Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January 25th, yet another day I will not forget

As I sit here having a beer or 3 and watching status updates appear on Facebook of "RIP", "prayers" all while typing up the Cornerstone team schedule, I am reminded of 13 years ago of when I woke to the phone call that would in essence change my life.

I remember it like it was yesterday, I had just gotten back from my first March for Life, and my first RCIA retreat(I was a sponsor in the program), which explains why I was on campus that infamous Sunday morning.  The phone rang around 9am and I heard my roommate say, "she's here"; I picked up the phone and heard "It's Jacqi, Gary was killed in a car accident last night."  I don't remember the full conversation, all I remember hearing was Gary was killed.  I took it all in stride, no tears yet. Jacqi mentioned that Fr. Geno was having a prayer service that night at St. Anthony's so I called my friend Carol to tell her, and I remember that she called me back to make sure she wasn't crazy that I had actually said "Gary had died." I remember going out into the hallway so not to disturb my roommate to call my mom, I barely got the words to her when the tears came. I have never been one to wear my emotions on my sleeves, so the tears lasted probably while I said what happened.  I remember walking to a fellow student's, who happened to go to high school with me, dorm and leaving a note on his door.

My dad came and got me so I could be home for the prayer service.  I distinctly remembering getting to St. Anthony's that night and seeing people at the Church who had been at youth group, whom I had seen in high school, and I certainly remember some of them not being very religious. I remember being on the steps just hugging fellow former youth group members and high school classmates.  We eventually went inside the Church, and Fr. Geno stared the prayer service and he told us at some point that   "if we died because of something stupid he was going to come up there and kick our ass."  It got us to smile and laugh and that is what mattered the most then.

I returned to Seton Hall confused, and obviously came home for the wake, my mother wouldn't let me go to Mass, some excuse of missing classes, but it didn't matter whether or not I was at the funeral Mass, it wasn't going to change anything.  All it might have done was allow the pain, sorrow and reality to sink in slightly faster.

Like I said I returned to Seton Hall a very confused young adult.  I did things that semester I never thought I would do, I pledged and joined a sorority.  Thinking back on it, that was about all I did, I wasn't a drug user and I certainly didn't drink yet.  ;)  It was a drunk driver that killed Gary after all.

I was very active with Campus Ministry and I remember signing up to spend an hour a week at Adoration in the "main Chapel".  I sat in the very last pew on the right hand side, this way I could see who was coming in next and what was going on.  I sat there and ask questions of, "Why God, how could you do this, why G, he was one of the good guys."  I sat there remembering our college ski trip, roughly a month before Gary's death, where at a Burger King a conversation took place between Fr. Geno, a Holy Cross alumni and lacrosse player, and Gary, a Holy Cross student and ruby player, about which sport was better.  I doubt any of us thought this was going to be the last trip we would be on together.

Oddly and by God's strange sense of humor, almost always I end up teaching CCD and/or Confirmation in Gary's mom's class room.  A constant reminder of the saint watching over me.  13 years have gone by quickly, the tears still come, but amid them come the happy memories of youth group and of watching baseball games, of which Gary was a member, after track practice.  I know we weren't friends and didn't hang out, but at youth group it never mattered what group you were part of at school, we were all the same.  Gary's death sent that fact home, we're all the same, we're all children of God and God calls us home whenever He feels like it.

Not a retreat talk goes by without mention of Gary's death, because it is the event that caused me to question my faith, to wonder what God was doing.  It also allowed me to talk to a very wise priest who said "don't ask why, ask how, what, how can this help me, what can come from this."   I never thought I'd get my answer 2 years later when the fire happened at Seton Hall and my friends were going through what I had already gone through.  From Gary's death came me finding my faith, may my running home to the Catholic faith and Church. The questioning led to a switching of majors and that led to it's own set of challenges, but over all I learned that God does know what He's doing despite us not wanting to know or admit it. Gary's death prepared me for John, Frank and Aaron's funerals (SHU Fire), which in turn prepared me for John and Dennis' funerals (Sept. 11th), which in turn almost prepared me for Fiona's, Bernadette's, and Nicholas' funerals.

Time does heal all wounds, but the wounds don't fully heal, they reopen a tiny bit each time you remember, but then you also remember how awesome it is to have the Communion of Saints watching over you and praying for and with you.  

In all the yeas that I have written and given retreat talks, Gary's death always comes up because it really is the first time that I questioned my faith, questioned God and wondered what He was doing.  It would be through      Gary's death that I could later minister to my friends and show them that time does heal, but that the wound is never fully healed and that it opens up a little each year.

