Thursday, December 2, 2010

Terry Corrigan

I cannot believe that I am writing yet another entry about yet another special person who has passed away.

Terry Corrigan was 75 when he passed away, in a freak accident in his own driveway just a few short weeks ago. He and his wife Ann were two of the most precious people I have ever met. My heart breaks at the thought of them separated, especially under such tragic circumstances.

I almost didn't hear about his passing. I happened to read about it in the newspaper, as I was flying to my grandmother's funeral and running out of reading material... so I turned to the back of the newspaper I had brought, and started reading obituaries... and I saw Terry's face and thought no - oh no...

I wonder at how Terry's passing affects me so. Unlike other people close to me who have died this year, I did not know Terry well. Although - somehow, that doesn't feel exactly true. I did not see Terry often, is a better way of phrasing it. Because somehow, I feel like I did get a chance to know the essence of Terry, in spite of our relatively sporadic interactions over the years that I knew him.

I wish I could say I met Terry under joyful circumstances. Instead, I am honored to say that I met him under important ones - that I had the privilege of witnessing, first hand, Terry's quiet, determined integrity to do the right thing, always. He was that rare kind of person who steps forward when others stand back. He and Ann stood together that way.

I know this because I met Terry through the Catholic church - or, should I say, through the people who were trying to keep the Church accountable for all it had done, and hid, when protecting pedophile priests from prosecution and consequences these past many years. Back about six years ago now, I felt that I should actively support those abused by priests in Spokane. So I started attending meetings with SNAP (Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests) and VOTF (Voice of the Faithful). At these meetings, I met Terry and Ann - heard from them about their son Tim, who committed suicide on August 29, 2002, the day an article was published about his abuser, then-priest Patrick O'Donnell. Over time, as I got to know them, I saw how they listened quietly to people's stories, felt the pain in their hearts, did what they could to lessen it. Sometimes - often - just their willingness to act as witness was what made the difference. They knew they couldn't bring their son back to life - they never even knew, before he died, that he'd been abused - but that didn't stop them from reaching out to others. I think now of how important it was, what they did back then... especially then, when emotions in this town ran dangerously high, when abuse victims stepped forward almost daily, saying, "He did that to me too..."

I know that Terry and Ann were public about their fight for justice - articles were written in the Spokesman Review and the Seattle Times - and I know that the steps they made to take on a church that they loved were some of most courageous steps that any person may ever take. "If you ever did an autopsy on us, you'd find Catholic in our bones," Terry told the Seattle Times back in 2004. My gosh, they chose to live right next door to their parish so their kids would have access to the church at all times. They kept a passel of cards in the basement, and sent two cards a year to every priest in the Diocese - one on his birthday and one on his ordination anniversary.

But there is a difference between right and wrong - and Terry and Ann knew it. They left the Church over it. "The crisis in the church is not the scandal," Terry told the Spokesman once. "It’s the hierarchy’s abuse of power. It’s the cover-up." And: "Some day I may be able to forgive O'Donnell [the abuser priest]. But I don't know if I can ever forgive those involved in the cover-up."

For all that bravery, what I remember best about Terry, and Ann right next to him, is watching them listen to people's personal stories in these meetings, and nod their heads - watching them act as true support for people who may not have had anyone else. I wonder how many victims the Corrigans comforted just by giving them support when their own parents didn't. It's like they were surrogate parents to all who came - quietly, but firmly, in their corners. For the Corrigans to be that way, when grieving the loss of their own son... what heroes they were.

I have flashes of other memories... like the time Terry came to my office and we drafted a letter together for the Voice of the Faithful to distribute to all the parishes and finance committees, about how the Diocese was hemorrhaging money because of all their attorney costs (one additional step to distract and delay getting to the root of everything). (We had little luck with that letter - from what we heard, the Diocese told the parishes to refuse to speak to us. And virtually all of them obeyed.)

I remember too, when we were at a vigil once, Ann talking about their grief in the aftermath of Tim's death. She told us that out of all the priests in the Diocese - all 150 or so, who got two cards a year from the Corrigans - only seven sent condolences. Seven. I can see her in my mind's eye, telling us this story, and then how she went down to the basement one day looking for Terry, and there he was, sitting at the desk, tears streaming down his face, trying to fill out the next batch of cards. Ann gently put her arms around him and said, "You know we can't do this anymore." And Terry said, "I know." A silver lining around that black cloud was that two Catholic friends came over within a half hour, took over responsibility for the cards, and took them from the house.

I remember one time, at one of our meetings, Terry sharing with the group how he went to Tim's grave - on the anniversary of his death - with purpose and ritual - how he told us of the mementos he brought, special to his relationship with Tim (they shared a love for the outdoors) - how he had finally reached a point where he was able to do that sort of personal ceremony. I was really happy for Terry that day, hearing him talk about what he had done, and what it had meant to him.

And I remember a few years ago, how the Corrigans so graciously bought a copy of my baseball novel - based on the true story of the 1946 Spokane Indians team that died in a bus crash midway through the season - and how they told me later how they read the book aloud to each other - how they had to hand it back and forth numerous times because one person couldn't read it very long before getting choked up. I cannot tell you adequately how touched I was by that story. I think now of how, in that book, I worked so hard to find a silver lining to that dark cloud, of those baseball men dying. And maybe I succeeded. But today, thinking of the unexpected, tragic loss of Terry to the lives of his family and friends, I don't know that I can be so optimistic. The best I can do is hope for the best.

Here is a story written in the local newspaper about Terry after he died (likely not accessible to non-subscription holders, sorry): The article's first line is: "Did Spokane just lose its greatest man?"

One thing that struck me, at his memorial service a couple weeks ago: Terry touched so many lives. I knew about the world in which I met him, how helpful he was. But from his business, and through friends and family, everyone remembered this quiet man of integrity. It was a way of life with him, to be like that. Our lives were richer because Terry was a part of them.

And then the other morning, it was the first true snowfall of the season. That first snowfall is beautiful, really - when the earth turns white. The world slows down. People smile and wave as they navigate the streets. There is a charity in the air that is less present on other mornings. The sweetness of that morning made me think of Terry, how much he would have enjoyed it all. I miss him.

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