Authors: Terri's Family:,Robert Schindler
Copyright © 2006 by Mary Schindler, Robert Schindler, Bobby Schindler and Suzanne Schindler Vitadamo
All rights reserved.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
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To our beloved Terri,
And to all with disabilities, wounded in body or spirit,
May God always be your never-ceasing fountain
Of strength, consolation, and joy.
May you be seen as our society’s greatest treasures.
With special thanks to Richard Marek, who, with patience and enthusiasm, helped us mold our painful memories into a cohesive narrative; to our agents Joni Evans and Mel Berger; to Michael and Alexandra for their endless support and special love; to Mike and C.B. for all their help during such a difficult time; to David Gibbs, Pat Anderson and Joe Magri and all of the attorneys who represented us passionately and selflessly in the legal battle; to Monsignor Thaddeus Malanowski and all the clergy, who provided spiritual support when we needed it most; to the many politicians for showing great courage; to the Disability Groups and all the organizations that stood with us; and to the millions of people who supported and loved Terri as she fought for her life.
We are not the people you think we are.
You know us from television, surrounded by microphones, fighting for Terri’s life, and you might easily have the misconception that we’re political people, unreasonable people, even fanatics. Instead, we’re an intensely private family who loathe the spotlight and would have given anything not to have it shine on us. The tragedy of our adored Terri made us public figures, symbols in a case that bitterly divided the country.
Our story is not the one we believe you were told, the one you saw on television and read in the newspapers. Our story—the real story—has never been told; no one, not even our closest friends, knew the struggles we went through mentally and emotionally as fifteen terrible years went by.
Yes, we sought what public tools we could—sometimes it was the politicians, sometimes the media, always the courts—so we could stand as advocates for a woman who couldn’t defend herself. What family wouldn’t? But to do so was agony, and each of us wants now to retreat into our own grief, our private prayers, our silent sorrow.
A year ago, our girl was lost to us. The outpouring of support couldn’t save her; the condolence letters, cards, and notes cannot bring her back. We lost. Terri lost. America lost. In upholding Michael Schiavo’s petition to have his wife’s life terminated, the courts ruled for death over life, and we are individually and collectively diminished by their decision.
Many people have asked us to write a book, and we’ve always said no, refusing to open ourselves up to the pain of public display all over again. But we keep thinking of Terri and how she died, and we realize we owe her this book as a way of making sure that what happened will never happen again. Millions of people wrestle with the question of what they’d do if they faced our situation. This book, born of the pain of the past, may guide them to the answer. We believe that Terri was nothing less than the victim of judicial murder. And if by revealing ourselves as we really are, and Terri as she really was, means that no one else shares Terri’s fate, then our story will be the one memorial Terri would have wanted.
Where there is love, there is no burden.
Brother Anthony Sweere, f.b.p.
I was not with Terri the night before she died. Neither was my husband, Bob. But Bobby, our son, and Suzanne, our daughter, were in her hospice room. They felt, rightly, that the sight of her would cause me and Bob too much pain. As always, they wanted to protect us.
Terri had been without food and water for thirteen days. Every motion, petition, and appeal to reinsert her feeding tube had been denied by courts throughout Florida and by the U.S. Supreme Court itself. We were not sure when death would come. We only knew that starvation is inexorable, and since there was no hope, we prayed for her comfortable release.
Her story is unique because it involved a pope and a president, movie stars, radio personalities, and prominent politicians. There’s nothing unusual, however, about the loss of a child. Such tragedies are daily events. And the moral, religious, and ethical issues surrounding Terri surround all similar tragedies. Bob and I believe that God put Terri on earth to serve as a beacon, that she was taken from us so that others who suffer Terri’s plight will not be taken from those who love them. That is why we’ve written this book.
And we start with her death, knowing it is an inspiration.
My daughter Suzanne begins:
“The hospice facility was about a quarter mile away from a major thoroughfare and only accessible from one intersecting narrow street. That street was lined with a temporary orange mesh fence the police erected to prevent any parking near the hospice. Huge crowds gathered behind the fence, as though they were there to watch a parade. Many were in wheelchairs, disabled, brought by loved ones so they could show their support. Some held banners urging Florida Governor Jeb Bush to intercede on Terri’s behalf. Others proclaimed Terri’s right to live. As you drove into the street, you came to a barricade. To go beyond, you had to show the police your identification. In time they recognized me and the members of my family, but we had to show our ID, anyway.
“Once past the barricade, we were free to go to our ‘home away from home,’ a little odds-and-ends shop across the street from the hospice. Its owner, Stephanie Willets, who couldn’t have been more generous or more giving of herself, had cleared a space for us and brought in an area rug, a couch, end tables and lamps, a refrigerator, a few chairs. It was like a little private room, just large enough for the four of us Schindlers, though there were friends and family who came to visit. Outside, there was an absolute zoo. If the door opened even a hair, there were about fifty cameras and media people waiting for us—
Maybe there’s a family member coming out! Let’s grab ’im.
