The Eulogy That Was Not Read
Theresa and I met while we were in high school and started dating in 1987. And to squash any salacious rumors, I was not a teacher at that time. It was my senior year and Theresa’s junior year. We continued dating off and on throughout college. You see, there was a period of time that I was discerning a call to the celibate priesthood. Shockingly, Theresa didn’t believe that my discernment was compatible with dating and we went our separate ways for a couple of years.
In my junior year of college we picked up where we left off, sans the discernment and have been together since that time. After graduation, we both left our hometown and moved to Omaha to start our “adult life”.
I want to pause for a minute and talk about the word trust. We use it all the time and it has different meanings to each of us. For example, there are co-workers of mine here tonight who I trust with my life and they do the same in return. Or, I could go through a long list of things that Ryan has had to trust in his family members for over the years of his life. But the trust that I want to talk about tonight is that trust that only exists between a husband and wife, where each gives 100% of themselves and puts the goals/needs of the marriage above their own goals/needs.
After a long engagement, we were married in April 1995 and shortly that trust between spouses was taken out for a test-drive. I was working for a software consulting company and Theresa was working for ConAgra Foods. One of my clients in Las Vegas wanted to hire me as their financial controller/systems administrator. I called Theresa and told her what they were offering and we flew out to Vegas to get the lay of the land. We went out for breakfast on Sunday and talked about our options. She said to me, if you think this will be beneficial for you and is career enhancing, I trust your belief on this. And with that, we accepted the offer and moved to Vegas.
After three years in Las Vegas, Theresa started talking about kids and the fact that Las Vegas was no place to raise kids. As good fortune would have it, a guy that I worked with in 1993 at a ConAgra subsidiary had moved up a few notches on the corporate ladder and called me out of the blue saying he was looking for a Sr. Financial Analyst in the Frozen Foods group. We talked about salary, benefits and relocation packages and I called Theresa. She had started working for the accounting firm Deloitte and was doing well in her career. We met for lunch, talked about the opportunity that was available and once again she said, If you believe this is career enhancing, I trust your perspective on it. With that, I interviewed, accepted and moved back to Omaha.
For the next 5 years, things were going great. I was steadily advancing up the financial management group, being promoted to Director-Business Management for two brand groups that generated almost 50% of ConAgra Frozen’s revenue. At the same time, Theresa had taken a international ex-patriate tax position with Deloitte and eventually moved on to one of Omaha’s best employers, First National Bank. She was in the corporate finance group and enjoying her job and the people she worked with. But, once again the trust issue was about to pop up again.
When I chose accounting as a major is college, it wasn’t because I had a burning desire to be a bean-counter. The two reasons for it were, 1) accounting majors were being hired at really good starting salaries out of college and 2) at that time the FBI loved accountants. For a long time, I had wanted to be an agent. Shortly after graduating college, I applied to both the Secret Service and the FBI. The Secret service called first and I met with their agent in charge of the Omaha office. He looked through my resume and background and told me I had everything they were looking for, except police experience. He suggested I move to New York, Chicago or LA and take a job with the police department and come back to the Secret Service with about 5 years of police work. I remember thinking, I don’t want to be a beat cop, I want to be an agent. Needless to say, I didn’t do what he suggested and when the FBI sent me an invitation to Phase I testing 9 months later, I didn’t even bother showing up. After all, if the Secret Service said I wasn’t ready, no way would the FBI take me. And so I focused on my financial career.
On Tax Day 2003, I was working from home at 8PM and a TV show came on the. It was a documentary following a class of wanna-be FBI agents from day 1 until graduation. Not quite half-way through the program, Theresa sat down and watched the rest of it. When it was over, she looked at me and said, I know that you always wanted to do that. Maybe you should apply for the agent job. I tried to minimize it saying it would be a gigantic pay cut, we would have to move from Omaha to somewhere unknown, etc. She looked at me and said, I’ve trusted your career decisions in the past and it has worked out. Why not apply and see what happens. You can always say no. And as a parting shot she said, besides, isn’t there an age limit? You probably are bumping up against that. I applied online that night and 8 months later I was leaving my high paying corporate job to train to be an agent.
