Today Is A Good Day

Back in February, Ryan and I went to the clubhouse. I was going to the gym and Ryan was going to play at the teen room.  As we were leaving, he pointed at the advertisement below and asked if we could do this.  It looked like fun and since he asked I said lets do it.

The story behind this walk centers on the builder and designer of the Rancho Sahuarita community.  His name is Bob Sharpe.  He was diagnosed in 2016 with a terminal brain cancer, but chose to actively live out his remaining days.  He said “I realized I had everything to gain by spending the remaining days of my life having an optimistic, positive and grateful attitude.”  “Waiting for the other shoe to drop can be stressful, but only if I allow myself to waste the precious time that I may have left by worrying and postponing doing the things that make me happy.”

One day, Sharpe’s son called him and asked how he was doing.  He responded by saying, “Today is a good day.”  That simple phrase became the rally cry for his family and the theme of the walk.  They had T-shirts, bracelets and other items with that phrase.  Everyone got a water bottle and bracelet that had that phrase written on them.

Before the 5k began, Ryan ran over to the craft table and created a sign to carry during the walk.  As we were walking, several people asked him about his sign and he was quick to tell them why he was walking and all about his Mom.  Those were great moments.  He has moved so far from the little boy who didn’t want to stay in our house, ride in our car or have anything to do with past memories to one who chooses to thrive and seize life every day.

We started walking and Ryan thought we should stop after 2 laps as that was good enough.  We talked about the people who gave us money and that we owed it to them to finish the race.  As we were walking around for lap 2, we talked about how hard Theresa fought the fight even when she was tired, sore and didn’t want to continue.  As we rounded the top of the lake, Ryan asked if we could run the last mile.  I figured this would last for about one minute so I said let’s do it.  To my surprise, he ran all of the last mile, only stopping to walk for 30 seconds.  We ran that last mile in just under 9 minutes.  That’s pretty good for an old man and a 11 year old Minecraft gamer!

 

 

 

 

 

After the walk was over, we drove up to our Oro Valley house to take some items and setup some equipment. As we were driving, the song It Is Well came up on random play.  I could hear Ryan singing the song as he was playing on his phone.  “Far be it for me to not believe, even when my eyes can’t see.  And this mountain thats in front of me, will be throw into the midst of the sea.  Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you.  Through it all, through it all it is well.” Yes, Ryan, it is well.

To everyone who gave money to this cause, thank you from both of us.  The event raised over 360K for cancer research.  Factoring out the family members of Bob Sharpe,  Ryan was the 7th highest fund raiser for this event.  Today is a good day!

 

Letter to Ryan

One of the biggest regrets I have is not taking the time to record videos of Theresa for Ryan.  Every big event, holiday, birthday or milestone would be a great moment to have recorded words to Ryan.  We talked about doing that, but there always seemed to be more time and to be candid, the thought of doing that seemed quite taboo.  Once we realized that time was short, it was too late to do this.  I’ve decided to not make that mistake going forward.  I’m going to document things for Ryan so he can look at, read, touch and share with his wife and children for many years to come.  I started with a little letter to him.

Dear Ryan:

On May 20, 2005, your Mom woke up very early and spent some time in the bathroom. She came out of the bathroom, flipped on the bedroom lights and started saying to me “Wake up, wake up, wake up Daddy”.  I was always the better morning person, but it took me a few seconds to realize what she was saying.  Yes, after so many years of trying we finally were going to have our first child.  I got out of bed, looked at the pregnancy test, three in total, and realized that it was real.  I remember wrapping my arms around her, dancing around the bedroom and both of us laughing.

We had a trip planned to Omaha for Memorial Day and were leaving later in the day.  When we walked up the exit ramp in Omaha, Nana was waiting to pick us up.  Your Mom gave her a hug and said, guess what, you’re going to be a grandma again.  I wish you could have seen that exchange between the two of them.  It was a wonderful moment with tears of joy flowing all around.  Everyone had been waiting for you to come for many years.

You caused quite a bit of distress to Mom’s body during her pregnancy.  She started having migraine headaches, dehydration and nausea.  Yet, through all of this, her first worry was you.  She wouldn’t take any medicine for fear of hurting you who were growing inside of her.  Eventually, things got better and the time came for you to be born.  You were a planned delivery on January 24, 2006.  The schedule kept getting moved back and finally, you came into our life at 4:51PM.  You were a 19.5”, 7.4 pound bundle of joy.  And in that single instant, at 4:51PM, our lives were forever changed for the better.

