A year ago today was Stephanie’s funeral. A year ago we laid her to rest in the cemetery and said our final goodbyes. I’m glad to see how much I’ve been able to grow over the last year, and yet I know I’ll always wish I could have one more minute, hour, day, month, or year with Stephanie. On the anniversary of the funeral, I would like to share the transcript of the eulogy I shared at her funeral. It’s a little glimpse into who she was beyond this blog, and shared how much she meant to me, Sarah, her family and everyone who knew her. I miss her every day, and wish nothing more than for her to be with me here now. I love you, Beautiful. And I’ll love you forever, no matter what 💚
Trying to put into words, and trying to figure out what to say to come here and talk about someday that meant so much to me and Sarah and to so many people was quite difficult to say the least. Hearing Stephanie’s voice again today in church was beautiful and tough all at the same time. For those of you who don’t know, I actually re-met Stephanie, we had gone to high school together, weren’t at all friends (laughter). Something about, yeah, just didn’t work out. So fast forward when I went back to Ohio after college, turns out that although she was not Catholic, she had started cantoring at the church my parents were going to. So we re-met when she was cantoring at a chruch there at five masses a weekend. Someone had posted something on Facebook the other day, what if you married your spouse where you met them, where would that be? And it turns out we did because we re-met at St. Mary’s church in Franklin, Ohio and that’s where we were married. So hearing her sing again, brings back obviously so many memories and there are so many stories I want to tell and for the sake of the last time I ran through this with it being over 27 minutes I’m, uh, I’ll hold off on some of those. Another thing to point out is Stephanie would be happy that she’s not the one up here. She always talked about how much she hated public speaking although she would do it. So that’s just something about her. Her humor, she always laughed, she made sure that Sarah knew that she was the funny one and not me.
She had love for me, for her friends, for her family, for pretty much everyone she came in touch with. She had a strong drive about her that if she wanted to do something she would. She was always positive. There were a lot of times she was writing a blog, I’d get to proofread them most of the time before she posted them and she’d had a rough few days where things just, she was in a lot of pain, and things weren’t going well and it was always kind of those, you haven’t written in a while, why don’t you write and she’d kind of share about all of the struggles she was going through and I would read it. And no kidding a couple of times I asked her, I was like you’ve been struggling so much, why is that not quite, she had mentioned like “yeah, I was in pain” and then it listed like a million other things that were going well. And her answer to that was that she always wanted her readings and stuff to bring hope and to bring happiness to others. So even when that wasn’t necessarily what she was feeling, that is what she wanted to portray and that is what she wanted other people to know about.
So a couple of my favorite things about Stephanie, one of them was her gift giving. For anyone who was fortunate enough to receive a gift from her, she put more time, thought and effort into her gifts than anyone I’ve ever known. Couple of my favorite gifts that she gave, when we were dating back in 2011 we decided to go to New York City together for New Years. And we booked the trip back in September or October and knowing that we were Cowboys fans, she decided, she realized that the Cowboys were playing the Giants and decided to get me tickets. Me being the slow person that I am, only looking a week at a time, it wasn’t until, like November that all of a sudden I was like, “hey, the Cowboys are playing” and so she immediately shuts it down. She was like no, there’s no way we’re going, this is a romantic trip, this is about us, and I forget about it. Long story short I end up finding out she has something planned on January 1 and I’m trying to figure out what it is, and I finally figure out that I’m pretty sure she got us tickets to go see the Rockettes. So I make the mistake of telling my mom who then tells Stephanie and Stephanie laughs about it for the next couple months. So then we go celebrate Christmas and most people would have the tickets, you unwrap them and that would be that. But not Stephanie.
I had five different presents and it’s a clue. So I open up the first thing and it’s a Victoria Secret’s bag and I’m like ok, yup, this is going towards the Rockettes. And then I open a can of green beans and I’m like well this doesn’t really make sense, maybe like long legs, I don’t know. We’ll figure it out from there. And then the other things I open up are a foam Cowboy hat, a little board game, and then finally a football and that’s when I kinda figured out that she had spelled out, the green beans were Giant’s green beans, so it was Giants, Victoria Secret versus, Cowboys hat, football, game. And that’s how I figured out, and that actually started a tradition of us going to a Cowboys game together every single year. That was the year we were dating, and then every year we were married we made it to a game.
