|Elise was diagnosed with cancer at age 11.|
Denver, CO. There are times when God permits a family
to experience powerful blessings through a very heavy cross. For
the Coffey family, 11-year-old Elise’s battle with cancer was an
experience of mercy that brought them all closer to God.
Elise’s mother, LeeAnn, joined Familia in 1998 when her
children were 3, 5, 10, and 12. As she and
the other mothers in her group got together every week
to study the Catechism and the teachings of the Church,
they also grew closer, sharing stories, ideas, lessons learned, and
tender moments. But most of all, they grew in faith
“We are sinners,” says LeeAnn. “We fall, we
get up, we fall, we get up. As a family,
we needed and thirsted for more. Familia gave us the
spiritual tools to allow faith to strengthen with an intense
love. It helped lead us closer to our Lord and
our Lady, and Catholicism became part of our lives.”
years went by, LeeAnn passed on the faith to her
children. Each one grew in their own relationship with Jesus,
and LeeAnn gradually learned to let go and let God
work in their hearts.
“We only relied on faith.”
the youngest of the four children, a happy little girl
who loved books, climbing trees, music, Tinkerbell, earrings, scooters, and
helping her grandmother sort clothes and gifts for different missions
But in her 11th year, a troubling pattern
appeared. After school every day, Elise was falling asleep on
the couch, utterly exhausted. LeeAnn brought her in to see
her pediatrician, who said she was fine. A few weeks
passed and they found themselves at the emergency room in
the hospital. There, the doctor told them, “It´s fatal. She´s
dying. She´s full of cancer."
In her prayer, LeeAnn asked the
Blessed Mother to present Elise and the diagnosis to Jesus.
“We never asked for a miracle,” said LeeAnn. “We only
relied on faith and asked for God’s will to be
The family rallied around little Elise, keenly aware that
the clock was ticking and that she had only a
few months of life ahead of her. The cancer was
rare and incurable, and there was no chance for survival.
Elise went through two surgeries, unsuccessful chemotherapy treatments, countless MRI
scans, tests, and medications.
During this time, she received the
Eucharist frequently. “I believe the Eucharist’s true power sustained her
willingness to endure her suffering,” says LeeAnn. And the suffering
|Throughout her illness, she was not afraid because she knew she was not alone.|
Her 74-pound body soon shrank down to 45
pounds. She lost her sight and her tiny face and
body become unrecognizable even to her family. It seemed that
she had aged a hundred years in a few months.
All of her internal organs were ravaged by the disease,
and she was spitting up cups of black blood for
8 days straight. As the disease took over more of
her body, Elise became unable to hold her head up
on her own. Yet in spite of all this, her
spirit remained strong. She knew the Lord and carried her
illness with dignity.
While lying in bed, Elise would spontaneously recite
parts of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Before each surgery, she
would say, “This hand is to hold Jesus’ hand, and
this hand is to hold Mary’s hand.” She was not
afraid because she knew she was not alone.
the Eucharist, she would insist on receiving the whole host
until she was no longer able to swallow. Then she
would fervently receive a small crumb.
“Christ’s love embraced her,” says
her mother. Several times, she spoke with little divine “visitors”
who brought her conversation, comfort, and peace. In her prayer,
she asked God for mercy and recognized his total goodness.
Elise never once asked why she was dying. She somehow
knew that her service to him on Earth was done.
For weeks, she would always make sure the little crucifix
a seminarian had given her was in her hand or
next to her.
While she could still speak, Elise said, “Mommy,
Mommy, I need to stay a little while longer, and
then I need to go.”
After 101 days of physical
decline and spiritual preparation, Elise passed away on February 22,
A reminder of heaven
A mother’s role in her child’s sickness
is sacred and irreplaceable. There were moments, says LeeAnn, when
their eyes would meet and there was a sense of
celebration, of breathing in God’s peace.
“As her mom,” says
LeeAnn, “I was only in the palm of God’s hand.
Everything else didn’t make any sense to me. But everything
about Him did make perfect sense.” She handed over her
daughter to the Lord, saying, “God, my child belonged to
Even today, after the consecration at Mass, she
asks Our Lady to give Elise a kiss for her.
|Elise with her brothers and sister.|
Elise’s dad, shared in her faith. “I prayed to God
to minimize the suffering and asked that God take her
quickly. As a father, you think you are a protector.
It’s beyond my power to do that. It’s God who
is the almighty powerful Father, a father of mercy and
love. He watches over us every day. And I hope
that she watches over me, too, to give me a
little help from heaven.”
For the children, accompanying Elise in her
sickness was an experience of trusting in God. Her older
brother Matt was 20 when Elise got sick. He looks
back with a sense of wonder on what God did
through his sister’s suffering.
“Eventually I came to an understanding
that even when Elise was struggling with her disease, she
knew what she was doing. She understood and talked about
how it had brought so many people to pray not
just for her, but to talk to God as well.
It was just wonderful to hear about the impact that
my little sister had on others.”
Her other brother, Nick, was
18 at the time. “When Elise was sick it was
almost a long stretch of feeling numb. But I knew
that no matter what happened, things would turn out okay.
I suppose it has created a reminder for me now
to think of God more often and of what life
will be like after death,” he said.
Linzy, her 13-year-old sister
and inseparable companion, was tested and purified. “My soul ripped
apart as I watched my best friend suffer. Elise, my
whole world, was dying. At first I was so hurt
and confused at God’s plans, but being a solid Catholic
I never ever lost touch. I prayed vigorously every night,
many times in tears, connecting with our Lord Jesus, even
feeling His presence, and knowing that He heard,” she said.
mind clicked and one day I trusted in His Truth;
He was calling her Home. He calls all of us.
Even though it’s unimaginably painful to miss my sister, when
I picture her in Heaven, in the presence of the
Trinity, hand in hand with Mother Mary, it’s a magnificent
comfort. I can honestly say that at any moment if
God chooses to take me, I’m willing. Sure I’m a
sinner, but in the end everyone dies. God is that
Happy Ending, without end,” she said.
LeeAnn remembers that in the
split moment when Elise passed away, Linzy leaned over and
said, “Are you flying yet, Leese?”
For LeeAnn, knowing that Elise
has reached heaven brings tremendous peace. There are always memories
around the house—the trampoline, her bike in the garage, a
note or a picture—but knowing that Elise is with Jesus
makes that cross easier to bear.
“Missing her is very hard,
but thinking about God’s endless love delights my heart. It intensifies
my love for Him. I will see Him. And someday I
will also see my little Elise. Not in the same way
as before, but in a new way, in the light
of God, in Christ,” she says.
When asked what advice she
would give other mothers with sick or healthy children, LeeAnn
says the key is trust. Trust in Divine Mercy, and
trust in God’s plan.
If you would like to contact LeeAnn
Coffey or invite her to speak in your parish about
her experiences and insights into teaching the faith to children,
please send her an e-mail at email@example.com.
more about how Familia can help your family grow in
faith at www.familiausa.net.