I often think of Gary up in Heaven playing with Fiona, Bernadette, Nicholas and now Owen, because Heaven is just one big party.  ;)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 19th a day I will never forget

It seems like only yesterday that a phone call woke my roommate and I up at 5am.  The question from her mother of "there's a fire on campus, are you ok?" made us jump out of our beds after responding, yeah we're fine, to look out our window and there I saw a sight that I will never forget.  I saw outside of Boland Hall firetrucks, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles and wrongly assumed everything was ok.  I guess at that point everything was under control, but it certainly wasn't ok as I would find out.  My roommate and I did the best college thing you could think of, we went back to bed as everything seemed under control.  We got another phone call at 7am asking "what the hell is going on up there, I hear 3 people are dead."  Well that was it, we were awake, we had no idea what was going on and immediately turned on the tv.  My roommate like to watch Good Day NY, and I still remember how somber Jim Ryan was reporting the news of the Seton Hall Fire.  For anything on Good Day NY to be somber was odd as they were usual a "fun" news set, so it stayed with me.

Now that we were awake we did again what any normal college kid would do, we went for breakfast, but not after a few calls were made and some information was found out.  We managed to find out the fire was on the 3rd floor, the floor we used to live on. The third floor also happened to be where a friend from high school lived.  This friend's brother was killed accidentally two years before, so my thoughts where "Oh God, no, not again, You're not going to do this me again."  Thankfully that friend was one of the first people I saw when we out to walk to the cafeteria for breakfast.    We weren't out of our dorm for 2 minutes before we  heard "Pete can't find his brother."  I knew right away that "Pete's brother" was one of the three who had died, but I held out every last bit of hope that he wasn't one of them.

We continued on to breakfast, because you had to eat.  Everything on campus was cancelled.  The day was spent going from the cafe to the Main Lounge for updates to the Chapel for Mass and prayer. Eventually we were told go home, go home and be with your families.  So my friend Kelly, who lived in Albany and I decided that since I was on the way home for her, that I would drive to my house and then she would drive herself the rest of the way. Before we did any of that, we went to visit our friend Bridget who wasn't on campus that morning as she was a commuter.  I don't remember much of that small trip to Bridget's. I do remember one of her oldest sister's kids was having a birthday party that evening, so she went over there and Kelly and I started on our way home.  We made it onto the Garden State Parkway and around 7pm the names of the three young men who had died were released.  All I heard was "John Gu..." and my fears from the morning came true, Pete's brother was one of the three. We turned around at the next exit and found Bridget at her sister's house, which is why I remember that someone had a birthday. We didn't go in as they knew why we were there.  We went to Bridget's house, which was a block away from her sister's house, and somehow managed to find out the details about John's wake and funeral.  Kelly and I then continued on our way home.

While I can never change the events of that day, I can think of how well the Seton Hall Community came and still comes together.  Over facebook a good portion of my fellow Seton Hall Alumni, most of us there that day, and a newly minted alumn, changed our profile pictures to Blue Ribbons.  Those ribbons were handed out 11 years ago for the prayer services that followed that eventful day, and the message of "Never Forget: you are always a pirate" still rings true.

John, Frank, and Aaron's,well John's wake and funeral brought back all the memories of just two years before when Gary died.  I asked a very smart priest "why, why would God let this happen?" and he responded with, "Don't ask why, ask how, what can come from this."   Little did I know that I would be the rock, the one who had been through something like this already, the one who knew the memories would never go away.

I remember returning to campus, and then going to John's wake and funeral Mass, and how crowded both were.  I remember the media trying to get reactions out of us, the media crashing funeral Masses. I remember Seton Hall offering buses so that students could go to their fellow students' funerals.  I remember returning back to campus the Sunday night after John's wake, and being at the 10pm Mass, as I had yet to go, and having Fr. Jim asking for someone to read, and somehow I was volunteered.  I remember asking him, how do I pronounce Frank's last name, as I knew the other two.  Somehow I made it through reading the readings, and petitions including the names of my fellow students who had died.

11 years ago seems so far away, yet the memories come rushing back every January 19th.  I think of complaining about the snow, ice, and rain on the 18th and then laughing, because it always seems to snow around the 19th, but never on it.  I remember someone once telling me that John loved snow, and I can't help but take the snow or winter weather as a sign, that John is up there with Frank, Aaron, Gary and all the other saints in Heaven watching over us and praying for us.

Gary's 13th anniversary is fast approaching, and I remember being on that 3 floor of Boland Hall, being a lost freshman, not knowing what to think or do.  God's love is amazing when you think about it.  He allows us to know what He felt by allowing His Son to come down to Earth and grow like us, and die like we will.  What we forget is that God must have suffered watching His Son on that cross, all the while knowing it was what His people needed.  There is great solace in the idea that Jesus' parents suffer pain and sorrow the way we do.

Réquiem ætérnam dona eis,  Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat eis, Requiéscant in pace. Amen. Rest in Peace John, Frank and Aaron.

My prayers go out to the Giunta, Caltibilota, and Karol families and to the extended Seton Hall family, that has not forgotten, nor have we forgotten the actions of those injured that day, my prayers as with them as well.