A couple other big things that she had, she made me, she wrote me letters for my birthday three years ago, and it had various events on them, when the Cowboys lose a game, I opened that one pretty quick. She had things, when I became a father, when we were far apart, there were various just events. And one of the things that is so special about that gift is it wasn’t just a one day thing, it was something I got to keep opening. And what’s really special about it is that I still have two letters left. I have one of them that I’m supposed to open when she’s in a bad mood, which I haven’t opened yet, and the last one is to open when it’s the last letter. So three years ago there’s no way she would have known but I still have that letter to open from her.
Some other things she did once a date a month where we got to, she had a pre-planned day she had already paid out so every month we got to do on a date together cause she knew I wasn’t going to plan anything. So it gave us time to really spend time together and it was all planned out. And the last gift that she gave me for our anniversary this past year, we had always made a point to love each other and one of the things we did with that was the five love languages, which as you’ve probably figured out, gift giving was one of her strongest and one of my not so strong. But what she gave me was a gift, she gave me five gifts actually, and each gift, there was one for each love language and how she was going to love me in that love language. And that just really goes to show that not just her creativity with gift giving but how much that family meant to her, and how important it was for us to be able to be together. And I know she had that love with me, but I also know that’s the same love she shared with her family, with her parents, with her brother, although they may not have gotten along when they were younger, some good stories with that that I’m sure Matt will share later, but it was just with her friends, that she always had that love.
She was also very determined. If there was anything she wanted to do, she did it. There were cruises that she went on with friends while we were dating, all of a sudden she was like “I want to go on a cruise”, and she went on one with my sister and my mom cause she was like “oh, you’re going on a cruise, well here’s one we’re going to do and we’re going.” She also, a little more recently, when all of this kind of happened, in February we thought we were going to be staying in Gainesville for some, not for surgery, but for radiation, and we had always talked about taking Sarah to Disney, we were going to wait until she was about five, six, seven years old, later down the road. And then one Sunday afternoon we were at my parents house and she was like “I want to take Sarah to Disney tomorrow.” And so sure enough, we all get in the car and drive over and we went that day because her words at that point were “I want to take her, and I don’t know how much time we have.” So it’s a she wanted to get out and get it done. Turns out that we’ve gone to Disney a couple times since then, gone to Disney Land, gone to pretty much everywhere.
Something else with that where I started learning that lesson was on our honeymoon. We went to a gift shop on the first day or so and we’re looking at gifts we might want to get to bring home and we’re looking at some of these photo albums that were made there in Jamaica, they had different things on the front, boats, palm trees, and there was one that had a heart on the front. And she’s like, that’s the photo album I want, that’s the one we want to get. And I’m like, “ehh, let’s wait a couple days, what’s the rush?” Turns out we wait a few days and that one was no longer there. So from there on out, the last five years, every time that Stephanie’s like “we should go do something, we should take this family vacation, we should take this cruise now, we should go out and visit friends now”, every time I start to be like “ehh, let’s just wait” she goes “what about the photo album” and I’m like, “you got me there.” So.
Something else that I found really strong, so those of you who remember, she had an interview with ABC World Nightly News back in April and they interviewed her with a lot of different questions via Skype and then picked, chose what they wanted to share. I happened to record, while I was standing there watching her, a little clip of it, just for the sake of showing that we had, but the question they asked that I recorded was what the process had been like, finding out she had been diagnosed, it’s inoperable, just kidding this doctor in Oklahoma will do it, flying out there, everything, and I just wanted to read her response, and these are her exact words into what the process has been like, and this is back in the middle of April:
“It feels like my eyes have been completely opened. I feel like my life before, it was a great life, and we were so blessed, but I feel like I have not been living the way that I’m supposed to be living and now my eyes are open and I have this feeling that I want to make everything a moment and do everything that I can with my daughter and my husband, and I want to help people. I haven’t figured out how that’s going to be yet, but I… I want to do so much with my life, no matter how long that is, because nobody is guaranteed any amount of time, so no matter how much time I have left, I want to do something great with the life I’ve been given.”