I’m happy to tell you that your first word was “Gaga”, a name you called me for a couple of years.  It took you more than one year to say “Mama”.  You took your first steps alone on November 28, 2006.  First, with Mom holding your hand and finally, all by yourself.  Since that time, you’ve been constantly on the move.

You took your first plane ride on December 1, 2006 to visit Mom’s relatives in Bethalto.  When we got there they had snow on the ground and you got your first taste of it.  Since that first plane ride, you’ve become quite the world traveler in your short life.  You’ve been to: Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Marteen, Barbados, St. Lucia, Aruba, Curacao, St. Kitt, Honduras and Belize.  You love to travel, you love the sea.  Both things that you got from Mom and me.  There are so many more places that I want to go with you and look forward to the adventures that await all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are the perfect blend of Mom and me.  You are quick to tell everyone that most of the things about you came from Mom.  To be sure, there are many good qualities that you got from her.  You have an incredible mind, you love reading books that are years above you, you like to draw, you like science…All things that you got from her.  Looking into your brown eyes is like looking into your Mom’s eyes.  To be sure, you got your good looks from her.  One of my favorite moments was turning your light on early in the morning to get you up for school.  You looked over at me and said, “Just 9 more minutes Dad”.  To be sure, you got that from Mom. From me, you’re learning to become a good man and patiently enduring all the trials that life has put on you.               

You have grown so much in your 11 years.  I’ve watched you grow from a little boy who was so shy and kept to himself in the early part of his life, to one who can engage anyone in conversation and isn’t afraid to do so.  Just that one part of your growth is amazing.  You’ve had to endure trials that not many kids your age have to endure.  You’ve done so with a grace that can only come from above.  Time after time you amaze me with your understanding of life, love and the communion of the saints.  And yet, you are still an 11 year old boy trying to walk to path that has been placed in front of you.  I remember you asking me last summer if I still do dangerous things at work.  I told you that my job involves an element of danger but that I was doing all I could to cut back on it.  I no longer want to be the first person at the door on a search warrant, instead I let the newer agents take care of that.  I know how hard that question was for you to ask and I hope that my answer put your mind at ease.

You were the best thing that Mom and I ever did in our life.  You continue to be the gift that keeps on giving.  I know you grow tired of hearing me say this, but you are the only living part of your Mom on this planet.  That’s a big burden for you to bear and a lot to ask of you.  But every time I’ve brought it up, you have responded like a champion.

Not that long ago, I read the following scripture to you: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”  You have asked me many times if Mom can see what we’re doing and what she would be thinking.  I believe with all my being that loves transcends death.  We sing every Pascha, “By death he trampled death, and to those in the tombs he granted life”. I read this quote just the other day, “They that love beyond the world cannot be separate by it.  Death cannot kill what never dies”.

Ryan, you inspire me to do and be more every day.  Every time I look at you, listen to you laugh, hear you play, I’m reminded of all the good that is left in this world.

You Only Get More When You Give It Away

“It’s a highway sliding through a Sunday afternoon. It’s a snapshot smiling like we ain’t got nothing to lose. It’s the peace in knowing that love is gonna be gone someday, but you only get more when you give it away” – My Hallelujah Song

To say that I am a changed man after all that I’ve been through in the past 2 years is the understatement of the century. And if I were to take an opinion poll of 100 random people, I’m sure the answers they would give as to how I’m a changed man would be so far off the mark they would be laughable. Sure, there are many things people would say such as “Single father” or “Young Widow” that are true. But that’s not the kind of change that I’m talking about. My experience has changed who I am, how I live, how I love. And those changes make me a better man.

My gender has a reputation for being poor or non-communicative, holding things in, keeping our cards close to the vest. And in some respects, that reputation is well deserved by us men. But, things happen, people change and sometimes for the better. When you go through the death of your spouse, many things change and many things come to the forefront of your mind. For example, how many of us assume that we can just wait until tomorrow to tell someone what we are thinking, what we are feeling? How many of us take for granted that there will be a tomorrow? How many of us put off until tomorrow (or later) what we could & should do today?

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One of the hardest things for me was the feeling of being useless during Theresa’s illness. We men are problem solvers. You tell us what is going wrong and we fix it. But when it comes to nature, there is nothing that can be done to fix it. It will run its course, ebbing and flowing wherever it will. During that journey, I learned that the most powerful thing I can do was to just listen. And to really listen. Not half-heartedly, not trying to interject my thoughts or words. Just sitting there and taking it all in. After a week of non-stop bad news, I sat on the hospital bed and listened to Theresa talk about how scared she was and how we did everything we were supposed to do. I heard her tell me that this journey was forming me for my future life and ministry. I just listened and held her hand.

