Throughout the early morning of Monday, April 18, I stayed awake most of the night. After everyone had left, Theresa’s breathing had become labored and irregular and there were periods of time when she would stop breathing for up to 20 seconds. I finally fell asleep around 4am and was awake again at 6am. Because of what the hospice nurse told me, I decided to keep Ryan home from school. I had him go in and talk to his Mom when he got out of bed. I told him she wouldn’t be able to respond and answer but that she was able to hear everything he said. I told him to tell her everything he wanted to tell her and he asked if she was going to die today. I told him there was a good chance that today would be the day and he poured his heart out to her.
Around 8:45am, I realized that I had forgotten to return a call to one of Theresa’s aunts who had called Sunday night. When I called her, I told her what was happening and she asked if she could talk to Theresa. I put the phone on speakerphone and Rose said her goodbyes to her niece. Around 9:15am, I had Mom come in to help me change Theresa’s clothes. I got behind her and sat her up so we could change her top. As Mom was putting the new top on, I heard a gasp and then silence. We finished putting on her top and laid her back down on the bed. I felt for a pulse and listened for breathing but there was none. At 9:20AM, my beautiful, precious wife took her last breath as I was sitting behind her and holding her in my arms.
I had Mom get the phone to call Fr. Rankin while I went and talked to Ryan. He was playing on his computer and I told him that his Mom had died. There was a look of shock on his face and I walked him back to see his Mom. Wfe talked for a few minutes about how it happened and he wanted to leave the room. While I was talking to Ryan, Mom made a call to Fr. Rankin to let him know that Theresa had died. He picked up his phone just as he was about to ring the doorbell at our house. Later in the day, Father said that all morning long he had a stirring and felt that he needed to get down to our house. We went back to the room and prayed the final prayers for Theresa. Afterwards, we called the hospice nurse to come out and start the process of having Theresa taken away by the mortuary.
There were several members of our parish who came by to see Theresa and take care of things that needed to be taken care of. While I was looking through readings for the Divine Liturgy, Megan and Father took care of cleaning up the bedroom, stripping the bedding, gathering all of Theresa’s things that were on the dresser and nightstand and boxing them up. After everyone left, I was shocked to see how much they had done. After the mortuary arrived and prepared to remove Theresa, they brought her out into the front room in front of our icon wall. There, we all sang the Panachida for Theresa and sang the beautiful hymn Eternal Memory as they took Theresa out of our house for the final time. After they left, we all kneeled down and prayed the Rosary for Theresa. To Mark, Brett and Megan, I am forever grateful to you for your presence with me on Monday. You may remember the wedding that I attended on Saturday and served at. Megan and Brett were that couple. On the third day of their newly married life, they spent it in service to my family. And Mark took time off from his job in service to my family. This speaks volumes about the character and Christian love our parish family has for each other.
Before Father left on Sunday, we talked about arrangements for the funeral and burial. I told him I had an appointment with Brings on Tuesday. He said he would take care of this and made calls to various mortuaries. On Tuesday, Father and I met with the people from Brings to finalize everything and set the dates. The Parastas on Wednesday, April 20th and the Divine Liturgy on April 21st. I set a time with Brings on Wednesday at 4:00pm to see Theresa before she was brought to the church to begin to process of giving her back to the Lord. On my way to the 4:00pm appointment, my mind was flooded with memories of our time together. We had known each other since 1986 and began dating in 1987. At 4:00pm, I arrived at Brings and they took me into the chapel for some time alone with her. She looked so much better than she did over the past 2 weeks. I quietly sang the Little Panachida for her and left to go to the church. When Brings arrived at St. Melany, Father and I met with the funeral director to discuss how things were going to flow. I wanted the services to be traditional, meaning the casket would be open and Theresa would face the Royal Doors. Once we had all the details set, it was time for people to arrive and begin the Parastas.
