It was 30 years this August 14th (the Feast Day of St. Maximilian Kolbe), and Lucy is missed. Lucy wasn’t famous, yet she displayed heroic virtue that begs to be shared with others. She was appropriately named “Lucy,” as she was described as one who litup the scene where she was present. She passed away suddenly from a heart attack at age 37.
Lucy was only daughter of a Cuban refugee, Maria Lucia Bertran, whose husband had left the two of them when Lucy was an infant. As an adolescent, Lucy fled Cuba, with other children, arriving in the United States through Operation Peter Pan, a joint program of the Central Intelligence Agency of the U.S. and the Archdiocese of Miami. This allowed children to escape a life under Castro. From Miami Lucy traveled to Rochester where she and other Cuban girls settled and studied at a Catholic Academy.
A very bright, talented, and outgoing young lady with strong character, deep religious commitment, and a love of people, Lucy landed an excellent job at Eastman Kodak Company. She met the love of her life, Larry, and was married. Larry had studied International Relations with an emphasis on Latin American studies, so they had much in common. Starting out in married life, they looked forward to raising children. But it didn’t happen – for 7 years. After Lucy found out that she was pregnant, all was well for a few months, except for Lucy’s asthma, chronic since childhood. Then, mid-pregnancy, a very lengthy hospitalization began because of severe toxemia and Lucy’s difficulty breathing due to the asthma. Additionally, it was determined that her child in utero was especially small for gestational age. Larry assisted her with breathing exercises when he visited; on workdays he went 4 times aday.
Suddenly, things went from bad to worse and Larry was asked to make a decision about which one--Lucy or the baby --should be saved. Aware of this decision, Lucy insisted upon HER answer: the baby was to be saved no matter what, even at the risk of her own life. Overnight, before the doctors could act upon any decision, Lucy spontaneously went into labor, leaving all in God’s hands. Larry received a call about the imminent delivery from the hospital in the wee hours of the morning. He dropped to his knees, praying for God’s mercy. The very premature and especially tiny baby was born. It was a boy. They had a son.
He was baptized that night, as his life was held in the balance. He had stopped breathing. Then he resumed breathing. He survived, as did his mother. Lucy insisted that “Lawrence, Jr.” be his name, after her husband. Seven years later a daughter was born, from another premature and high-risk pregnancy. The two offspring, Leslye and Larry, are currently in their 30s.
Lucy’s story, about how she would have chosen her son’s life over her own, has been repeated many times over the past 30 years, because it was 30 years ago (when her son was 8 and daughter was 2) that she suddenly passed away of cardiac disease and returned home to God.
I never met Lucy, but I love to tell others about her. To me, she illustrates deep Faith, Hope and Love. And her decision was an amazing example of “Love of Neighbor.” I have gotten to “know” Lucy through her friends, relatives, and especially through her husband, who I am so blessed to have been married to for over 25 years. He joins me in presenting her story to you.
At first I was a little “jealous of her” – can you believe that!?! She was described as loving and vivacious. And in her wedding picture she was so tall, thin, and beautiful! I felt guilty and embarrassed about my feelings so, at first I tried to hide them. But eventually I told my sister-in-law Patty who pointed out that my husband probably prayed for me everyday. This was a novel concept to me, as I was not Catholic yet. It showed me a new side of loving. His love for me helped me grow rapidly to the point that I felt that Lucy was my really special friend in Heaven. As her two children had become entrusted to me, I felt that I was entrusting the baby I had lost years earlier, mid-pregnancy, to her care.
Yes, Lucy passed away on the Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who offered his life so that another in a Nazi death camp might live the same way that Lucy was ready to offer her life for her son… How does someone like Lucy and like St. Maximilian Kolbe do this? They both knew the example of Jesus. His actions, love, obedience, and virtues were printed in their hearts. They both had been taught to imitate Jesus since early childhood, and they both loved Him. As a result, their decisions were so clear to both of them.
Today, I want to thank Jesus for what He did for us and for His example of how to love. Would you take some time today to thank Jesus as well, and ask him to show you to make choices always according to his teachings of love?
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