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It wasn’t until late summer that I learned just how much that meant to her. My good friend Robert told me that his wife Toni had been wanting to tell me something but didn’t know the right time. During a conversation with Theresa, Toni said that Theresa was so proud of how I’d learned to just listen and not try to fix things.
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I have a co-worker who went through a very traumatic loss in June 2015. While driving to a family vacation, his SUV crashed and rolled over multiple times. In a flash of an eye, he lost his wife and three oldest children, 18, 14 and 11. He was left with his 6 year old daughter and forced to move on. There was no time to say what needed to be said; there was no time to let his wife and kids know how he felt. On a dark night on Interstate 10 in West Texas that moment was lost forever. I was blessed to have time to make sure everything that needed to be said, that needed to be done, was. With that said, I know my experience is not the norm. Most losses take place suddenly and unexpectedly. Has that changed me? Without a doubt!

“She turned around and it felt like the world turned upside down. And the only thing I could say was hey, and I’m so glad she didn’t walk away. She dances like nobody sees her, I can’t believe I get to be here in her world. I met a girl. She made me smile, she made me wait…” I Met A Girl, William Michael Morgan

 

I have a new best friend. She came into my life and the winding path I was walking became much straighter. Our first phone conversation lasted for 5 hours, well into the early morning. We talked about so many things. Our past marriages, what we learned from that, how our past experiences have changed us. One conversation led to another and another and another! When we finally were able to sit down face to face it was like looking into the eyes of someone I had known forever. That meeting, at a Starbucks in Cave Creek, Arizona, confirmed everything I thought I knew about her. And that was the moment I jumped…Jumped off the cliff with no parachute and took a chance with Jennie.

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When I made that decision to pursue Jennie, it was full and complete. I was not going to hold anything back, not going to leave anything unsaid that should be or needed to be said. I opened up my heart to her, let her in and showed her everything. And what a wonderful gift that has been. Why? Because in doing that, she has returned that gift 3 fold. She is a feeler and she wears her emotions on her sleeve.

We came to this point in our lives via vastly different paths. One through the death of a spouse, the other through the death of a marriage. I’ve taken what I learned during the last 2 years of my marriage and applied it with zeal and fervor. When she needs to vent, when there is some anxiety in her life, I listen. When she needs to be reassured, when she is feeling sad or lonely, I put my arms around her and let love cover us both. That is not something I would have been able to do 10 years ago. The loss of my spouse transformed me forever, and that transformation is so good and powerful. I love my best friend. How many people get to say that?

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Last week I was driving back to Tucson in the early morning and had plenty of time to reflect on all that has happened to Ryan and I. When I got back to my office, I wrote Jennie a letter. One of the things I wrote about was how I felt after spending an evening with her at the Phoenix symphony. “As I was driving home, a song that you sent to me came on and tears came to my eyes. They weren’t tears of sadness, but of overwhelming joy and relief. To be honest, it was a bit overwhelming and frightening. A part of me was afraid to give into it completely and to give all of myself to you. But, I knew that I was going to do give you everything I had and see what happened….I know that I can never take you for granted, I know that I must always share with you every day we have. We only get one shot at life and there is no point in messing around. Treat each day as it is your last one and never leave things said or undone”

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To all of my fellow men, read the words of the Holy Theotokos to Juan Diego. “Listen, and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little son; do not be troubled or weighted down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here whom am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

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Don’t be afraid to go all-in. Don’t be afraid to open up to those closest to you. Don’t be afraid to give completely of yourself. Don’t be afraid that your man card will get revoked if you do these things. I’m still the same guy I was before, I carry a gun and kick doors in for a living. I’m not afraid to stand up to the biggest, baddest criminals running around Southern Arizona. I know without a doubt that I am capable of moving from diplomacy to deadly force in a blink of an eye if that’s what is required of me.  I’m still a guy.

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And I’m equally capable of pouring my soul out to the right woman and offering everything that I have to her. Thank you Jennie for being that woman. Thank you for praying me to you, thank you for being patient and caring. As St. John Paul II said, “Be not afraid”.

 

And in the timeless words of Julianne Hough, “You only get more when you give it away.”

Laughter In A Broken Washing Machine

“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them” – Isak Dinesen

Every morning I receive an email called Daily Affirmations.  I don’t remember signing up for it; I think that it was part of the package I bought from Brings Funeral home.  I have read every message that has been sent to me, 295 in total.  The quote above came from the message today.  The Readers Digest version of today’s message was how stories and cherished memories stay deep in your heart, residing there always and will be there to bring fond memories of the shared past.

