My Visit With Terri at Sylvan Abbey
By Cheryl Ford RN
Terri Schindler Schiavo’s remains quietly were buried at Sylvan Abbey Cemetery in Clearwater, Florida after she was forced to die from 13 days of starvation and dehydration. The removal of her feeding tube came after a local probate Judge in Clearwater, Florida had obliged Terri’s estranged husband, Michael Schiavo’s wishes, to remove her feeding tube; a small tube that had successfully nourished Terri for 15 years after her unexplained tragedy.
Her family was not allowed to be in the room with Terri when she took her final breath. Michael had forced them to remain in the hallway. After her death, her body was immediately taken from Woodside Hospice in Clearwater, Florida, and driven to the local coroners office where an autopsy was performed the following day. It wasn’t until several weeks later, when the autopsy report revealed to the public that Terri was healthy in every way, except that of her brain injury.
The report had concluded that her unexplained collapse, 15 years earlier, was not due to low potassium, or a heart attack; medical problems that Michael Schiavo had spent years convincing the courts, stating that was what had caused Terri’s collapse in 1990.
Terri was baptized, confirmed, and raised a Catholic. Her parents Bob and Mary Schindler brought Terri and her siblings up in a loving Catholic family household. They attended Mass every Sunday. As well, Terri was married in a Catholic Church. In Catholicism, we are taught that life is a precious gift from God. Taking one’s own life, or having someone shorten life, is equivalent to not being appreciative or grateful to God for the gift of life HE has given to us. Sadly, Michael Schiavo chose to shorten Terri’s life at her young age of 41 years old. Terri’s family suffered tremendously, knowing what Michael was doing to their daughter, was against God’s wishes, and would be against Terri’s wishes as well. Terri died on March 31, 2005.
The Schindler’s suffering continued as the days passed by after Terri’s death. Michael Schiavo had told news reporters that he had planned on keeping Terri’s burial a secret, preventing her family from knowing where her remains were kept. Many reports had said that he was taking Terri’s ashes out of the state of Florida and she was going to be buried in an undisclosed location somewhere in Pennsylvania. Needless to say, each day, as the Schindlers grieved the loss of their daughter, their angst grew more overwhelming, eagerly awaiting for some word, any word, as to where their daughters remains would be laid to rest.
On April 22, 2005, almost one month after Terri’s death, Mary Schindler shared these words with me.
“My heart aches over the loss of my daughter. She was a part of my daily life for the last 41 years. She would have been residing in our home with us for the last fifteen years had she been allowed. She was, and will always be, my baby. I will never forget her. I miss her terribly. The pain and distress she was in during her final days because of what they did to her will never leave my mind. Bob has a difficult time sleeping at night. The last we were told was that Michael cremated Terri. This week, our attorneys told us she is still here in Florida. Michael will not tell us where, or what he will do with her and this breaks my heart. As her Mother, I want my daughter to be buried where our family may visit her graveside. Our only relief right now comes in knowing they can bring no more harm to her. We know that she is safe and in the protected hands of God.”
It was not until three months after Terri’s had died, that the Schindlers had learned by facsimile that their daughters remains were buried in Florida, at Sylvan Abbey Cemetery in Clearwater.
Last month I visited Terri’s grave. She is buried in a very beautiful and peaceful cemetery.
I was amazed to see that Terri was buried in a much older section of the cemetery and only a few feet from a pond and very large fountain. The silence surrounding her grave site was drowned by the noise of loud running water. Water, the very substance that Terri was deprived of, resulting in her tragic and inhumane death.
After praying and visiting Terri, I took a stroll around the cemetery and came upon a pleasant lady who had said she worked there. She was very friendly and willingly answered my questions. I had asked her about Terri’s service. She replied, “There was no real service per say, she was buried in the early morning hours with just her husband and another gentleman there.”
I then asked her how did Terri’s remains happen to be buried in what appeared to be the older section of the cemetery. As you can see from the above photo taken, the bench is much newer than any other markers surrounding Terri’s plot. She explained that Michael had known the woman who worked there and special arrangements had been made to bury Terri. She conveyed that Terri’s remains were buried in an unplotted area of the older section of the cemetery. In other words, the average person would not have been capable of making purchase of that particular grave site. I also learned from her, that it took 13 weeks to order a marker and a bench. If my calculations served me correctly, that would have meant that Schiavo had ordered the bench and plot immediately after Terri died.
Aware of how Michael had shown no care or respect for Terri, her family, her love for her parents, or her faith and love for God, it really did not come as a surprise to me that he would have had the necessary connections to bury her right near the water. Nor did it surprise me to learn how he had known all along that he was not going to transport her remains to Pennsylvania, and his statements that he was going to ship her remains out of Florida, were obviously made only to cause her mother and father additional pain.
Michael Schiavo wrote on Terri’s marker that she departed the earth in 1990, and that he had kept a promise to her.
I cannot resist asking one question to Michael Schiavo.............
What about your promise before
God; the promise you took on the alter to love and cherish Terri, in
sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, for better for worse, and
forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her, for so long as you both
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