“When Bobby and I went to see Terri on the night of March 30, we called two of the several policemen who were guarding the hospice entrance, a call any of us had to make when we wanted to go to the hospice. They acted as an escort, because there was no way we could make it across the street by ourselves without getting mauled. This night—it must have been about nine o’clock—the police came over, and we made a human chain. A few bystanders actually helped clear the way to the driveway of the hospice. Father Frank Pavone was with us, part of the chain. Five foot six, in his mid-forties, with dark hair and glasses, he was mild-mannered, unassuming, calm, reasoned—and one of the most inspirational people we’ve ever known. He had become a dear friend to us, and we felt he was able to comfort Terri.
“The driveway was blockaded against the media, and there was a row of cops. We could have walked freely from the beginning of the driveway to the hospice, but we nevertheless had to stop. The police had set up one of those white canopy tents, and we had to go inside it so they could check our ID and radio the hospice to make sure
it was clear for us to enter. K-9 police dogs beyond the tent and snipers on the rooftops overlooking the hospice acted as additional guards.
“We had to be approved to enter because Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, could, at will, turn us back. That went for our parents as well. It was particularly hard on them. We could be kept from seeing Terri for hours and hours. There was no explanation, just ‘Michael Schiavo says no.’ If that was the case, we’d have to be escorted back to the shop and wait for the police to come get us when it was okay to come over.
“This night we were allowed to proceed. There was another blockade at the front door, and the police made everybody—not just us, but anyone visiting a patient at the hospice—sign in and show identification. I’m not sure if they searched other people with metal detectors, but we were carefully wanded. We had to empty out all our pockets. We had to leave our purses and wallets behind.
“Once we were cleared, we could walk down the hallway to Terri’s room, where there were another two policemen outside. Again we had to sign in and show our ID. And even then, we were chaperoned by the police into Terri’s room.”
My son, Bobby, continues:
“I remember walking into the room, looking at Terri and, in a rage, thinking,
Look what they’ve done to my beautiful sister.
It’s hard watching someone dear to you being killed.
“The sight of Terri was awful. Her skin was discolored, and there was blood pooling in her eyes, which were darting wildly back and forth. Her cheeks were hollowed out, and her teeth were protruding. She looked like a skeleton from a horror movie.
“She was gasping for air. Earlier when I’d seen her, she was moving spastically, like she was in extreme pain and suffering. This night she lay almost still, but you could see she was scared and in pain.
“By that point, I was resigned that it was all over. I was praying that her suffering would end. It was a very intimate setting—me, Suzy, Father Frank, and Terri. I was on one side of the bed, Suzy on the other, and Father was directly across from me. He led us in prayer. We said the rosary together, and we prayed with Father, and he sang to Terri, beautiful Latin songs. We were all holding Terri. I had my face buried on Terri’s shoulder because I couldn’t bear to look at her.
“I thought of how happy we all were growing up, of the vacations we took together, of the birthdays and holidays, the parties. I thought of the times Terri and I danced together and of our grandparents, whom we loved so much. And I worried about losing my parents because of all the stress they were experiencing, and I was frightened.
“One memory in particular leaped at me. I had just bought a motorcycle and went to show it to Terri, who immediately wanted me to take her for a ride. She jumped on the back and held me, her head buried in my shoulder, her arms around my waist holding on for dear life, not wanting to let go. I would have given anything to be back at that moment, Terri holding me, and me telling her not to worry, that I would never let her go.
“It was quiet in Terri’s room. We were just holding her, just waiting. A sense of peace overcame me. I believe Christ’s presence was with us that very instant, assuring us that in all of Terri’s suffering, He was with her, with us in that room, and through Father’s prayers, letting us know that we shouldn’t worry about Terri, that she would be with Him soon.
“We stayed there a long time. I think until well after midnight. Then either the cops or some hospice officials told us we had to leave because it was time for Michael to visit.
“We had no choice but to leave. Suzy went home, exhausted, and Father Pavone and I went back to the room at the odds-and-ends store, where Father’s friend Jerry Horn, of Priests for Life, was waiting for us. The three of us sat and talked and prayed, but I was getting more and more nervous. We kept calling the guards asking if we could get back in, and they kept saying no.
“What made me so edgy was that two days earlier, an obituary of Terri was released on CBSNews.com.
It said that, made up and dressed, she died surrounded by stuffed animals, Michael—‘her only love’—by her side. It’s true that she had stuffed animals, but I don’t think after what we’d seen that she could be described as dressed and made up, and it
wasn’t true that she was dead! The obituary was all hearts and flowers, scripted for public consumption, so everybody would think Terri had died peacefully.