This brings me to the title of this post, Laughter in A Broken Washing Machine.  In 2005, Theresa was pregnant with Ryan, my one and only child.  In October or November, 2005, I came home from work one day to find Theresa is a state of absolute hysteria.  I dropped everything and tried to get her to tell me what was the matter.  No matter how hard she tried, all she could do was cry.  I started asking if she was sick, hurt, sad?  She shook her head no to each question and all I was left with was confusion.  Finally, she grabbed my hand, walked me over to the washing machine and pointed at it.  More confused than before, I opened the lid and saw that it was half full with water.  Finally, she was able to produce some recognizable words and said in a hysterical voice, “The washing machine is broke, it’s full of water and I can’t get it out”.  This was my first go around in 35 years with a hormonal, very pregnant woman.  I laughed and said, “Is that all that’s wrong”.  Fortunately, I could move faster than she could and was able to get out of the way when she came after me.

 

I told her that it was OK.  I would get a bucket and bail out the water and dump it into the bath tub. After that, we would go to the store and buy a new one, which we did.  That washer, purchased in 2005 and older than Ryan is what made me laugh today.  As I was removing the rubber seal and door latch mechanism I couldn’t help but laugh at something that took place almost 12 years ago.  To be sure, all of those memories are stored forever in my heart and it’s great to pull them out and smile at the joy they bring to me.  I started to laugh and Ryan asked what was so funny.  I shared this with him and he just rolled his eyes.  I guess you had to be there!IMG_20170212_133533_01

Yesterday, Ryan and I spent most ofthe afternoon at our Oro Valley house.  Ryan, playing Minecraft and Dad, installing hardwood flooring.  After the room was complete, we packed our stuff up and headed back to our Sahuarita house.  We were driving along and Ryan asked me this question, “Dad, what do you think Mom does when she see’s you and me hugging or laughing?”  I said, “I’m pretty sure she is filled with overwhelming joy” He reached over, put his arms around me and said, “#bringonthejoy”.  Afterwards, he asked me many questions about his Mom.  Tell me again how she told you she was pregnant with me.  Tell me what was the first thing you said to me when you saw me.  What was the first thing Mom said to me when she saw me.  When was the first time you kissed her.

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This has been a crazy journey for Ryan and I.  For him, the good days vastly outnumber the bad ones and he delights in hearing all about Theresa and asks so many questions about her.  I know that we are creating memories for him to cherish for the rest of his life.  He didn’t get to experience these memories like I did, but the stories will live on, long after I’m gone.  I’ve decided to start writing these down in a journal that Ryan will have to share with his wife and kids when that day comes.

I shared these words with him last night, the words that came to me from Fr. John Petro in April.  “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.”  I told Ryan that while we are walking together, he also has a journey that he must walk alone.  These memories that he is learning about through the multitude of questions are his Mom’s lasting gift to him as well.

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#BRINGIT2017 #FIAT

How powerful it is to write that hashtag…#bringit2017 because you dropped bricks on me in 2016 and I’m still standing, much stronger than I was on 1/1/16.  I’ve never been one to look backwards, survey the landscape of the previous year and make new year’s resolutions.  However, 2016 wasn’t just any ordinary year in the lives of Patrick and Ryan.

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I remember taking Ryan outside at midnight on 1/1/16 and shooting off fireworks that Nana had bought for him.  He wanted Theresa to watch but she was in too much pain to get out of bed.  We went outside in the cold and put on the best show we could.  Little did I know that just 3 weeks later would we learn that her breast cancer had spread to just about every organ, leg bones and brain.  I knew deep down in October 2015 that Theresa would not live to see 2017.  I’m forever grateful for that still voice that came to me sitting in a Byzantine chapel in Pittsburgh in June 2015.  It prepared me for what was to come in 2016 and allowed me to be strong for Ryan.

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I returned to Seminary in June 2016 full of hope and anticipation.  However, things weren’t all rosy for me during my stay.  My soul was never comfortable while I was there; I spent too much time in my room alone, focusing on the problems of my world and not enough time focusing on what really mattered.  This focus on worldly problems continued after I returned home from Pittsburgh and for the next 5 months, I lost my way.  My prayer life suffered, I spent less time in service to the church and my attendance at Feast Day liturgies was out to lunch, so to speak.