And I feel like that quote summarizes really well what Stephanie was about. She wanted to spend time with family, she wanted to enjoy the moments, she talked, we almost made it into a joke about making everything a moment, but that’s really kind of what it was. And as far as the helping people, she did end up doing the prayer bracelets with her mom and her aunt and then she took those proceeds she made from that and she gave it to other people who were hurting over the last few months. But I really think that through her blog and through her writings is probably how she really helped people the most. We’ve heard little bits and pieces here and there from people about, there is a couple people that were able to go out to Oklahoma and have surgery because they heard of her story and reached out. There’s other people that mentioned that they had gone to church or they had found peace with something, and that’s kind of the type of person that Stephanie was and what she did and I think that’s one of the things I really struggle with is I’m never gunna understand that true grasp, I’ve heard little stories here and there about how she’s touched people and how she’s reached people, but will never really be able to grasp that whole extent. And as Father said, there’s no way to try to understand why it’s happened the way it has. But we have to have the faith that it all happened for a reason and that by us continuing to do, to have her help us, however it’s through her writings, or however that is, that we let that live on.
So Stephanie, the last thing about her is she was definitely a woman of faith. She was constantly thankful throughout this whole experience. She didn’t necessarily look at, she called it her evil tenant a lot, but she didn’t necessarily think of it as a bad thing. There’d be times when I’d talk about why the devil did that to her and she would always correct me. She was like, I don’t look at this as a curse, this is a blessing. Which when you think about what she was going through, that’s really hard to grasp and to look at. But she always, she was very very thankful how it brought us, the two of us closer together, and how it brought us closer to God, and really, as I mentioned, cherished our family. She never, she always noticed that God was a part of her life. As I mentioned, she was cantoring, a lot of us don’t like to go to church once a week, once a month, we go maybe once a year: she was going five masses a weekend when she wasn’t even Catholic and had no desire to be Catholic at that point, and yet she was there. Which turns out to be a great thing: one, being there is what got her interested in the Catholic Church and brought her to the church, but that’s also then how we re-met and how we’ve been able to spend the last over six years together.
Another quote of hers that I was reading as I was re-reading her blogs the other day, she said, “I believe with every ounce of my being that the Lord will heal me. I don’t know in what way yet, and maybe it will be spiritual healing in the end, but I know He will heal me.” And that was written back in February. So right after, it was one of her first blog entries. And I know that I believed for a lot, and a lot of other people did, thought we were going to get the physical healing, get the miracle, really really thought that we were. Being the miracle of her being cured of her cancer. And while it wasn’t the case, I definitely do feel that she did receive a healing, from a spiritual standpoint. And she even mentioned and alluded to back in February , maybe it would just be a spiritual healing, but I do feel that that’s what she’s received. One of the things that she’s mentioned, that she was thankful for, was that, and she had written this back in her blog, was “I’m sad it took something this big to get us to pray together more regularly, but very thankful none the less.” Because not that we didn’t, not that we weren’t people of faith before but once this happened, back in February, we had gone to a church, they had a rosary service, we decided to pray the novena, which she had posted about online, and we prayed the rosary together every single day since that point. When she wasn’t able to, we would still be there together and we had some friends and family who’d join us as well, but that’s something that really started bringing us together, closer as a couple, and closer to God, and brought us closer to the Mother Mary, which is something, not that someone we didn’t know, we knew what the Hail Mary prayer was but that was always kind of a, she’s out there, but was never somebody that we used to talk to. So that started bringing Mary more into our daily lives. We also had the fortunate event, thanks to the Mom’s group here at this parish, getting to travel to Lourdes, France. Which for those of you who haven’t read the blog, impressive, but Lourdes is where Mother Mary appeared to St Bernadette. And when we were there we got to bathe in the waters and it’s in the mountains of France, so it’s very cold water. And something special about Stephanie is after she was immersed in the waters and stood up, she was explaining to somebody there that how she just had this sense of warmth around her. And I mean, it was ice cold water. And she had this feeling of warmth and peace about her and somebody mentioned to her that it’s called the “Bernadette Bath” for St Bernadette, and that’s basically, happens very rarely, but it’s the Virgin Mary who’s coming down and being with you. And so that was another sign that Mary was there with her and us along the way. Finally, so August 31 was when we went to the emergency room and then via ambulance went down to the cancer center, which ended up being her last trip down. But we actually had to stop along the way cause she was really not doing well in the ambulance. So while we were there at one point, I was crying, she was not totally there a lot of the time, at one point I gave her a hug. And she hugged me back, and afterwards she told me, “I felt like I just had an out of body experience where I saw us hugging each other, and I saw the Virgin Mary hugging us too.” Which is kind of further, proves to me that Mary was there, and God was there with her through all of this and kind is along the way of that spiritual healing that she received.
