Presvytera Melanie DiStefano lives with her husband Rev Fr Joseph DiStefano and their son Michael Seraphim. Together they serve the parish of St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Youngstown, Ohio. Melanie has a background in Chemical Engineering and graduated from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology with a Masters of Divinity in 2003.
Timmy, Yiayia, and the Resurrection
Growing up, my brothers and I used to play at my maternal grandparents’ house with the neighborhood children. I love to revisit these innocent times full of joy and wonder in my memory. We would spend our days outside until nightfall. Just at dusk the sky would flicker with little orbs of yellow light. Sometimes we would catch the fireflies and keep them in jars with holes in the lid, watching with wonder at the nature-made lanterns.
The Swedic boys
Two of my favorite playmates lived next door to Grandma and Grandpa – the youngest Swedic boys – Timmy and Tommy. Timmy was two years older and Tommy one year older than I. They were happy, kind and respectful children. I don’t remember any instances of them being mean-spirited, like other children (including myself) could sometimes be.
When I was about 6 years old I remember that Timmy became sick. Only Tommy would call on us to play because his older brother just didn’t have the strength to run around outside. My mom told me he was very sick. It was the first time I had heard of this disease called cancer. He had special treatments to try to overcome this disease which caused his hair to fall out; so we never saw him without a baseball cap. On good days he would visit with us on my grandparents’ front porch, and was still as happy as I had ever known him to be. Once he was featured in a newspaper article when a professional football player from The Cleveland Browns’ came to visit him at his house. Timmy was holding an autographed football, and he looked so happy in the picture that was published!
I don’t know exactly how much time passed until the day he died. I will never forget hearing the news from my mother and father. They told me that Timmy had passed away and was in heaven now. Today they were going to his funeral. A heaviness descended upon my heart. I wanted so much to attend the funeral with them to see Timmy one last time, but for some reason I just could not seem to express my wish. Perhaps because I was a timid child I did not question my parents’ decision to leave me and my brothers with my Yiayia – my paternal grandmother – that day.
Timmy is in heaven now.
My brothers were younger than I and probably didn’t understand what was happening. They were off playing somewhere at Yiayia’s while I sat at her kitchen table in a daze. Yiayia prepared me some cereal for breakfast. My head hung low and I watched my tears raining down into the bowl of cornflakes, mingling with the warm milk.
“Why do you cry?” Yiayia said gently.
All at once the grief rushed out of me like a river whose dam had caved. “Yiayia, Timmy died! Why did he die Yiayia?! Why?!” I sobbed.
She came close to me and looked straight into my soul with her knowing eyes. “Timmy is in heaven now with God. He is happy.” Her answer was simple and no different from my parents’ words, but the way she said it was with so much certainty and peace. My parents told me with sadness and apologetically. When Yiayia said it, it was as if she was privy to some special secret and I knew in my heart it was true.
“Here” she gave me some paper and crayons, “Why don’t you draw a picture of Timmy in heaven…”
I tried to imagine what heaven must look like. I drew a picture of a place full of sunshine and beautiful flowers and trees. Timmy was playing there on a swing, happy and wearing his baseball cap.
I believe it was to my great benefit and by God’s providence that I did not go to the funeral that day. If I had, I would not have received Yiayia’s joyful message. So much like the “women disciples of the Lord” were to the eleven grieving disciples, millennia before, my Yiayia was a witness to me of the Resurrection at a time in my life when I was confronted with the death of a beloved friend.
Many years have passed since my Yiayia’s repose. If I could take a crayon to paper today I would draw a picture of heaven. There would be beautiful trees and flowers there, birds soaring, and the Sun of Righteousness shining His light. My Yiayia and Timmy would be there, warm in His love. She would look at me with her knowing eyes and he would smile at me with his warm, Timmy smile.
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