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I had a great conversation with my spiritual director regarding things happening in my life.  He mentioned a few things that he had observed.  First, he mentioned my lack of attendance at feast days had been noticed and that was so unlike me.  Second, he mentioned that my soul seemed troubled; I was nowhere close to being centered.  We talked about these items and discussed things happening in my life.  He gave me 2 simple things to think about, specifically regarding relationships with others in my life.   First, those relationships should be easy, not hard.  Second, they should bring out the best in you and if they don’t, you need to evaluate them.  Those simple rules are wisdom to live by.  Finally, he asked me how often I was asking God what path I was to take.  He said, Patrick has tried to do what he wants, but yet his soul is still troubled.  Maybe it’s time to realize that you are not the master of your destiny.

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As someone who knows the power of saying 5 little words…If it be your will, I finally started praying for guidance in my life.  Little by little, joy started to return to my life and my path was made known to me and straight.  I attended some of the later feast day liturgies in the year; I found great joy again in praying morning and evening prayers; I found much happiness when I was serving the church.  I found that my focus was shifting away from things of this world and back to things of the Kingdom.  What a welcome change for me.  How I missed the joy of fiat..”Let it be done to me according to your will”.  With that fiat came temporal sadness.  However, with that fiat also came a clarity, freedom and joy that I had not experienced in years.  Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised that I get much of my philosophy from music lyrics…In this case, “And I let go of all my lonely yesterdays, I’ve forgiven myself for the mistakes I’ve made”

Today, while I was in the car driving, the song “It Is Well” came up on random play.  As I listened to the words, the soulful singing “It is well, It is well, It is well.  So let go my soul and trust in Him.  The waves and wind still know his name.  It is well with my soul; It is well with my soul; It is well with my soul; It is well with my soul”  As those words played out on my stereo, my eyes filled up with tears and all I could say was “Thank you”.  Thank you for making known to me my path; Thank you for loving me; Thank you for the prayers for me.  I know my path, I know the way forward and I love it.  So, when I say #bringit2017, I really mean it.  I’m so ready for the way forward.  #Fiat

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Saint Paisius, pray for us

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.”  Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!”  The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.  Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!”

 

I had an event in Safford, Arizona scheduled today for work.  Knowing that Safford was home to a Serbian Orthodox monastery, I gladly told the guys I would drive to Safford and meet them.  Afterwards, I planned to stop by St. Paisius and spend some time there.  On my drive down to Safford I was listening to the Gospel of Luke from the Truth and Life New Testament.  Luke is my favorite Gospel as it contains the infancy narrative and since this is the Pre-Nativity season, it seemed like great travelling music.

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When the 7th Chapter of Luke was read, the story of the widow of Nain was played.  During the funeral service of the Byzantine rite, as the casket it being taken out of the church, the procession stops in the Narthex and the Gospel reading of the widow of Nain is read.  I have heard this many times at funerals at my church, but it was especially real for me this year.  I know how powerful these words are.  I can only imagine what it would have been like to have Christ present, touch the bier and say rise!  Yet, through the communion of the saints, in a real way He did say rise!

When I got to St. Paisius, I went to the bookstore and looked at all the great things they had to sell.  Afterwards, one of the sisters took me over to the main church and gave me a tour.  The church is dedicated to St. Anastasija and is setup in an Orthodox cathedral style.  There were many icons, a beautiful iconastasis and chandelier.  The sister spent much time with me answering my questions and showing me around.  Sister asked me if I was Orthodox and I told her no, I’m an Eastern rite Catholic.  She asked where my parish was and the name.  When I told her, she said yes, I know your parish.  They have ordered from our gift shop several times.  She said, I believe I’ve spoken to Theresa during the order process.  I smiled and told her that Theresa reposed in April.  She dropped her eyes, crossed herself and expressed her sorrow.

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She asked if I had children and if it would be okay to add Theresa to their prayer intentions for the deceased, along with Ryan and I to the prayer intentions for the living.  She took down the information and said that for the next 40 days, all of us would be included in all of the services of the church.  At that time, Fr. Dorotheos the spiritual father attached to the monastery came into the church.  Sister asked if she could share my story with Father and she did.  He was so understanding and full of joy.  He took out his “little black book”, added the names of Theresa & Dad to the deceased he prays for, as well as Ryan, Mom and I to those left behind.  He wanted to know about me, what my spiritual life was like and to offer up words of wisdom to me.  He invited me to come back to the monastery for a retreat, which I will gladly take him up on.

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Sister gave me an Akathist to Jesus Christ for a Loved One who has Fallen Asleep.  She walked me around to a few of the original chapels on the property.  There was a beautiful spot under a bright yellow tree near the chapel.  I told her that I was going to sit for a while and pray the Akathist she had given to me.

The 4th Kontakion reads: The tempests of life have passed, earthly sufferings are ended, the enemies with their malice are powerless; but love is strong, delivering from eternal darkness and saving all, for whom with boldness it raises a song to Thee: Alleluia!”

