Respect Life director Cecilia Soñé shares her mid-summer struggle with COVID-19
EDITOR’S NOTE: There are hundreds of persons in the Diocese of Peoria who have battled COVID-19 in 2020, or are struggling with it now. All have their own experiences to share. Following is just one story of faith.
COVID-19 did its best to take down Cecilia Soñé and it came close. What the coronavirus didn’t know is that it was dealing with a fighter.
“You knock me down, I get back up again,” said Soñé, a family nurse practitioner who serves as director of Respect Life Ministry for the Diocese of Peoria.
That doesn’t mean she was fighting alone, however. She had God, the Blessed Mother and St. Jacinta Marto of Fatima in her corner, as well as the gift of faith.
“What got me through were the prayers from the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary and other religious communities such as the Religious Sisters of Mercy in St. Louis, as well as from everybody,” she said. “My phone was blowing up. My kids’ phones were blowing up. There were rosaries, Holy Hours. Masses, Masses, Masses. I believe that’s what helped me spiritually and probably pulled me through this thing.”
She lowers her voice and tears sometimes come to her eyes as she remembers the nine days in July that she spent in isolation in the pandemic unit at OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington. “I can tell you I’m not the same Cecilia,” she said.
“IT HITS YOU IN EVERY ASPECT”
“I can tell you from living through this and seeing my life literally flash before me that this pandemic, this virus, when it hits you hard it hits you in every aspect — emotionally, psychologically, physically, definitely spiritually,” Soñé explained. “It hits you in those areas in different ways.”
Emotionally and psychologically it’s tough because changes don’t happen day to day. Sometimes it can be shift to shift. “One minute you’re doing well, the next minute you’re not,” she said.
The isolation, while necessary, can also be painful, Soñé told The Catholic Post.
“I was in a room nine days — I said I was in the womb of the Blessed Mother for nine days because my room number was 1013 for Our Lady of Fatima,” she said.
The Blessed Mother appeared to Jacinta and Francisco Marto, and their cousin Lucia dos Santos six times in 1917, beginning in May and concluding with the “miracle of the sun” on Oct. 13.
“Jacinta of Fatima became my little friend because remember, she died alone,” Soñé said, noting that the girl was 9 years old when she succumbed to Spanish influenza in 1920, during the last pandemic.
Another source of suffering was not being able to receive the Eucharist, get the anointing of the sick or go to confession because the priests and deacons were not allowed into her room.
“But I knew enough to unite myself and offer that up for all those Christians and Catholics throughout the world who for decades can’t get any of that,” Soñé said.
She added that the experience helped her to grow spiritually because “you realize you have to let go and let God because you don’t know if you’re going to get out of there or not.”
The mother of three young adults, Soñé was concerned about her daughter, Maria Isabel, who was recovering from the virus by herself at home. They have been planning her wedding for next June and the thought of not seeing her walk down the aisle pained the matriarch.
People helped by bringing food to the house and another friend, who is a doctor and psychologist, kept in touch with both mother and daughter.
A HEART TO SERVE
Released after nine days — on her birthday no less — Soñé quarantined for 20 days as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and slowly returned to work. She understands the hesitation some have about being around her or anyone else who has had COVID-19 for fear of infection and she seriously debated whether or not to share her story.
In the end, she wanted people to know the nurses, respiratory therapists, dieticians and doctors at OSF St. Joseph were “amazing.”
“What can you say? They’re angels,” Soñé emphasized. “They’re putting their lives at risk to deal with us and taking care of a sick COVID patient takes a lot of patience, a lot of time. We can’t do for ourselves.”
Hope came in the form of one hospitalist who had recovered from the coronavirus. He told Soñé she would, too, and be back to caring for her own patients soon.
She’s always had a heart to serve and is trying to perfect that even more now. “I feel like God gave me another chance,” Soñé said.
Now she starts the day with the Divine Mercy Chaplet, offering prayers for an end to the pandemic, and for those who are battling any illness. She also includes those who have no one to pray for them.
When asked what she wants people to know about COVID-19 and the need to follow safety protocols, Soñé said, “It’s real. It exists. It’s a virus . . . and it doesn’t discriminate.”
Now is the time to look within and say, “How can we take care of our brothers and sisters and help avoid the transmission of this virus that can potentially kill you, and if you survive it, you may have some long-term effects from it,” she said.
It is hard to be away from family and friends for holiday celebrations and other gatherings, Soñé acknowledged, “but it’s just another moment to maybe offer it up.”