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Jun 24, 2020 307 0 Irene La Palambora
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Broken Yet Healed

Discover the healing touch of Jesus when you embrace forgiveness.

Irene La Palambora shares the extraordinary story of confiding her wounded past to Jesus, allowing Him to transform her life.

From my earliest days my parents felt absent, leaving us to almost bring ourselves up. My mother was a social butterfly who loved to have parties and go dancing, but did not like to have children around her. My father was a workaholic, who loved to hunt and fish, so he was rarely home with us. Our need for nurture and love did not seem to occur to them. I do not ever recall my mother expressing verbal or physical affection. When I vomited after eating wild mushrooms, she simply scolded me for making a mess and told me to clean it up.

I was growing up so haphazardly, that my father decided to send me to boarding school. On every school holidays I was sent to my grandparents’ farm. They were very devout Catholics and gave me the love I was craving.

The Night My Life Crumbled

When I returned home for the first time, I discovered that my mother had just given birth to my youngest brother in an emergency caesarean. We did not even know she was pregnant, so it was a big shock and she was still very ill. My grandparents had taken my siblings to their place, so my father and his friend took me with them to the hospital and to ‘wet the baby’s head’ by having a few drinks at the pub. Since I was not allowed into either place, I just sat in the car by myself.

When they finally came out, neither was really fit to drive. On the way home, they were arguing about which way to go. My father made a wrong turn into a quiet, secluded place then slumped over the steering wheel to sleep it off. So I got out of the car to get some air and explore. Suddenly, I was grabbed from behind. My father’s friend ripped my clothes off and brutally raped me, then left me sobbing on the ground and returned to the car.

Trembling with shock and pain, I scrambled back into my clothes. Although I feared for my life, I realized that the only way I could get home that night was to get back in the car. My father did not even notice that anything was wrong and I did not know how to talk about it. When we finally got home, they clattered into the kitchen to eat while I rushed straight to the bathroom and locked myself in. I just ran a scalding hot bath and tried to forget it had happened. Nobody ever knew what happened to me, but it impacted my life dramatically.

Although I found great comfort in the prayer life at school and was keenly studying to become a Child of Mary, I was struggling with the strict discipline. The nun who was in charge of the boarders had taken a dislike to me from the start. She often singled me out for criticism and never gave me a turn at special favours like choosing the hymn at bedtime. Whenever anything happened, I always got the blame for it, regardless of my guilt. One day, it all got too much. When Sister dictated what I had to paint for my art project, I ran away from school and spent the day at a disused butter factory before taking refuge in the church when it got dark. The police found me there and returned me to school, where I was publicly reprimanded and nobody was allowed to speak to me for 48 hours.

I felt so alone and unwanted, especially when my weekly letter to my mother in hospital came back marked ‘Return to Sender, Not at this Address’. I thought I was totally abandoned, My whole spirit was crushed and I could not trust anybody. In this time of desolation, the parish priest was a great comfort to me. He treated me like a daughter and consoled me when I despaired. “You have to remember that your soul is like a block of marble. To form it into a thing of beauty you have to take chips out of it.” Our Lady also fortified me. After I was finally admitted to the Sodality of the Children of Mary, I would wrap myself up in her cloak whenever I was afraid to go to sleep.

Am I a Mistake?

We are always told God loves us, but it did not make sense to me. As I grew up, married and had children, I was always searching for this God who supposedly loved me. I knew the theory. I tried to be a good Catholic; singing in the choir and helping in the parish, but I felt like I was just going through the motions.

My aunt told me that my mother had been in love with another man, but had to marry my father because she got pregnant with me. Maybe this was why my mother never loved me. I was a mistake. Another aunt told me that I had almost died of malnutrition at 18 months because I would not eat or drink. That always puzzled me. Why would a baby want to die? For many years I used to ask the Holy Spirit, what was wrong with that baby?

When I was painting one day, I felt a sudden compulsion to talk to a priest about all the things that had been bothering me. I did not really want to, but after a long chat, I made a good Confession. In that moment, I felt enveloped in this cloud of love. Jesus penetrated my heart and I understood that Jesus loves me just as I am. It was the most amazing thing.