As I was praying that Kontakion, the wind picked up and the leaves that had fallen on the ground swirled around me.  This went on for about two minutes.  And just as quickly as the wind came up, it went away.  I’ve had this experience many times when I’ve visited the Columbarium in Phoenix, the last time being December 4th when Ryan visited for the first time.  Each time I experience it, the hair raises on the back of my neck and I know that it is a sign of the hope of the resurrection.

When I finished up the Akathist, I reflected on the words that Fr. Dorotheos said to me, and I had another moment come to me, much like the experience I had at the seminary in June 2015.  That is going to require some time to understand, but it was powerful none the less. I left St. Paisius full of joy and reflecting on the verse listed at the top of this post.  While Jesus was not bodily present in the Narthex on April 21st and there was no earthly miracle that day, God did speak the word Rise and gave Theresa back to her Mother..The Holy Theotokos.  Truly God has looked favorably on his people.

 

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Thank you O Holy Trinity for good and holy monastics, priests and bishops!

A Year of First Moments

First Moments

              On December 6, the Eastern Church celebrates the feast of St. Nicholas.  Our parish holds a St. Nicholas celebration on the Sunday before St. Nicholas day.  It is always a good time and seeing the joy on the face of the kids is powerful. This was the first St. Nicholas day that Ryan knew that the person in the bishop outfit wasn’t the real St. Nicholas.  It was also the first St. Nicholas day without his mom.

The start of the St. Nicholas day weekend didn’t go so good.  I had a voicemail from school at 8:30am on Friday.  When I listened to it, Ryan was asking for other numbers to reach his Dad.  I called his teacher and she explained that Ryan was having a bad day, curled up in a ball on the playground and that he only wanted to talk to me.  She called back a few minutes later and Ryan was on the phone. He told me he was sad because his friends were asking about his grandparents from his Mom.  He knows they were not good people and that he was sad that they were mean to her.  He went on to say that he will never see or hear his Mom again and that made him sad.  We talked about that, he asked me to tell him a funny story about Theresa and he went back to class.

When he got home that night we talked about the day and he asked to read the blog that I had kept during Theresa’s journey.  I had reactivated it to download the website for archiving, so I let him read it. I asked him to read it from oldest to newest and he did.  When he finished, the tears and snot were flying.  He said some of the same things he said on April 17th.  It’s not fair that Mom won’t be there to see me graduate high school, graduate college, start an engineering company, get married and be a grandma.  After he settled down a bit he asked me to take him to Phoenix to see his Mom.  Saturday was going to be too busy, so I said Sunday would work best.

After church on Sunday we drove to Phoenix and he asked if we could stop and get some flowers.  He chose pink, I chose tulips as they were Theresa’s favorite.  When we got to the columbarium, we went over to the St. Nicholas section and he spent about 5 minutes holding the flowers, placing his hand on the marker and talking to his Mom.  He walked around the pathway a few times, each time returning to the St. Nicholas section and staring at Theresa’s marker.  He noticed that she was in the St. Nicholas section and said isn’t it neat that we came up here after celebrating St. Nicholas day at church.  That was a special moment and will probably become an annual tradition.  We left a prayer card of St. Michael that was given to me by a nurse in July.  On the back is a prayer for law enforcement and it seemed fitting to leave that along with the byzantine cross that I put on her marker on the same day I got the prayer card.

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He saw a bench and asked if we could talk.  When we sat down he said, “Isn’t it special that Mom didn’t want to leave us.  That she told Father she wasn’t at peace with leaving us”.  I said that she didn’t want to leave us and given the choice, she would never had left.  He looked at me and asked “If it was you lying in the bed instead of Mom, would you have wanted to leave?”  I told him my response would have been the same as Theresa’s.  I would have never chosen to leave them alone.  He said I believe that Mom will be a saint someday.  I told him she will probably never be a named saint, but that any just spirit brought to perfection is a saint.  I believe with all my being that Theresa is or will be brought to perfection in the Kingdom.  He told me that he understands why it happened.  I asked him about that and he said that we don’t know why God chose to take Mom, but it is his choice to give or take life and that we won’t understand until it is our turn.  There is a wisdom in my little boy that far surpasses most adults walking the earth.  How many people are mired in sadness or grief at the loss of someone to death, divorce or any other reason.  They can’t function, they won’t get out of bed.  Yet, here is my 10 year old boy explaining to me the Divine Kingship of God. After a bit, we got back in the car and drove home.

