“Bob and I are grateful for all the support Terri received from Canadians,” Mary Schindler shared during our last phone conversation. “We never would have gotten through this without the prayers we received from all over. God gives us the grace to continue when our human strength fails.”
Mary paused for a few moments. This was not supposed to be an interview. The Schindler family had requested some time away from the media to grieve and our conversation was simply a telephone call between friends. Our family wished to express our condolences over Terri’s passing. It is what we would do with any other friend who had lost a child.
Yet, Mary went on the record for a moment and insisted I share her family’s gratitude for the support they received from Canada.
Barely a fortnight had passed since the starvation and dehydration of her daughter, Terri Schindler-Schiavo. Given the circumstances, Mary was coping much better than I or anyone else could have imagined. Anyone but her, that is. She never thought the culture of death would succeed in claiming her first born. Until the end, she hoped for a miracle.
“It isn’t over for us,” Mary continued. “Once we have had a little time to mourn Terri and to recuperate from all that has happened, we’re going to come back and help other families in similar situations. There are many other people like Terri who need our help. We lost Terri, but with God’s help, we can save others.”
The Schindler family wishes to play a more permanent role within the disability and right-to-life movements. Many find this surprising, especially after watching them run such an emotional marathon, which ended with the judicial execution of their daughter.
Yet, this desire to help others is consistent with the Schindlers’ character. Christ implores us to love one’s neighbour as oneself, and the Schindler family takes the Golden Rule one step further by loving other families as their own.
Our own family experienced this love first hand back in October 2003. It is a story I have never before shared in print, but one that aptly illustrates the Schindlers’ love of family and their ongoing concern for the well-being of others.
My wife Sonya and I were expecting our second daughter at the time, a week or two away from the due date. Yet, Sonya insisted we make the hour-and-a-half drive each morning to the hospice in St. Petersburg, Fla. We simply could not imagine Bob and Mary Schindler losing a daughter just as we were preparing to welcome our own into the world. So, we joined the hundreds of protesters who had gathered around the hospice.
Terri had now gone five days without food or water. This was the longest period she had been deprived of nutrition and hydration and she was beginning to suffer irreversible damage. State Senator Bill King was refusing to bring Terri’s Law to the floor in the Florida Senate. Additionally, Michael Schiavo was refusing to allow Terri to receive Holy Communion and had also attempted to bar Monsignor Malanowski from Terri’s bedside. In short, Bob and Mary Schindler had a lot weighing on their hearts.
“Pete! Sonya!” Bob called after a particularly gruelling interview. “Would you mind coming back to the trailer? Mary and I would like to talk with you, if you have a moment.”
A sense of both urgency and concern tinged his voice. Much of the interview had concerned Terri not being allowed to receive Holy Communion, as well as Bishop Lynch’s weak response to this denial of a fundamental right in the church’s law. As a canon lawyer – meaning one qualified to work within the Catholic church’s internal legal system – I assumed this is what Bob and Mary wished to discuss.
I was wrong. Bob sat us down across the table and he took our hands in his. He then sat Mary down next to him and smiled gently. He spoke of the joy he had while present at Mary’s bedside for the birth of the couple’s children. His face lit up as he described the love each of their children brought to the family.
“Mary and I really appreciate all that you’ve done for Terri,” Bob continued, “but we’re worried about you two making the trek out this late in the pregnancy. We’re here for our daughter; you need to be back home for yours. Terri always loved children and she would not want you to jeopardize your child on her behalf. So we want you to put your family first, stay close to home for the next couple of weeks and ready yourselves for the baby. No matter what happens to Terri, you need to be there for your family. But promise us you will come back and visit us as soon as the baby can travel. We cannot wait to meet her.”
Sonya and I were stunned. We thought of all that was happening to the Schindler family at the moment: of Terri laying in the hospice without food and water for nearly a week; of the hundreds of other protesters who had gathered outside in support of Terri and her family; of the media circus and the gruelling last-minute legal and political maneuvering taking place. Where had Bob and Mary Schindler found either the time or the emotional strength to worry about our family’s welfare?
We realized then what type of people Bob and Mary Schindler happen to be. They are authentic family people who illustrate the love we should hold for God, for family, and for neighbour. The right-to-life movement can only benefit from their continued involvement in the culture war.