After this powerful experience, I knew that I had to forgive the many people that had damaged me, but it was so hard. I could not even pray the Our Father, because I did not want to forgive those who had trespassed against me. As I prayed and talked to Jesus about it, I suddenly saw Him on The Cross, bleeding and in pain, trying hard to breathe. It was an awful sight. His eyes were full of love and tenderness and I heard Him say, “Keep turning the other cheek. As I have forgiven you, you must go and forgive”. I just sat there thinking it was true; I could not hang on to my grievances because I have been forgiven so much.

So, I asked the Holy Spirit to show me each person that I had to forgive. It took a long time to go through them one by one, but when it came to my parents, I was having a real struggle. I said to Jesus, I choose to forgive my father but you have to help me. When I arrived home, I shocked myself and him, by immediately sitting down with him and saying, “Dad, I love you”. He did not say anything, but looked at me and smiled. The moment I said it, I knew that I had forgiven him and truly loved him now..

From Despair to Delight

A few weeks later, he was diagnosed with cancer and only survived 7 months. As I sat in the church heartbroken, I asked Jesus, “Why would you take my father? I was just getting to know him”. As my tears trickled down my face, I looked towards the altar and saw Jesus with his arm on my father’s shoulder and both were smiling. My father looked so young, handsome and well! Jesus lovingly told me, “Irene, now you can talk to your father any time”. Instantly, I was lifted from the pits of despair rejoicing to know that he was with Jesus and that I will see him again.

I also received the grace to forgive and really love my mother. In her old age, I looked after her tenderly doing whatever she needed. After she had a massive stroke, I took care of her and loved her right through to the end. I felt so blessed that I could be there for her until the moment she died. I was even able to forgive my rapist. I was finally free of him!

God even brought a priest into my life who understood what I was feeling, even before I told him. He became my Spiritual Director and was like a real father to me, keeping me on the straight and narrow. He always said to me, “If you need human intervention for anything, God will send someone from the ends of the earth just for you.” After his death, I really needed someone to talk to. When I went to Mass, the celebrant was a priest unexpectedly visiting from India. I knew he had come just for me and our conversation provided just what I needed.

Healed and Made Whole

One evening, the Holy Spirit finally answered my burning question. “The baby was abused”. Then I felt an excruciating pain from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. I did not even know how I was going to get home, but the Lord looked after me. Jesus came and picked up my hand and he led me back to the ‘baby’. He picked up the baby Irene and cradled her in his arms, gazing at her tenderly. Then He breathed on her face, breathing life into her.

My heart welled with gratitude and I felt so wonderful. “Jesus breathed life into me, into the baby!” Then I thought, “But Jesus, if you breathed life into that baby, why did all those other things happen? Where were you then?” Then He said, “Irene, I’ve been suffering with you the whole time, but I have always held you tenderly in my heart. You are so special to me”.

When we had children, I decided they would be the most loved and looked after children because I did not have a childhood. So I really did my best to make sure of that. Despite the bad things that happened to me, I am very grateful for them now because they made me who I am today. I still go through trials, but God helps me through them when I abandon myself to His grace.

For instance, when I was suddenly beset by grave doubts about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I was already registered for a retreat the next day. I only went because I had already paid for it, but as I sat at the back of the Adoration chapel thinking “How can they believe all this nonsense”, I said “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) over and over again like a mantra. Suddenly, I felt filled with the brightest light and all my doubts were dispelled.

My whole life is filled with peace and joy now because of Jesus and His great love. He taught me perseverance and courage, so I could face problems as they come. Every day I give thanks to the Father for the gift of life, the gift of a new day and the strength to live it in His company.

Irene La Palambora

© ARTICLE is partly based on the Shalom World TV program “Seventy times Seven” where Irene La Palambora shares her extraordinary story of forgiveness. To watch the episode visit: https://shalomworld.org/episode/irene-la-palombara

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