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Tuesday was the feast day of St. Nicholas.  I went out to the gym for some exercise and when I returned home I found a written page in Ryan’s journal sitting on my desk.  Before bed he wrote: “Dear Log, This is a rough part of my life. (The first Christmas without mom.)  These words pain me, even though they are true.  Brian and Breelynn are constantly yakking about what they are going to get their moms. I wish I could join them. At least I still have Dad.  There is a line in a Keith Urban song that says, “You and me gonna be all right”.  I feel that is true for me and dad.  I did not tell him this, but I say this to him: I love you.  These were his words, not something he was told to write, not something he copied from a book or page.  These came straight from the heart.

I went into his room and he was already falling asleep.  I laid down with him for a few minutes and told him, “You’re right.  You and me are gonna be alright…I love you Ryan”  He stirred, woke up for a minute and gave me a big smile.  He remembered that it was St. Nicholas day and sat his shoes out.  St. Nicholas brought him a Hershey bar, some M&M’s and a beautiful orchid with Theresa’s holy card.IMG_20161206_210308

The Long Goodbye

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

I Have Fought The Good Fight

 

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  From now on there is laid up for me a 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” 2Timothy 4:7-8

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It has only been three days since the decision to enter into palliative care was made and many emotional events have transpired.  On Friday I told the people at work what was happening which lead to many conversations.  Like any difficult task, the more you work on it the easier it becomes.  By the end of the day, I wasn’t feeling like tears were going to come at any moment when someone asked what was happening.

On Saturday, a beautiful young couple at church was crowned and married.  If you don’t know what I mean by crowned, think My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  I served on the altar for their marriage and there were several times that I thought I might end up coming apart.  One of the lines from the processional psalms reads, “May you see your children’s children”.  And during the dance of Isaiah “And you, O Bride, be magnified as was Sarah, and rejoiced as was Rebecca, and increased as Rachel, being glad in your husband.”  But even with those lines that had me sad, it was impossible not to be overjoyed at the beginning of married life for the new couple.  The church was full, the families were so happy and the liturgy was incredible.  In the receiving line, the bride said that she was praying for Theresa and my family.  For me, all I could do was give her a smile because the words escaped me at that moment.

This morning, Ryan asked me if the doctors had given a percentage whether or not his Mom would “make it”.  I told him they did not and he asked what I thought was going to happen.  I turned the question around and asked for his thoughts.  He said he didn’t think she was going to make it.  We had a heartfelt talk after that and for a boy who doesn’t like to talk about his feelings, he was very open today.  He said that it wasn’t fair and that for ten years Mom was the best Mom ever.  He also said that he wanted her to see him graduate from college, start an engineering company, get married and have children. He said if he had known she was going to die, he would have spent all of his time with her.  We talked about that a lot and I told him that he wouldn’t have done that because his Mom wouldn’t have wanted that for him.  He asked if he could stay with her this morning and spend some time together.  I told him yes and he wanted to read some scripture to her.  I suggested Psalm 22 and 23 as starting points and he was reading them to her when I left for church.

This morning, Fr. Rankin made an announcement about our decision to the gathered church.  He mentioned that the Divine Liturgy was for the deceased relatives of one of the parish members.  After that he said that we are also mindful of the wonderful Sacrament of Baptism that was celebrated the previous week and that we are also mindful of the fulfillment of the Baptismal Promise, eternal life in the Kingdom, that Theresa is moving towards.  After the Divine Liturgy, I had so many conversations with friends and my parish family about this.  The suddenness of Theresa’s decline has many people sad and at a loss for words.

We had planned on having the hospice nurse come on Monday April 18 to complete the paperwork, conduct an initial screening and start the process.  But, Theresa is unable to move out of the bed anymore.  I walked her to the bathroom, but she ended up sitting down on the floor.  I had to lift her under her arms and body drag her back to the bed.  I know the pain of this had to be intense and I knew it was time to get the hospice people out tonight.   She is also unable to swallow her medicine and we need the liquid morphine.  The nurse signed us up and completed her initial screening of Theresa.  She asked to talk outside of the room and told us that she believes it will be just a few days, possibly hours before Theresa is gone.

Theresa had several visitors today.  Our good friends, the Way family, came by with all of their 8 children.  They spent some time with Theresa and took all of the kids back to see her.  She may not be able to communicate anymore, but her eyes fixated on the kids.  Two of whom are her god-children.  They chanted some prayer and sang the hymn of victory, Christ is Risen from the dead!  While they were in singing to Theresa, Father Andriy Chirovsky and his wife Halyna came by to visit.  They said they were going to bring us dinner and did they ever.  I think they brought half of Costco with them!  It was so generous and kind of them to do so.  Fr. Andriy and Halyna spent some time in quiet prayer with Theresa and celebrated the anointing of the sick.