In 2006, we were finally blessed with the birth of Ryan. We had been trying for years and it just wasn’t happening. However, in May 2005, Theresa woke me up at 5:45AM by turning on the lights and saying, wake up wake up wake up daddy. While I’m more of a morning person than Theresa, it took me a bit to grasp what she was saying. She showed me the test and sure enough, it was positive. As we moved closer to Ryan’s arrival, we both decided it was time to get serious about our spiritual life again.
You see, contrary to what you might think, I haven’t always been dressed in a black cassock and chanting 8 tone byzantine music. When we married, we did so with a minister of the gospel, who also happened to run the homeless mission in Omaha. That’s a story for another time, maybe after a drink or two! Some of you may have heard the expression C & E catholics…Christmas & Easter Catholics. Well, Theresa and I were FNG Catholics…Forgotten & Gone Catholics. We hadn’t darkened the door of a church in 10 years. But, like any prodigal son we went to our local parish in Green Valley and signed up. And with that, we wondered what happened to the church we used to know? What we found in Green Valley, Sahuarita, and many parishes in Tucson seemed was something not really recognizable to us.
So, Theresa did what any modern person does when they have a question. She asked Google for comparisons of world religions. We laid out some absolutes and started digging into this process. At the same time we both were reading the early church fathers and surprisingly…we ended up with either the Catholic or Orthodox church. With the recent visits to various parishes in Tucson fresh in my mind, I told her I was going check out the Orthodox church. After all, they said, “Come and See”. Again, as good fortune would have it, when I searched for Tucson Orthodox, I found this church who said they were Orthodox in Communion with Rome. Now, this sounded like a win-win for me and Mom and I decided to come and see, while Theresa stayed home with Ryan. After my first Divine Liturgy, I came home and told Theresa, this is it you need to come and see. The next week Theresa and I came and saw and she told me, this feels like home.
Now, with our past as FNG catholics, I knew we needed to resolve the irregular marriage. I talked to Father about it and it was really a simple process to get it taken care of. Then came the hard part of telling Theresa that we needed to get married again. When I told her about it, she asked quite a few questions on how’s and why’s but eventually settled with that old familiar response. I know you’re reading more about this than me, so I trust your position. And with that, she said yes for the second time. And there is more to that storyline as well, about the 3rd marriage that we had to do, but that’s for another day. Eventually, we switched our canonical church from the Roman church to the Byzantine Ruthenian church.
As you’ve heard from these stories, in many of the big decisions of our life, it was Theresa trusting in me to do the right thing. But the tide was about to turn. In 2014, I received a call from the church to apply for the Diaconate formation program. For any major order in the church, the process is called formation because you are being formed by the program. As part of that application, both Theresa and I needed to write separate autobiographies on our faith journey. In her letter, Theresa spoken openly about her painful years growing up, our wandering in the desert of no faith life and how her spiritual life has blossomed in the Eastern church. She ended her letter with this: “My spiritual life has without a doubt been enhanced. Not only has my own faith grown stronger, but our marriage has become stronger. It is more spiritually centered and is surely becoming the Christian vocation God intended marriage to be”. In God’s providence, my application was accepted and my first year classes at our seminary in Pittsburgh where to begin in June 2015.
And then, our journey had an unexpected detour. In early May 2015, Theresa came out after a shower and said I think I have a lump in my breast. She had a doctors appointment in two weeks and asked if I thought she should wait until then or call. I told her to call if for no other reason than peace of mind. She got it to see her doctor and he sent her for a mammogram. They saw something on the scan and sent her the next day for a biopsy. The long wait began for the results and they came three days before I was set to leave for Pittsburgh. I remember the words coming out of the doctors mouth. You have cancer, but it doesn’t appear to be breast cancer. He went on to say the pathology is still preliminary but it appears to be a small-blue-round-cell sarcoma. He cautioned against researching that online and to wait for the final diagnosis. We left the office and went to a local restaurant for lunch. And as we were waiting for our food, Theresa went off to the bathroom. The first thing I did was whip out my smartphone and read about the small cell sarcoma. It was scary and it shook me up. Theresa came back and looked at me and said, “I do not want you to cancel your trip over this. I believe this is a part of the formation process and an attempt to derail it before it even gets started.” I didn’t want to go, but she told me to trust in the Lord. So, away I went for two weeks while Theresa underwent surgery to remove the lump and undergo further testing.
