Each person is capable of living life with a lively faith. Even if we are dying, we can still deepen our relationship with God and show genuine love and concern for others.
For Francis Barillaro of Meriden, sharing in the hope of eternal life with his wife Judith, who died of cancer more than two years ago, made one of life’s most trying periods one of the most beautiful times, too.
“We shared a hope for a cure or at least remission,” he says, “but also hope for something much greater than that: We shared most of all the hope of eternal life, together in union with God.”
Although there were times that Judith was sad, frustrated, scared and impatient during her illness, Barillaro says his wife kept moving forward in a positive manner and continued to live out her motto, “live life with a lively faith,” until her death.
“We experienced much joy from just being together and being with our family and friends,” says Barillaro of his wife’s 11-year battle with breast cancer. “Our marriage grew stronger and more meaningful. Our faith as individuals and as one body deepened.”
To help people living with a serious illness, their loved ones and the professional caregivers who walk the path with them, Barillaro self-published the book Judith’s Journey to demonstrate that hope, faith and a positive attitude can help out in any situation.
Combined with daily inspirational quotes from Judith, excerpts from a journal she kept, commentary from Barillaro himself and their four children and observations from Judith’s friends and professional caregivers, the book chronicles Judith’s journey, beginning on April 30, 2004. That was the day of her annual bilateral mammogram, when the radiologist discovered a mass in her left breast measuring 3.9 centimeters.
“Judith’s Journey is a testimony to the culture of life,” Barillaro says. “It shows that vulnerability does not entail a loss of dignity or a loss of usefulness. It shouts that we can live even while we are dying, that dying is part of living and growing, a process of preparation for eternal life that should never be artificially cut short.”
In addition, Judith’s Journey is an acknowledgment of the 48-year marriage the Barillaros built around their faith-based love. Even before her diagnosis, Judith’s faith in God was deep-rooted. She always lived by the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach always and when necessary, use words.” She taught confirmation classes with her husband, and the couple served together for several decades in the Franciscan Apprenticeship program of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in Meriden. The couple made Meriden their home.
After Judith had exhausted all treatments to keep cancer at bay and she knew that death was imminent, she and her husband actively began preparing for her passing into eternal life, which, according to her specific directions, was to be a celebration of life.
She chose her casket and a plot in the cemetery; designed her tombstone, which included the Franciscan Apprenticeship Cross and a picture of St. Francis of Assisi on one side and birds etched on the reverse side; chose the liturgy; decided on New Orleans jazz music to be played; and requested that 71 colored balloons one balloon for each year of her life be released at the cemetery after her burial.
Judith also asked that banners be created and displayed at the funeral home with quotes she lived by imprinted on them. They read: “Celebrate! Be Joyful”; “Do everything you do in Lively Faith!”; “We live on the edge of the Miraculous”; and “FAMILY ... Always a place of generosity, understanding, forgiveness & Joy.” She died on May 3, 2015.
Amid the ups and downs of fighting cancer that returned after remission and the debilitating side effects resulting from ongoing treatments, Judith’s combination of optimism, persistence, grace and strong faith was then and can still be an inspiration to others today.
Barillaro, who continues to be involved with the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, now serves as a hospice and bereavement volunteer with the order’s Franciscan Home Care and Hospice Care in Meriden. Like Judith, he also decided to become an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, delivering the Body of Christ to Catholic patients weekly at Midstate Medical Center in Meriden.
While he misses his wife’s physical presence, Barillaro says he has been able to move forward because of their shared belief that physical death only means life has changed, not ended.
“If God lives in me, and Judith lives in God, then Judith lives in me,” Barillaro says.
Copies of Judith’s Journey can be purchased online at judithsjourney.com. A portion of the purchase price will be donated to the Franciscan Home Care and Hospice Care.