Tragedies

There are moments of great joy that happen in parish life, but there are also moments of pain and sorrow that touch the very heart and soul.Jack and Sal had told six families in the course of a year that someone in their family under the age of thirty had died suddenly or in an accident. One such tragedy occurred on the New York State thruway when a twenty year old woman was killed instantly. She was on her way to meet her parents in Westbury, and they were to vacation for a week in Martha’s Vineyard. Another was the tragic death of two brothers returning home from their brother’s wedding. Jack had viewed the mangled bodies of those young brothers, and in an act of great compassion physically stood in front of the father, and prevented him from viewing their bodies at the morgue. He pleaded with the distraught father urging him not to see them, because he did not wish for him to have that be his last memory of them.

There was also the burial of an Army lieutenant killed in Vietnam, and the murder of a young school teacher two weeks before her sister’s wedding. These moments called for presence and often silence because there are no words in the shadow of such grief.

There were even moments when the tragedy unfolded literally before the eyes of Sal and Jack. One rainy cold November evening they were in a barn folding clothes that had been donated for the poor. Sal was called back to the rectory because he had a counseling appointment but Jack continued to organize the clothing. Patty a young woman of nineteen entered the building, and Jack did not initially see her. She called to him, and as he turned. she lit a match touching it against her body. She literally exploded because she had covered herself with gasoline .Jack responded immediately he tackled her, and rolled her over and extinguished the flames with a blanket. His hands were burnt but he was able to put out the flames ,and raced outside requesting one of the neighbors to call 911.

Patty was one of five children with wonderful parents who had tried everything to assist her in her mental struggles, but nothing had worked. Critically burned she was immediately rushed to Overlook Hospital.Sal and Jack visited every night after office hours, but despite the loving care of the staff she finally succumbed. Her family was devastated by the loss, and her Mother said”the pain is unbearable ,but it is the first time when she would leave the house that I would not be in agony worrying about her.She was such a loving person, but tormented for years with voices and nightmares.I know that she is finally at peace.”

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