The Fragility of Life

Every now and then you meet a couple who are living a wonderful life. Andy and Kathy Casey were such a couple. They were happy, in love and content with life. They met when they ...

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Every now and then you meet a couple who are living a wonderful life. Andy and Kathy Casey were such a couple. They were happy, in love and content with life. They met when they both worked at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson over twenty-five years ago. They started to date, fell in love and were married almost twenty-four years ago.

They both came from Irish Catholic families and grew up in the Three Village community. As a teenager, Andy loved sports. He was an exceptional athlete and played football for Ward Melville High School as their quarterback.

Kathy was a graduate of Fairfield University and went on to receive her nursing degree from Adelphi University. Andy graduated from New York Tech and became a highly respected cinematographer. He was well known in the film industry, for his work as Steadicam Operator. He worked in highly acclaimed projects including the films: "Forrest Gump," "Glory," "Philadelphia," "The Bourne Ultimatum," "The Manchurian Candidate," as well as the HBO series "The Sopranos" and the recent HBO special, "John Adams."

Both Kathy and Andy were held in high regard in their respective professions. Their co-workers would say that what set them apart was not merely their professional excellence, but rather their passionate spirits and compassionate hearts.

Their love gave life to three wonderful children. Brendan, the oldest, just moved to Denver, Colorado to begin his teaching career with "Teach America." Jillian is a twenty-one year old senior at UNC Chapel Hill. She has a double major in sociology and medical anthropology. When she graduates, she hopes to begin a career in public health.

When Jillian was a freshman, she volunteered for a mission project in Tanzania that literally transformed her life. She started working for the Saint Lucia Nursing Home and Orphanage. That project was started by a native of Tanzania who lost her parents to AIDS. The orphanage is for children who lost their parents to AIDS.

Their third child, Trevor, is a fifteen year old high school sophomore who is quietly trying to find his way in the shadow of two extraordinary siblings. In his own right, he is an extraordinary young man who is active in his high school and local community.

Kathy and Andy have worked hard to instill within all their children a deep sense of faith, the value of family and the importance of helping your neighbor. As parents, as their children will attest, they did not just pay lip service to these importance concepts - they lived them.

As their children grew, Andy and Kathy constantly reminded them how blessed they were and that they needed to always express gratitude and give something back. Andy would often remind Jillian, who is a hurricane of activities and projects, to always make time to "stop and smell the roses."

On August 16, 2008, in Clinton Township, New Jersey, Kathy and Andy Casey's wonderful life ended abruptly. It was mid-morning, they were riding their motorcycle together when a pick up truck darted out in front of them. Andy was killed instantly. Kathy died a few hours later due to the severity of the injuries she sustained in the crash.

This once near perfect family was now shattered forever. On Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 10:30am, more than five hundred people gathered to celebrate the extraordinary lives of Andy and Kathy Casey. During the days before, more than a thousand people gathered to pay their respects. I had the privilege and the burden of presiding over their funerals.

Their children and Andy and Kathy's respective families wanted their funeral to be a celebration of their lives - and that it was!

As I lead this grief stricken community in prayer, I was very aware of how mortal we all are and how really fragile life is.

One of the scripture readings was taken from the New Testament. It was Paul's powerful letter on love. It was the same passage that was read at their wedding twenty-four years before. It was selected because it powerfully described the way Andy and Kathy lived their lives as husband and wife, as parents, as professionals and as friends. To know them was to love them.

At the end of the service, a number of friends shared some wonderful remembrances. However, probably the most powerful sharings came from their two older children, who insisted on sharing with the community that had gathered.

Brendan spoke first. He talked about his parents being the reason why he is the man he is today. Their passion, compassion and love have inspired him his whole life. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he spoke about how hard it will be to continue life's venture without them. They were and are his heroes. Because of them, he said he will have the strength and the courage to do what he must and stay the course.

Jillian got up and began her reflection by letting everyone know that she was the rebel in the family - the Casey who walked to the beat of a different drummer! If her parents said the sun was shining, she said it was cloudy on purpose.

When her Mom wanted her to stop using a pacifier, she hid them. Jillian said that she would go and find them each time and purposely show her mother that she was not ready to give them up.

Kathy had become Jillian's best friend - that was her greatest heartbreak, she lost her best friend. Her Dad was her inspiration - her role model for compassion and generosity of spirit. She spoke about how her parents had shaped her moral compass and instilled within her that anything she wanted to do with and for her life was possible. Impossible was never an option in the Casey family.

As I sat and listened to these two young adults speak of the influence and impact of their parents upon their lives, I realized how truly blessed all of us are who had shared some life with Andy and Kathy Casey.

The following is an excerpt from the memory card that Jillian chose for Andy and Kathy Casey: "You were my strength when I was weak, you were my voice when I couldn't speak, you were my eyes when I couldn't see, you saw the best there was in me. Lifted me up when I couldn't reach; You gave me faith 'cause you believed. I'm everything I am because you loved me.

I lost my faith, you gave it back to me, you said no star was out of reach, you stood by me and I stood tall, I had your love I had it all. I'm grateful for each day you gave to me; Maybe I don't know that much but I know that this is true - I was blessed because I was loved by you."

"Some people come into our lives and quietly go; some stay for awhile and leave footprints in our hearts and we are never the same." -Henry David Thoreau

Our local community nurtured Andy and Kathy in their youth. Our world is a little brighter and richer because they walked among us! Thanks for the footprints.