BRADENTON | There was something special about a married couple who attended the Diocese of Venice Religious Freedom Film Festival in Sarasota during the summer; maybe it was the way they introduced themselves.
“Our faith is everything to us,” said Chuck Delaney, who said those words with sheer conviction, leading one to assume he was there to solely defend religious freedom. He was joined at the event by his wife, Carol, who stood shaking her head up and down in a “yes” motion, confirming the importance of their faith.
Minutes later during that initial greeting, Chuck briefly mentioned that they lost not one, but two sons, who passed on before them in very different circumstances. Each confirming, “without our Faith, we would be lost.” Maybe it was their strength that was palpable, for sure their grief was noticeable.
In a later meeting held at St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton, which Carol believes is “a very, very, special Parish,” the Delaneys agreed to share more about their painful story, so others may learn coping skills from the deep and unimaginable pain of losing their only children, 27 years apart.
Upon sitting down forming an intimate circle inside a small room in the Parish hall, Carol set up two framed pictures: one of Scott and one of Doug. This was not going to be easy.
“Dec. 7, 1989, was a beautiful morning, and our son Scott had just moved down to Bradenton from Massachusetts, and he was on his way to work,” Carol said.
Scott, 23, was riding his motorcycle on U.S. 41 in Bradenton that morning and was involved in a crash.
“I was at work on Longboat Key when Scott’s friend notified me there was an accident,” said Chuck, who with Carol would soon experience the dreaded police officer visit to their Bradenton home confirming the worst possible scenario. Despite wearing a helmet, Scott did not survive the crash.
The couple, who were advised by many not to see their son following the crash due to the severity of his injuries, regret that decision. “We never really got to say goodbye to him,” Chuck said.
The Delaneys, who at the time were new to St. Joseph Parish and only had just begun to establish friendships at the Church, found themselves obviously devastated.
“I prayed, especially to the Blessed Mother,” Carol said. “She lost her Son, Jesus. She knew what this was like. I believed she could ask her Son Jesus to bring back our Scott. I saw him everywhere following his death — in people walking down the street, in music on the radio, everywhere.”
The funeral Mass for Scott was celebrated at St. Joseph, followed by another service in Massachusetts for additional family and Scott’s Peabody High School friends, who the couple said were all wonderful to them during that time, but the pain was unbearable.
“People kept telling us it would get better after a year. Not true,” said Carol, who found anger creeping in more and more.
Not sure how to go on, both Chuck and Carol, along with their other son, Doug, mourned the loss of Scott deeply, and eventually allowed the unfathomable grief to shatter their faith. “We left God’s Church,” said Carol, who at the time could neither understand nor reconcile why her eldest child had to die.
A long 10 years would pass before the couple would accept the call from the Holy Spirit to come back to the Church, and each chose to act on it. “We saw a program at St. Joseph Parish called, ‘We Miss You,’ designed for fallen-away Catholics,” said Carol, who admittedly brought the chip on her shoulder to the first meeting. It wouldn’t be long before her heart opened again.
“Over the eight-week program, we were asked to take turns caring for a small mustard seed in a planter, which blossomed into an impressive plant by the end of the session,” Carol said. “And the participants, they blossomed too.”
Over the next 17 years they became involved in many ministries at St. Joseph Parish, including volunteering as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, bringing the Eucharist to the sick and homebound. The couple also started a homeless outreach program, bringing food and clothing to homeless camps throughout Bradenton.
In the early days of the homeless ministry, they befriended six people living in the woods near their subdivision, bringing meals to the camp after Mass on Sundays. They recall one of the people in the camp was not able to walk when the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office gave a two-day notice to evacuate the area. They helped find a permanent home for the man, who remains incapacitated, but safe today. A woman in the group, known as “Tish,” found permanent housing, but was murdered in December 2017.
They continued to feel supported by the priests, deacons, staff and parishioners, whom Carol said are like family, and would be a strong support system for their next painful and unexpected challenge.
Doug, the couple’s youngest son, moved to Bradenton shortly after his older brother died, following graduation from college with a degree in engineering. Soon after, he married, fathered two children and took his first job at PRINCE Engineering.
He quickly rose to the level of vice president during his 25 years with the firm, securing one of the largest contracts in company history: the “Diverging Diamond” construction project on I-75 at the University Exit in Sarasota.
Carol recalled Doug had been battling an illness for almost a year and was awaiting some answers. She remembered being in the Adoration Chapel at St. Joseph on a Wednesday morning in October 2014, when Doug called to say the medical test results were in. He was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
“I wasn’t ready to accept the death of our only remaining son, whom we loved so desperately,” Carol said. She left the Chapel to tell the ladies in the Parish office the awful news.
The couple, who prayed faithfully for a cure, clung to the hope that chemotherapy and radiation or one of the clinical trials would put the cancer into remission and spare the life of their child. Following a two-year battle with cancer, Doug, who must have sensed finality, sat his parents down for a talk.
“About two weeks before he died, he told us the end was near for him. It wasn’t until then that acceptance came, and our prayers began to change, now asking God for a peaceful death for our son,” Carol said.
Doug, who sadly had fallen away from the Church following his brother’s death, had accepted Jesus back into his heart and received the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, which Carol said relieved so much fear for him. He passed away peacefully Aug. 24, 2016, with Carol sitting quietly by his side as she rested her hand on his chest.
The Delaneys are inspirational to many, not only for their strength through grieving the loss of two adult children, but they are a solid example of how to be strong in faith, and to love Jesus Christ wholeheartedly — not only during the good times.
Today, both Chuck and Carol keep their car full of supplies for the homeless — blankets, socks, towels and dry goods — as they go to work for Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“You never know who might need these things,” said Chuck. “It’s the only thing that keeps up going — this Church and helping someone else.”