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What do you do?|The Case of the Lourdes Water

The Grotto at Lourdes
Creative Commons License photo credit: Lawrence OP

What do you do when someone wants to cure your child with Lourdes Water or the “laying on of the hands”?

True Story

“Where’s Aaron?” my mother asked while I was still putting the phone to my ear. I explained Aaron was at his house and we wouldn’t be seeing him until the weekend.

“Well, as soon as you pick him up, you need to bring him here. My friend got holy water directly from the fountain of Lourdes and she gave me a small bottle.”

I took a deep breath and knew exactly where this conversation was going. My youth was filled with The Song of Bernadette and books of Saints and miracles.

With more enthusiasm than I’ve heard from my mother in years, she said, “I’ll make the sign of the cross on his forehead and we’ll see if we can cure his autism and disabilities.”

I hesitated and didn’t say anything, but mom gushed about her friend’s trip, the history of Lourdes, photos of the shrine, and the walls of abandoned crutches each with written testimonials and pictures from the people who were miraculously cured.

My mom was eager to start her letter of Aaron’s miracle.

So, What do I say:

1. Mom means well. Her religion is important to her. She would love to be the one to “cure Aaron.”

2. This isn’t the first time this has happened. I’ve had strangers in the grocery line want to “lay hands on Aaron and cure him.”

3. I really don’t want to go down this road again.

So, what to do?

In the comments please share your thoughts.


Remember there are no “right or wrong” answers. Please share your thoughts. What would you say to my mother or another person who wanted to try and cure your child? Would you allow her to use the holy water on your child? What attitudes and messages does this convey for the individual, the family, the church, the culture?
Have you tried any miracle cures? If you don’t want a cure, what does that say?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward,

All my best,


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25 Responses to “What do you do?|The Case of the Lourdes Water”

  • Pam says:

    Hello I am new to your discussion about “cures for children with disabilities. As a new special education teacher, I was sent to many Autism Awareness and training conferences, which were sponsored by many venders. After attending a few of them, it was obvious that everyone had in their mind the right “cure, therapy,vitamins, diet, and instruction” but each venders’ was different. So this mass approach of information and materials seemed more like a flock of vultures preying on the weak (parents and the children). Valerie posted “no one desires a child to be in pain or experience extreme hardship, but the problem is society’s perception of people with disabilities. They see this as something really bad, so they want to pray our problems away.” or when it comes to venders “pay” your problems away.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Hi Pam, welcome and I have to tell you, your comment cracked me up. “They see this as something really bad, so they want to pray our problems away.” or when it comes to venders “pay” your problems away.” is sooooo true. Guess that’s why the whole “cure” thing just wears you down. Thanks for some great perceptions.

  • Mary, this is so far out of my experience and belief system that I’m not going to comment directly except to say good luck, I’m glad you’ve got a lot of thoughts and options to work with.

  • I remember when my daughter was first born with Down syndrome, I did everything I could think of to “cure” her. So I guess, I read this post and my first thought is, “Why do we think he needs to be cured?” Seriously. I would always welcome a blessing, and I pray daily for my daughter’s health and well being, but I think I might be sad if my daughter was cured.

    I like my daughter, just the way she is and if you cured her, the old Sarah would be gone – dead. She’s not perfect and as she approaches her teenage years, she’s really not too enjoyable to be around. But I would keep her.

    Great question Mary!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      You’re right Valerie, we do pray daily for our child’s health and well being, but we love our child just the way he/she is. We want them to have an easier life, but we still value their uniqueness (if that is a word).

      My mother and many relatives will never understand this. They pray for Aaron and our family, they want things to be easier. But, I don’t think they value the uniqueness–they are uncomfortable and just want us to be like everyone else. But then, my mother still tells me when she doesn’t like my hair or thinks I should change my ways. Maybe it is a generational thing.

