serious type of blood cancer that destroys the white blood cells.
[Box/Picture on page 31]
HAVE YOU WONDERED?
You may have heard that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept blood transfusions. Have you ever wondered why?
This Scriptural stand is often misunderstood. Sometimes people assume that Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse all medical treatment or that they simply do not value life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jehovah’s Witnesses seek the best medical care available to them and their family members. However, they seek nonblood medical management. Why?
Their stand is based on a fundamental law that God gave to mankind. Just after the Flood of Noah’s day, God gave Noah and his family permission to eat the flesh of animals. God imposed this one restriction: They were not to consume blood. (Genesis 9:3, 4) All humans of all races descended from Noah, so this law is binding on all of mankind. It was never rescinded. Over eight centuries later, God reaffirmed that law to the nation of Israel, explaining that blood is sacred, representing the soul, or life itself. (Leviticus 17:14) Over 1,500 years later, the Christian apostles commanded all Christians to “keep abstaining . . . from blood.”—Acts 15:29.
To Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is clearly impossible to abstain from blood while taking it into the body in a transfusion. They therefore insist on alternative treatments. That Scriptural stand often results in an even higher standard of medical care. No doubt that is why many people who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses also request bloodless medical treatment.
[Picture on page 29]
With my husband, Felipe, and our son, Saúl
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My parents, José and Soledad
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Saúl one month before his death