The results from the second biopsy came back and they determined it to be invasive ductal breast cancer, negative for all estrogen receptors. Triple negative breast cancer. The doctor told us that they had good margins and that she didn’t think that it had spread but that she would need to undergo a sentinel node biopsy to determine that. The procedure was completed and came back negative. The oncologist came highly recommended and he prescribed 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 35 rounds of radiation. With much trepidation, Theresa had her first round of chemotherapy on the feast of the transfiguration. Through all the sickness that the first 4 AC treatments caused, she never once wavered in her trust in the Lord. After the AC treatments she began 12 cycles of Taxol in late October 2015. However, after 4 or 5 cycles, something wasn’t right. The tissue in her breast was getting harder and painful, along with some reddening. The surgeon and oncologist consulted with experts and came up with a theory that the hardening was fat necrosis, not a recurrence. With trust in the doctors, she moved forward with the Taxol until late January 2016. The surgeon suggested a biopsy of the skin as well as the tissue and the oncologist agreed. On the Feast of the Presentation, February 2, the biopsies were completed and results came in a week later. The cancer had recurred and likely spread. Several tests were ordered including a PET-Scan which confirmed that the disease had metasticized to the liver, spine and sternum. More testing was done and a new treatment plan was developed. Full of faith and trust, Theresa said let’s move forward and get this done.
The journey after that day got progressively harder for everyone involved. There were two hospital stays in March, 3 days and 8 days and at every turn there was more bad news. On Good Friday, Theresa was supposed to be discharged from the hospital. She called me around noon and said that there was a problem with her liver numbers and they were not discharging her. The doctors were ordering an MRI of the abdomen to see if there was a blockage of the bile duct. I drove up to the hospital and she was already out for the test. We waited for the doctor to arrive and he said there was a 4cm mass in the pancreas that was causing the elevated numbers. He suggested a stent be placed in the duct to force it open and that’s what she agreed to. After he left, the tears came to her eyes and she said that she was scared. But, the next thing she said was incredible. She looked at me and said I believe we are both being formed by this. I asked her what she meant and she said, “You’re walking this journey with me to help prepare you for service to the church. And me, I’m being formed for life in the Kingdom.” I didn’t need to ask her what kingdom she was referring to, I knew she meant the Kingdom of Heaven, the Church Triumphant.
Good Friday 2016 was a unique day in many ways. Clearly for my family, the events I just spoke of were unique. But in the liturgical life of the church, Good Friday was March 25, the Feast of The Annunciation as well as Good Friday. On the same day, the Church remembered the overshadowing of the Theotokos who conceived Jesus that day, as well as the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. This convergence of days will not happen again until 2157.
The rest of the journey has been well documented on the blog that I was writing. Theresa came home on March 29th and her condition worsened every day. The last doctor appointment we had was on April 14 and by that time, Theresa was unable to get words out. The oncologist asked her if she wanted to continue treatment or not and she shook her head no. She asked about a brain MRI and Theresa said, “I just want to go home”. And with that, we left and went home. And over the few remaining days, we had plenty of conversation, sadly most of it being one-way due to her condition. On Sunday afternoon, I was talking to her and told her that her faith and trust was strong and that soon she would see Jesus and the Theotokos face to face. Tears came out of the corner of her eye and less than 24 hours later she fell asleep in the Lord.
Since Monday, many emails, texts and phone calls have taken place and people have offered up a tremendous amount of support. One message came from Fr. John Petro, who taught me Byzantine Spirituality this year. Among the words of condolences, he said the following:
“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 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!