      • Mary, I think the problem is that for many, a child with a disability is considered one of the worst things which could happen to a family. Granted, no one desires a child to be in pain or experience extreme hardship, but the problem is society’s perception of people with disabilities. They see this as something really bad, so they want to pray our problems away. What they don’t understand is the love that you develop for this very special person. They don’t see the hidden blessings. Sure it’s hard – but what isn’t? My other kids put me through the wringer too. Again – great question.

        • Mary E. Ulrich says:

          You’re right Valerie, it is all about the perception of both the child and the family. Thanks for your support and best wishes for your journey.

        • Vilma says:

          Valerie, beautifully worded. By the way, I love your profile photo. It shows the happiness and love between you all. Have a beautiful week-end everyone. 🙂

  • Patti Hackett says:

    Oh this brought back memories when my mother wanted to bring my son Glen who had significant progressive neuromuscular disease – to experience Kathryn Kuhlman (a faith healer in the 70s). He was 2. I was not “into” these public cure events…I said yes to the trip, but could not go due to work, and told Glen it was a bus ride and it was a social outing for my mother. If he was cured, ok, but I had the guts to say to her, Glen is loved and who he is is who he is, I would not want that to change….When they returned home, she was disappointed nothing happened. I took it as a teachable moment to share my vision for Glen and his dignity and respect. I was very young mom, my mother was treated for depression and Glen was bright and happy. So there was a lot of balancing acts- keeping the harmony while moving forward towards disability pride. Years later another experience…yup – that water from Lourdes brought back by a family friend…So we talked again, but this time Glen had his voice heard. He liked himself the way he was…….no water, please.

    But there is another issue at hand here…that intergenerational tension among the family on what they believe, how they were taught, and that eternal parent child and parent to adult child then complex when aging parent with adult child stuff happens.

    In Mary’s family- religious customs and beliefs are strong. Mary also values Aaron and his dignity and recogized like our famiy did, having a disability is not the worse thing in the often has shaped the person……
    and how about harmony in the family…When the aging parent who may be displaying some congitve/processing limits…would another disability rights and reasons make a difference – and think about it- the grandmom has been exposed to disability rights issues for 36 years…So is she holding on to her values from her generation?

    Aaron is 36, I met him when he was 6…even in our early journey Mary and I knew some days would be easier than others, but our sons were not going to be devalued…

    Would the water devalue Aaron, probably not. I liked the earlier poster who thought of it like a blessing vs cure. We all could use some divine power…

    Ah Mary, life never is boring for you…you will be young forever!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      HI dearest Patti,
      I don’t know about the “you will be young forever” but, I do know our 36 yr. journey has been perceived differently from each family member’s viewpoint. I had hoped we were modeling and teaching each step, but as you point out, “the religious customs and beliefs are strong.” I never thought about just passing the Lourdes water around and asking each family member to wish for a blessing, that is another great idea.

      ps. I can hear Glenn saying, “No water please.” He was just a great guy who taught us all so many things. I also can picture your mom thinking she was going to bring Glenn back cured. I also remember your gypsy story. Hope you are writing these stories down, you have such a rich history–unique for sure. Much love. Mary

  • Michele provided insight I hope I remember for a long time to come. I think I would suggest that a few drops of the water be sprinkled on each of the three of you to be part of the circle of blessing for Aaron, that you each could see God in Aaron and in one another as you continue to find your way on the journey God sets before you…whatever it may hold.

    Thanks for sharing this interesting dilemma. Let us know how it all works out!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Mimi, the drops on each of us is a perfect solution. These ideas are exactly the kind of things I was hoping for. I really don’t want to hurt my mother’s feelings, but the whole situation is just so uncomfortable for me.

      I just wish everyone who thinks about giving a bottle of holy water for a miracle would take a moment to sit by Aaron and try to get to know him. I would treasure that much more.