The church was close to full for the Parastas and it was a beautiful service. Father gave a nice homily and hinted at pieces to come during the Divine Liturgy the next day. For her Parastas, Theresa had two priests, two deacons and an altar server. My biggest concern was the well-being of Ryan during all of this. After Theresa died at home, he did not want to stay in our house, ride in her car and he said he did not want to attend her funeral. We had many long talks about these feelings and I told him that he was going to attend the services and that I wanted him to see his Mom one more time. His biggest fear was breaking down and crying in front of people, so at the end of the Parastas when most of the church had cleared out, he came up and prayed for his Mom as he looked at her peaceful expression. Throughout the Parastas, he needed to leave the church several times as he was getting emotional. One of his friends from school, a little girl name Breelyn, told my niece that she would take care of him and she walked out to him and put her arm around him and said it would be ok.
On Thursday, I went to the church a few hours before the Divine Liturgy was to begin. We left Theresa in the church overnight and Brings had already arrived and opened the casket. Again, I spent a few minutes alone with her and reflected on our 28 years together. I had managed to maintain an even-keel throughout the week, but the finality of the day was difficult for me. I printed out the readings and made arrangements for my good friend Robert to chant them. About 10 minutes before the start of the liturgy was the first time I saw the church and again it was overwhelming. There were so many of my coworkers in attendance that they filled half of the church. There were friends and past coworkers of Theresa, as well as most of my parish family. The church was full, with people filling the choir loft and spilling out into the narthex. The Divine Liturgy was transcendent and powerful. Serving that Liturgy were two deacons, Father Deacon Michael Sullivan and Father Deacon James Danovich, as well as my parish priest Father Rankin. The Divine Liturgy comes fully-alive with a deacon and is awe-inspiring with two. Again, I am forever grateful for their presence and participation during the Parastas and Divine Liturgy. It was a beautiful Divine Liturgy for my beautiful wife. The readings chosen were:
Wisdom of Solomon 4:7-14
But the righteous man, though he die early, will be at rest. For old age is not honored for length of time, nor measured by number of years; but understanding is gray hair for men, and a blameless life is ripe old age. There was one who pleased God and was loved by him, and while living among sinners he was taken up. He was caught up lest evil change his understanding or guile deceive his soul. For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind. Being perfected in a short time, he fulfilled long years; for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took him quickly from the midst of wickedness.
2 Timothy 4:1-2; 6-8
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing
After everyone made their way out of the church, we were left with my family, Theresa’s Aunt Angela, Uncle Mike and Father Rankin. I looked upon my wife one last time, kissing the blessing cross she held in her hands since 9:25am on Monday and kissed her hands one final time. After everyone had their chance to say goodbye, we had the casket closed and carried her out of the church. Outside were many of my co-workers who immediately went silent and watched as we carried her casket to the waiting hearse. We lifted her into the hearse, slid the casket it and they closed the door. My brother John and I shared a moment, I turned and walked back into the church. The finality of this got to me and the tears began to flow. Afterwards, I went into the parish hall to celebrate the life of my loving wife.
After we got home, my wonderful sister-in-law Suzanna took the time to fill out the thank-you cards for all of the cards, food and other items people gave to us this past week. On Friday, she and my mom spent several hours cleaning out the closet and putting Theresa’s clothing in bags to donate or give away. Having spent a part of tonight cleaning out the bathroom closet and nightstand, I am forever grateful to them for doing this.
We are planning on placing Theresa in the columbarium located at our Eparchy’s Cathedral, St. Stephen Byzantine Catholic Cathedral in Phoenix 40 days after her falling asleep in the Lord.
There were so many kind words, emails, phone calls, text messages and instant messages from people all of the country. I share words from one of the emails I received from a priest in Pittsburgh who taught me Byzantine Spirituality the past year. He wrote:
“…There are some journeys in life, Patrick, that we must walk alone. And this is one of them for you. Others may offer their support, their prayers and their help in many wonderful ways, but, at the end of the day, it is a journey that only you can walk. No one can enter that sacred place that defined your relationship with Theresa. And, no one can ever take it away from you either. Please treasure that sacred place as Theresa’s lasting gift to you.”
Christ is Risen!
Indeed He is Risen!