Michael O'Brien wrote "Love is Stronger Than Pain," so that a life lived would end up a legacy remembered.
In his semi-autobiographical book, O'Brien plays witness to the selfless merciful nature of his mother, Irene Corcoron O'Brien, who raised and cared for two disabled children while raising six other children. She also endured the loss of her own parents, eldest child and husband, and the painful deaths of her children, John and Maureen, born with a skin condition called dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa. They lacked a protein that adheres the epidermis to the dermis, causing friction, blisters, scars and eventually disfigurement.
In the often gut-wrenching memoir, O'Brien paints a picture of an unfatigueable woman who relies on the Lord to help her through the dark times of her life, and there are many. After her fifth child was born, he seemed to have third-degree burns over his body.
John, as Irene would name him, would require special washing and intricate dressing of bandages. Irene refused the doctor's advice to put him in an institution. Relying on the axiom, "God does not give you more than you can carry," Irene instead took her son home and bathes and wraps protective dressing on him daily.
A few years later, after the birth of a healthy child, Irene gave birth to Maureen, who also had DEB. Irene continued to take care of her children. Neighbors tried to help, but often would faint of the sight of the children.
"Irene had indeed laid down her life for her children; it could not be said that she lived even one day for herself," her second oldest son, Michael, writes.
The book offers a balance of the harsh life given to Irene, and the joy she and her family found in their lives. The O'Brien family, parishioners of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Harris Hill became minor celebrities in Buffalo, with news crews running stories on their family fundraisers.
Both Bishop James McNulty and Bishop Edward Head were overwhelmed by the multitude of trials that Irene had endured throughout her life, and yet somehow was able to exude such joy as she was so quick to reach out to any person in need. Bishop Head repeated the same words his predecessor had once spoken to Irene, "In all my years of priestly ministry, I have never seen a heavier cross placed upon someone's shoulder." Irene was reminded of how it was her weakness that allowed the Lord's power to be perfected within her.
"I consider her a saint. She should be beatified, just by her witness of life," said O'Brien, discussing his mother. "She never wrote a book, never gave a public teaching, but if one was fortunate enough to sit and have a cup of coffee with her at her kitchen table, she had unbelievable wisdom to share, which would be underscored by the fact that no one could argue that she was an incredible witness. She had walked a walk that not many, if any at all, could have walked."
O'Brien, a retired administrator for the Buffalo Public School System, had been wanting to tell his mother's story for some time, but had to wait until retirement before tackling the project.
"I wanted to assure that the legacy of Irene Corcoron O'Brien was memorialized so that she would be able to help to continue to inspire and console those people who have encountered the uninvited guest of personal tragedy. That was her legacy when she was alive, and I think it is a legacy, that through this book, will now be able to continue for all of those who are fortunate enough to read the book."
O'Brien, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Ransomville, is still working on distribution deals, but hopes to have the book out around Christmas or early 2016. All royalties will go to Hunter's Hope and St. Jude's Research Hospital for Children.