  • Vilma says:

    Hi Mary, I totally agree with Michele. I would rephrase it as a blessing from God to keep us safe and fill us with love. Could you ask your mum not to use the word cure but a special blessing from the Lord and explain to her that your son doesn’t need to hear the word cure as it would make him feel like he needs to be cured. I love my mum dearly and she is always looking at the negatives (I think it’s her generation though) and I remind her of all the positives that we need to be thankful for. God is a huge part of my life which helps me get through the tough days so I am a bit biased. All the best. xxx

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Hi Vilma, I wish I could have you come along when we visit my mom. You have a great way with words, I’m sure I’ll just make her angry. We do need to be reminded of all the positives. God is an important part of our life too, but this cure thing and holy water and miracles… it’s a tough situation.

      I wish there would have been a passage in the Bible where Jesus became friends with a person with a disability–instead of “healing” them. But, the Bible was written when few people with disabilities survived.

      • Vilma says:

        I love your comment about the bible (I have always wondered what a priests thought about Autism was). It reminded me of something. Last year we had a memorial mass for my father and my darling son 14yo was stimming lots and not coping. Usually, this does not bother me because the chapel is usually filled with family who accept Daniel for who he is but we had a group of strangers that decided to join our mass. I could feel the judgement and stares, I broke down. Church does this to me sometimes. My darling mother apologised to the bishop (who was visiting Aust). He told her not to apologise and explained that Daniel was on God’s doorstep and that I (me) was even closer. I guess our children are hear for a reason…to teach people to accept and love everyone and we as parents are chosen to guide them. All the best with your mum and your beautiful precious son. xxx

        • Mary E. Ulrich says:

          I like the idea about being on “God’s doorstep.” As for those other people, well… God will give them their just reward.

          • Vilma says:

            Ah Mary, you just made me laugh. We recently had a rough week with our son and I was contemplating on medication for him but my 11yo daughter got very upset and said that he won’t be himself if he is not jumping and flapping and ‘he just wouldn’t be Daniel’. She reminded me to love and accept him for who he is and to help him be the best he can be. I needed an 11yo to tell me that.

  • Blake says:

    I would remind Mary’s mother that a disability is part of a disabled person’s identity. Disabilities are meant to be overcome, not focused on. Therefore, I would not permit Mary’s mother to sprinkle holy water on Aaron, or me. I realize that she may be well-intentioned. However, adaptation and coping with the disability is what most people with disabilities, like myself, want. Another key when dealing with this situation is to attempt respect at all times, while also being firm in the decision not to allow holy water sprinkling.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks Blake for your comment. I know from previous correspondence you were born blind. I also know you have many talents, skills and are a productive citizen. There are many people who would agree with you. I wish Aaron had better communication skills and could tell us. At age 36, we love Aaron just the way he is. I only want for him to be happy and feel good about who he is. On the other hand, Aaron has such severe anxiety attacks, and I wish I could ease his discomfort.
      Blake you have raised an important issue. Thanks for commenting.

  • Judy Bailey says:

    This is a tough issue, for sure, on many levels. My first thought is that I’m curious to know what Aaron wishes to do. Has he expressed any opinion on this or similar issues in the past? Can this be delayed until he has had a chance to think about or study the issue and to decide for himself? Will your mom appreciate and respect his ability to make this decision?

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Great point Judy, but Aaron has very limited communication. I’ll try a letter board, but I don’t expect he’ll give us much.

      You’re right, this is really complex when many people would think it would be a simple answer.

  • I would suggest she phrase this as a blessing. And it would be. I would never turn down a blessing. What a wonderful thing for someone to give.

    I still remember a blessing an old woman in Italy gave me at a restaurant in Italy over 40 years ago. And a very special one from an archbishop just a couple of weeks ago.

    Ask your Mom to give your son a blessing and let God work in his own way. We can’t tell God what to do and how to work. Maybe it is best for you and your son that he is autistic. Who knows? But a blessing? It always gives us something special in our lives.

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