And then the final sign, cause as she’s mentioned we’ve had signs all along the way,… The last two weeks, she obviously didn’t lead to it because she wasn’t writing and I didn’t, I don’t know if I fully kind of contemplated she… it got to the point where she was not having a lot of useful consciousness time, which was really kind of the best way to put it. But we did, we were able to have a few conversations kind of here and there where she would have a few minutes. And a few days before she died, I was laying there with her, it was a little after midnight, and all of a sudden she looks up and she just says, “I’m waiting.” And at this point we’re having to ask her questions multiple times to get her to answer, and so I’m like “What are you waiting for?” And she asks, she just says it again and again like “I’m waiting, I’m waiting.” And this is a few days before her birthday and anyone who knows Stephanie knows she loves birthdays, and she celebrated them all, and so I’m like, ok, she’s waiting for her birthday, like what is she waiting for. And then finally after I asked about a million times what she’s waiting for, she says, “I’m waiting for the Virgine.” And at that point I really believe that the Virgin Mary had come to her and let her know that it was almost her time which we had kind of known but that she was, she wasn’t quite there and needed a couple more days so that she was able to be there to celebrate her birthday with her family and be there before God called her home.
It’s so strange sitting up here and talking about Stephanie. There’s so many times now over the past week and half where Sarah and I have been doing things where Sarah will say something or I’ll want to go tell Stephanie about it or something happens or something funny happens and I want to talk to her. I know she’s not there in person, we’ve got this book I’ve been reading to Sarah, kind of trying to explain to her the process of how it happens, but although I know that she’s not physically here with us, I know that spiritually she is, and even while she was singing, I figured during the Ave Maria was going to be one of the times that I was going to have one of my breakdowns, which I’ve had multiple times a day every day, but I wasn’t. I had a very strong sense of peace about everything and knowing that she’s there and especially singing in church that she’s there with us.
And so Stephanie, I just want you to know that you are the love of my life, and that we will always remember you, and we’re going to be visiting you. And Sarah, how much does mommy love you? To the moon and back, you’re right. She really was the love of my life, she was a great spouse, truly a partner, a great mother, and a great friend to so many. And again, I’ll never truly understand the effect that she had even on the people in this church, much less on the people across the globe that we’ve gotten messages from that I’ve never heard of, never met, probably never will. But for that I’m thankful, and what I really hope for going forward is that we, we use those messages in however way, whatever way, whether it’s going to church for the first time in your entire life or whether it’s going back or saying an extra prayer a day, whatever it is for you, that you’re able to do and to think of and to honor her, because that’s really what it’s all about for her. Additionally, I mentioned at the end of the obituary that family was really important to her, and so I’d like to challenge everybody that sometime in the next month to have a family night, putting away the phones. Our favorite thing, if you want to steal an easy idea, is we take a picnic blanket and put it in the living room, we buy a pizza, and we put on a movie, and we’d sit there as a family and have a pizza night and watch a movie. You got Domino’s, it’s eight dollars, it’s cheap, but it’s just, it’s always something that just is fun to do and something that would be an easy way to honor Stephanie.
I want to leave you now with the quote, again from her blog, of, which she shared with after we made the trip to Disney. And I feel of no better words of leaving than with her words, and so thank you all for making your way out here from near and far, but in the words of Stephanie, “Life is too short. Go on your dream vacation NOW and eat ice cream for dinner.”