NRL News

“Imperfection is beautiful”: the story of little John Paul Johnson

by | Nov 30, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

It’s amazing sometimes how certain themes that are always in the background make their way into the foreground of your thinking. We’ve written a great deal recently about one of the principal dividing lines between pro- and anti-life forces: the importance, the critical importance, of every life, not just the planned and the perfect.

I was reading Pat Buckley’s blog recently and I ran across a featured  video titled, “John Paul—Ours for a while.” (Pat works for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, Ireland.)

The “John Paul” is John Paul Johnson who was diagnosed at 22 weeks with anencephaly, a severe neural birth defect. If the baby survives to birth, he or she ordinarily dies within hours or certainly days.

On the 6:49 long video, John Paul’s mother, Cliona Johnson, speaks with great dignity and respect and love. The Johnson family’s story is emblematic of the site on which it appears where at the top you read, “A place where parents can share their memories, their stories, their love and their pain; where their children are remembered and cherished; and where we acknowledge that every life counts.” (“John Paul—Ours for a while” appears at


I really encourage you to watch and listen to Mrs. Johnson speak about learning of John Paul’s condition, his birth and brief life, and the extraordinary impact he had on his family.

Upon learning of this fatal anomaly, Cliona and her husband were in shock, but the word “abortion” is nowhere to be found. What follows next is so real, so authentic (they already had five children; four girls and a boy. The son was “really rooting for a brother”), you fall instantly in love with the family.  She tells us

“it was then that my husband who is called John Paul said ‘Would you name him John Paul?’ I just said ‘yeah! absolutely’ from that moment he was John Paul. We had to go home and break the news, of course they were upset. They were upset one minute and the next minute they wanted an ice cream. They flipped between sorrow and normality, which was actually quite good for us as we processed. Because for me it was like a gong booming in my world, I was still reeling from the blow.

“I realised ok, we have this child, for a length of time we don’t know, it could be tomorrow or it could be in 3 months time, we don’t know, everyday I wake up that he’s there, that we have him is a gift.”

And that is the recurring theme of her message: to love John Paul for whatever period of time they would have him. Mrs. Johnson knew there would be pain but she would put her pain “on hold.  I wanted it to be about him, I wanted the rest of his life to be about him.”

John Paul lives only 17 minutes, but they are “precious moments.” In one of my favorite parts, Mrs. Johnson explains

“After a while looking back and realising that we had a little thought 1 day that gave you hope or you had a little moment where you remembered something precious about his life and that really does help. Grief is so much a part of life just as much as joy and celebrating are a part of life, so is grief. I learned more and more about this along the way and each of these things that came to us like a little seed dropping into my heart and as I look back over time, I realise these seeds have grown up and we’re like a little garden, a garden I wouldn’t swap for the world because they’re like the garden inside me of my little memoir to my son that’s a part of who I’ve become because of him.”

There is much, much more that will touch your heart at  “John Paul—Ours for a while,” found at John Paul’s life, albeit brief, still reverberates in their lives. She concludes

“He had an impact on me, he changed me. I really treasure that now it’s worth the pain and it was painful because of this little imperfect son who I loved so much and really yearned to be with so much, I have a picture in my mind that imperfection is beautiful.”

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