Reading in the Times today some thoughts of Samantha Cameron about the effect on her family and herself of the death of her almost 7 year old son Ivan I found very moving. He was their first born son and suffered from Ohtahara Syndome a rare form of epilepsy and cerebral palsy.
Her comments to The Times are hugely interesting and include recollections of sadnesses as well as happinesses arising through for example, meeting others likewise affected at charity receptions, sometimes at 10 Downing Street.
The article brought to mind some of the huge sadnesses and happinesses experienced during 50 years of travel to Lourdes with the HCPT.
One of the earliest memories I recall was of a 17 year old who only had weeks left to live. He was in a wheel chair and his father came over to me at Victoria Station (from where the old boat trains used to run) and after greeting me asked me to ensure that if his son wanted anything in Lourdes including beers, to provide the same for him.
His son was about the same age as myself and we had a great time not excluding a few drinks after sundown. The pilgrimage finished happily in April and sadly as the medics had predicted, the boy died in the Autumn of that same year.
Children with disabilities do bring huge happiness and laughter to the able bodied and of course for their parents though the latter must have to work extraordinarily hard to provide for them.
I recall one occasion with HCPT, when on the overnight couchette train from Boulogne to Lourdes, a boy affected by Down's Syndrome, waking me up at 1am saying that he wished to go to the loo. I opened the door of the compartment and went into the corridor with a view to taking him there. As soon as I was in the corridor, he pulled the compartment door shut. locked it and yanked down the train alarm. The train whistled loudly to a halt and there was pandemonium.
Eventually the guard arrived and opened the compartment door. The young boy upon seeing the stern looking guard, immediately pointed at me and piped up "he did it".
All credit to SNCF for the reaction of the guard was that his stern look spontaneously changed to one of smiles. He gave the child and myself a friendly ticking off rather than the 500 franc fine, and we were on our way.
Stories of that kind abound.
Gordon Brown the former Labour PM was likewise affected which again his family handled with astonishing dignity but even for a prime minister's wife or perhaps especially for her, there is no doubt that the warmth and laughter of a disabled child is wonderful. Nonetheless the hard work and emotion are also great, for which all dedicated parents deserve huge credit.