Marriage after tragedy: The key is forgiveness, couple says

AbdallahFamAustralia2022 Danny and Leila Abdallah with children Liana, Alex, Michael, and Selina spoke to CNA at the Vatican on June 23, 2022. | Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

“Forgiveness allowed my marriage to survive,” Leila Abdallah said 28 months after three of her and husband Danny’s six children were killed by a drunk and drug-influenced driver near Sydney, Australia.

Forgiveness “taught Danny and I to look at each other with eyes of compassion and empathy. Forgiveness has begun the healing process in all of us,” she said at the Vatican, where the family traveled with their three surviving children and 12-week old baby girl for the World Meeting of Families 2022.

The Abdallahs were invited to speak at the Vatican event about the tragic accident in which they lost their 11-year old niece and three children — 13-year-old Antony, 12-year-old Angelina, and nine-year-old Sienna — as they were walking to buy ice cream following a birthday party.

The couple shocked the news media when just days after the Feb. 1, 2020 tragedy, they publicly forgave the 29-year-old man who drove his speeding car over the curb, and onto the sidewalk, killing the four children and injuring three others.

Danny and Leila Abdallah and their six children in 2019. Courtesy photo
Danny and Leila Abdallah and their six children in 2019. Courtesy photo

Danny and Leila Abdallah told their family’s story to EWTN in a 2021 TV interview.

One year later, on June 23, they spoke to CNA about the effect trauma can have on a husband and wife’s relationship, and how the two of them continue to get through their sorrow and anger together.

“What does marriage look like after grief? Marriage becomes a lot different,” Danny said. “I think if you embrace the pain and suffering, And you do it with prayer, it’s like you’ve gone through a hot furnace and it’s like a purification.”

Leila said “marriage does become challenging after grief because each one of us is grieving.”

“So you go through the cycle... He might be angry, or I might be angry at a different time from each other. But me and Danny were fortunate, because of the forgiveness and because of our faith, our love has become deeper,” she said.  

“When I look at my husband, I see Antony, Angelina, Sienna, I see a piece of them, because they were the fruit of our love.”

She said they have learned to be more patient with each other, to have fewer silly arguments. When one of them is frustrated, they try to listen, knowing the frustration is not with them.

“We’re more compassionate. We have more empathy,” she said. “We look at each other... with a different set of eyes,” Danny finished Leila’s sentence. 

Both parents pointed to the strength of their faith and prayer life before the accident as something which has helped during this time of suffering.

Danny and Leila, who are part of the Lebanese Maronite Church, had started going to Mass together during the week, not only on Sunday. Danny would also take their older kids to Mass before school.

They prayed with their children regularly and recited the rosary. On Fridays, Danny brought their oldest daughters and son to feed the homeless at a local shelter. 

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“I wouldn’t let them have dinner [before], so they could feel and experience a bit of hunger before they would come,” he said. “I’d say no, no feed them first and then we’ll go out for dinner.”

The Abdallahs said the biggest change to their prayer life, since losing their three children, has been a deeper understanding and experience of the suffering of Christ.

Danny criticized an overemphasis in some Christian circles on the glorious, resurrected Jesus without any focus on what came before.

“That’s one thing I love about the Catholic Church, they really talk about the suffering Jesus and apply it to our lives,” he said. “With or without Christ, we’re all going to suffer.”

“This grief and trauma that we’ve experienced, it’s actually taught us [about] … the suffering Jesus, the theology behind it, and how we can apply it to our lives, because no one has done it better than Christ in his suffering. He’s the one that showed us what to do,” Danny continued.

Both spouses emphasized the importance of forgiveness in marriage.

“A lot of people end up divorcing because they don’t know how to let go of their anger or they don’t know how to put their guards [down],” Leila observed. “But... forgiveness is the key to a long-lasting relationship, it is what keeps your marriage together.”

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“Run to each other and try and understand each other,” Danny added. “The wide path is running away, but go to the narrow path. It’s a lot harder, but it’s more rewarding … You know, we forgave and we chose to forgive and everything like that, but the pain hasn’t left us. We’re still experiencing the pain daily, but [forgiveness] gets us into a better place.”

Leila and Danny said they cannot wait to be reunited one day with all their children in heaven —  that has become, more than ever, their purpose in life.

“Death can’t be avoided, it is part of life. So we might as well be prepared and ready and embrace it because, if we are ready to meet the Lord, it is going to be one of the most amazing moments in our life,” Leila said with a smile on her face.

“Can you imagine the presence of Jesus? And God is so real. If anything, nothing is more real than God and Jesus on this earth.”

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