Finally, Fr. Rankin came by tonight to pray with Theresa, bring Holy Communion and he spent some time alone with her to prepare her for the next journey she is about to begin.  During some time alone with Theresa today I told her the she was about the meet Christ and The Theotokos face to face and that she would be free of all the pain and participate in the never ending liturgy with all the angels and saints.  There were tears rolling down her face.  I believe she is ready to start that journey.

 

Christ is Risen!

Jesus, I Trust In You

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”  Jeremiah 29:11

There are some days that you will remember until your time on earth is done.  Theresa and I have had many of those days, such as :

  • 10/17/87 –Our First Date
  • 4/28/95 – Our Marriage
  • 4/15/03 – The day she said go ahead & apply for the FBI
  • 9/8/03 – The day my Dad fell asleep in the Lord
  • 5/20/05 – The day she told me she was pregnant with Ryan
  • 1/24/06 – The day Ryan came into our life
  • 4/27/13 – The day we switched our church sui juris to the Byzantine   Ruthenians
  • 6/10/15 – The day we heard those words, It is an aggressive cancer
  • 8/6/15 – The first day of chemotherapy
  • 2/9/16 – The day we heard those words, the cancer has recurred and spread to distant organs.

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April 14, 2016 is another day to add to that list of days I’ll carry with me forever.  Today was the day we met with Dr. Chalasani to discuss the path forward.  As I wrote about in my previous post, things have been rough around our house with Theresa being in pain, not eating and sleeping most of the day.  A couple days ago I asked Theresa what she wanted to do with regards to her treatment, but she wasn’t ready to talk about it.

This morning as we were getting ready to leave I told her we were going to her blood draw, appointment with the oncologist and potentially to have a chemotherapy infusion.  I asked again what she wanted to do and I told her that I was concerned about her ability to withstand more chemotherapy, but that I would support her decision either way.  She slept for most of the drive and at 9:00AM, we were back to a room to see Dr. Chalasani.

Since UMC is a teaching facility, a medical student came in to ask some questions about how Theresa was feeling, what concerns we have and any questions for the doctor.  Afterwards, the doctor came in and started to talk to Theresa and she picked up quickly that something was not right; that Theresa was having cognitive issues and couldn’t process thoughts and get the words out.  She asked how long that had been happening and noted that it wasn’t that way when she met with us on 4/5/16.  Dr. Chalasani asked what we were hoping would happen with the treatment plan that was presented back in February when we learned of the metastatic diagnosis.  Theresa couldn’t put words to her thoughts.  I answered that question by saying I had hoped that treatment would halt the progression and possibly reduce the size of the tumor.  I said I knew that eventually the disease would win, but I had hoped for time to get Ryan through school before it was over.  I ended by saying that this was before the rapid increase in pain and physical decline of the past 3 weeks.

Dr. Chalasani said that she wanted to order a MRI of the brain to see if there were lesions that had developed.  And then she asked Theresa what she wanted to do, continue chemotherapy or not.  Theresa processed that question for a bit and eventually shook her head no.  And then she said that she just wanted to go home.  With that, she showed the mental toughness that many lack. She made the decision that was best for her well-being, both physically and spiritually.   We met with a social worker who talked about hospice care and made arrangements for the hospice nurse to come visit us at home.  And with that, we got in the car and drove home.

Tonight, Fr. Rankin came by to bring communion to Theresa, to pray with the family and to start preparing Theresa to move from anxiety to peace with all that was to happen.  He spent some one on one time with her and said that the Father would not be ready to call her home if he hadn’t already thought about a plan for providing for Ryan and I.  He ended with telling her that the Father knows she can do more for Ryan and I in the Kingdom than she can right now in her physical sickness.

Before sitting down with Theresa, Father and I spoke about the decision and he remarked about a program he had watched earlier in the day about a young Catholic couple with young kids.  The wife was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer on Easter but found the strength to tell her husband that they would still celebrate Easter because Jesus still rose, so we will trust.  I smiled and said that I know that story well.  I read it one night in a hotel room in Virginia and that I ended up staying up until 4AM reading their posts. The wife, Angela Faddis was born on my birthday and died on Theresa’s birthday in 2012.  It was another reminder of what we needed to do.

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For the 6 weeks of Pascha, the standard greeting in the Eastern church is “Christ is Risen!  Indeed He is Risen!”  Like Angela Faddis said, “Jesus still rose, so we will trust”

Christ is Risen!

Indeed He is Risen!