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The Pascal Mystery: Death evolving into life Print
Guest column
Written by Sr. Ruth Battaglia, CSA   
Thursday, Apr. 24, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

After successful treatment for breast cancer 16 years ago, it returned with a vengeance -- 15 small brain tumors and a lung tumor. This time it was stage four cancer.

The diagnosis stunned everyone. The news of Patty Kelbel’s condition spread quickly, especially among the Christian Experience Weekend (CEW) community. CEW is an intense retreat experience, directed mostly by laity, that has been a joint venture between the parishes of St. Ann in Stoughton and Holy Mother of Consolation (HMC) in Oregon for a number of years.

Community of prayer, support

Each year there is a CEW for women and one for men. The weekend is not just a one- time event; it creates an ongoing community of prayer, support, and caring. This would become profoundly evident in the days that followed and the little over two months that Patty lived after the return of cancer was confirmed.

Word reached most of us late in the afternoon on a Saturday. Within 24 hours, a prayer vigil -- planned and led by a CEW member and friend -- was scheduled for Patty and her family at Holy Mother of Consolation. Over 50 people from both parishes gathered for an hour to pray, sing, and comfort one another.

Both Patty and her husband, Scott, had not only participated in CEW weekends, but themselves had given witness talks. Their friends and CEW family were ready to support them during this trying time.

Quickly people assumed responsibility for shoveling the driveway and walks when it snowed, bringing meals to the house, sending cards, gifts, and words of encouragement.

Three more times the CEW community, along with others, held prayer vigils for Patty and the Kelbel family at their home. The last was the evening of Scott’s 50th birthday and just hours before Patty passed the following morning.

When a series of radiation treatments provided minimal relief from severe headaches, Patty chose not to take the next step of chemotherapy. Instead, hospice would come to the Kelbel home and every effort would be made to keep her pain-free and comfortable. Scott and their grown children, Jeff, Ben, and Jessica, surrounded her with love and care.

Faith strengthened

Early on a good friend of Patty’s urged Scott to post updates regarding Patty on Caring Bridge. At first Scott was reluctant, but in the end it seemed the easiest way to inform Patty’s family, friends, co-workers, students, faith formation class, Bible study group, and the parishes of HMC and St. Ann regarding what would become the final journey of her life.

Eventually there were nearly 9,000 posts on Patty’s Caring Bridge page. Writing each day, though often difficult, gave expression to the deep emotions that stirred inside Scott.

Scott faithfully posted a daily update on Caring Bridge. Often he would indicate that Patty was weakening but comfortable. As Scott moved through his own journey, there was anguish at seeing Patty in pain, grief at the thought of losing her, and troubling questions and doubts.

Scott began posting songs that soothed him and gave him strength and shared messages that encouraged him, gave him hope, and lifted his spirits. It was evident that Scott was moving deeper in faith, humility, patience, compassion, and all of the Christian virtues that really matter. The faithful readers of Caring Bridge soon felt their own hearts being touched and their own faith strengthened by his words.

Expression of the Paschal Mystery

For me it’s been a visible expression of the Paschal Mystery, death evolving into life. As Patty’s body grew weaker, her spirit soared with peace, even joy, as she embraced death in hope of the resurrection.

I observed a man move from wavering faith to recognizing God in both the small and the significant moments of each day, and then sharing the good news with others.

And I witnessed a community that gives witness to 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other.”

Patty Kelbel died on Saturday, April 5. The outpouring of love continued as people gathered once more for her funeral, to honor her and to celebrate with her the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.

“This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” (2 Timothy 2:11-12).

There is a little more of the reign of God realized in this world because of the life of Patty Kelbel, her family, two parishes, and the CEW community.

Sr. Ruth Battaglia, CSA, is the pastoral associate at Holy Mother of Consolation Parish in Oregon.