“I’m ok, don’t worry…”

Five years ago, Dr. G told the Petteys about this experience on Nov. 5, 2014 after Dominik died. Yesterday, he sent this written account. The email came in at 11:11PM.

Dear Patrick, Magda, Nicholas and Veronika,

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and that 2020 will be filled with joy, love and peace for each one of you.

I would like to apologize, Magda, for the length of time it has taken for me to write this account of my experience of the days surrounding Dominik’s passing. Compared to what you guys, and other people closer to this tragedy have been through, it seems so totally preposterous to suggest that it is emotionally difficult. However, having greeted Drew at the door and then being the last adult to hear the boys with Dominik before they headed home, I must say, Amy M.’s beautiful and moving post describing a sense of guilt really resonates with me. I also had this belief that I needed to interpret, perfectly, my two brief interactions with Dominik. I’m still not clear why I had this preconception.

Nonetheless, I have been getting gentle reminders from above that I need to get out of my own head and write down what occurred, from my perspective, when Dom passed. For example, just last week, a former Gonzaga student, now a freshman at UVA, came in as a new patient to my office with his father. He was wearing a Dom bracelet (I see these everywhere now, over five years later, not least of which is on the wrists of my two Eagles). The family did not know you all directly, nor had the young man known Dominik except through friends. But when I inquired, both father and son proceeded to detail how they had been profoundly affected by Dom’s passing, and by all of the events that have followed. I just listened as they told their version of what it meant to them. I then shared that Dom had been at our house the night of his passing, and that he had been a close friend of our daughter. Another recent reminder was when a patient of mine shared that she and her husband had been asked to accompany another couple, their best friends, on a trip to Poland. These pilgrims are all journeying together for the purpose of retrieving a relic, a bone fragment, of St. Faustina Kowalska, the Apostle of Divine Mercy, for their parish. I shared your story and the passing of Dominik, and the importance of the message of Divine Mercy to all of you, and this kind woman promised to pray for your family throughout her trip.

It is no surprise to me that I was sent these messages and was inspired to take advantage of the holiday time, and to fight through the emotions, to reflect and document the story of my experience with Dom. I firmly believe and agree with the words of Rev. Mark Knestout in his homily at Dom’s funeral: “There are no coincidences in life – they’re unique occurrences — God’s way of showing us that he is with us, that he is around us, and they inspire us in some way.”

So, here is a brief summary of my experience….

On October 31, 2014, my wife, Liz and I had the pleasure of meeting Dominik, as he and friends arrived at our house to attend a Halloween party hosted by my daughter and several of her friends from Visitation. I will never forget the introduction. Dom was surrounded by his friends, and as he reached to give me a firm handshake with a serious look in his eye, he didn’t see the stepdown into our family room, and he stumbled. All of his friends howled with laughter and they called him a few names somewhat under their breath – he did not break eye contact with me but instead completed the greeting by politely thanking us for having him. Liz and I both remember Dom’s wide smile quickly transitioning to that straight face just before he missed the step and then gracefully recovered. This whole group of young men couldn’t have been more gracious and respectful. Unfortunately, their world shifted dramatically early the next morning, on All Saints Day.

The week that followed this tragic event was agonizing for so many people who loved Dom. Each person’s level of suffering is quite personal at such times. Imagining your family’s despair magnified the discomfort to an unspeakable degree, and the helplessness, and the guilt of the “what ifs” creates a darkness that other tangentially connected parents might describe as simply unbearable, which I can attest to.

Patrick may not remember but he reached out to me through my daughter – I had never met Patrick. I was sitting in the office of a psychiatrist with Liz, trying to make sense and to process the recent events, when the phone call came from my daughter to my wife’s phone. Ordinarily, one wouldn’t answer the phone during such an appointment but our daughter was also struggling tremendously at the time, and we were deeply concerned about her. Patrick’s message, as I received it from my daughter through my wife in that doctor’s office on November 3, 2014, was simple: “Mr. Pettey wanted me to tell you not to worry.”

And as the first week of November 2014 continued to unfold, stories about, and messages from, your family rapidly began to disperse. Most remarkably, it seems that almost immediately your family’s reaction was, and now over five years later unwaveringly continues to be, we must minister to those that are hurting because of our son’s passing – Patrick’s message mentioned above is a perfect example. As I told my daughter then, and what I still marvel at today is, this reaction is extraordinary. Everyone who has experienced the grace of the Pettey family’s ministry to those mourning Dom’s death know exactly what I mean. I believe, though, that your family’s response is absolutely normal for you all, because you live your life in the image of Christ, and you embody Divine Mercy.

And then on November 5, 2014, in the early evening, after a long day of work, I sat in an empty house in complete silence in the family room chair I had been in when I first met Dominik. After a few moments of prayer, Dominik suddenly appeared, standing on the ledge, exactly where he had stumbled when I shook his hand five days before. He held up his hand as if in a stop symbol and very clearly said, “I’m OK, don’t worry, I’ve got this”, and he was gone. He was smiling, confident and consoling, and to a certain extent seemed to have a few more things to accomplish.

To be clear, I have had one other experience like this approximately twenty years ago. When my maternal grandmother was on her deathbed, just hours before her passing, I left her hospital bedside for what I knew would be the last time and entered an empty room a few doors down. I was sobbing uncontrollably and she appeared in the corner and calmly told me not to be silly, that she was already at peace, and that her body would follow shortly, and that I should return to my car and be with my family and head home. I did as instructed and she died soon after.

It has now been over five years since Dom’s passing and my prayer is essentially the same. I pray for your immediate family by name, but I intentionally vary the order, imagining which of you might need prayers the most at that time,… Magdalena, Patrick, Nicholas and Veronika, and then for your extended family. I pray for the other boys in the car by name, Drew, Daniel, Patrick and Sean, and for their families. I pray for all of the friends, mentors, teachers, clergy, and anyone touched by Dom. And I pray for the driver of the other car, and I pray for Dom. After that, I pray the Divine Mercy prayer.

In cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), the ABC’s are an acronym to remind us of the fundamentals of attempting to save a life when another human is dying – Airway, Breathing, Circulation – the simplicity keeps the provider grounded. In Divine Mercy, the ABC’s remind us of the devotion that the apparitions of Jesus taught Saint Faustina – Ask for Mercy, Be Merciful and Continually Trust in Jesus, which also saves lives.

In my view, it is no coincidence that Dom’s last words in the car, and he and his father’s message described above, was essentially not to worry. I think this is a critical lesson in today’s world, with such widespread anxiety. And my sense of Dom’s brief visit is that when he appeared in the family room, he was completely united with God. And I believe that Dom’s message of “I’m OK, don’t worry, I’ve got this” was to indicate that he is at home and well, that excessive worry is of no value as mercy will be shown, and that we should all just continually Trust in Jesus.

God bless,

Divine Mercy Image, detail of the Heart of Jesus