The first time I met Dominik Pettey was the Summer he turned 16.
He and my son Daniel were the exact same age- sharing the same birthday. What I remember most about Dom was his huge, warm smile. He was friendly, outgoing and exuded confidence. I met Dom another time also, the following Summer when the boys were celebrating their birthdays together at our local pool. Dom was fun-loving and charismatic, a real charmer to all who knew him. He had a quiet, reflective side as well and I don’t know if my son and their friends realized how spiritual Dom was. During the events leading up to and including his magnificent funeral, many stories emerged about Dom’s devotion to the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Sacred Heart of Jesus. Dom was introduced to the Divine Mercy Chaplet through his Polish heritage.
On October 31, 2014, Dominik, Daniel, Patrick and Sean were at Dom’s house celebrating Halloween when some friends from Visitation High School called and invited them to a party in Great Falls, Virginia. Unable to find a ride home after the party broke up, Daniel called his brother Drew, who was home for the night to attend a friend’s Halloween party, for a ride. On the way to pick up the boys in Virginia, Drew realized the car was low on gas but the only gas station nearby was closed. After the boys got in the car for the trip home, Drew’s fears were realized one half mile from their exit on the beltway – the car ran out of gas and he pulled over on the shoulder. Drew felt tremendous embarrassment and apologized to the boys in the car. He remembers they were all very understanding but it was Dom’s words that resonated with Drew. Dominik’s last words on earth were to the effect: “Dude, don’t worry about it, it’s all good”. Dominik was trying to make someone else feel better as his last earthly act. But that was Dom, always kind, inclusive and trying to make everyone around him feel a little bit better. Shortly after, the disabled car was hit from behind by an approaching vehicle.
I remember the night of the accident when I got the call that Drew and Daniel were taken to the hospital. The interminable wait to find out the fate of the other boys was torture. When we finally found out that Dom had died, my husband and I were devastated. There was and still is tremendous guilt that it was our car that ran out of gas and yet our two sons survived the accident. I remember dreading the moment when I would face Dom’s parents whom we had never met. I called our pastor, Father Meyers, and asked him to accompany us to the Pettey’s home the Sunday following the accident.
The Pettey Family graciously welcomed us and several others into their home and could not have been kinder to us. Patrick had even called Rick the day before to check on Drew who was still hospitalized at that point. I was so riddled with survivor’s guilt that I was nauseated and trembling when I met the Petteys. I was practically on my knees begging for forgiveness when Magda pulled me aside into her living room and told me about Dominik. She said that Dominik had been in such a good place at the time of the accident that she felt his soul was ready to meet his Lord. Dom had experienced dark days around the time of his appendectomy and the months following. The Spring and Summer of 2014 had been a re-birth for Dominik with the help of family, teachers at Gonzaga and his faith. He was eagerly looking forward to his senior year, Gonzaga hockey and applying to college. Magda and Pat both felt that he was happy and on track for the next chapter of his life.
I will never understand why Dom was taken from those who loved him. It was God’s plan and I cannot imagine how I would have handled losing a child. I have no doubt that it was the strong faith of Pat and Magda that helped them accept God’s will even at such a heartbreaking cost. Dom’s death devastated his friends and the Gonzaga community. His funeral, in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest church in North America was standing room only. Anyone present can attest to the feeling that this was no ordinary requiem Mass. I will never forget the eulogy that was delivered by his best friend who described Dom as a regular kid who had such a profound impact on those all around him. There was a mystical quality to the funeral and one of the 24 priests who con-celebrated the Mass was inspired to write a prayer to the Holy Spirit after the funeral.
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Dominik and his parents. Dom’s friends are in touch with Magda and Pat on a regular basis and this is good for everyone. Drew and Daniel and some of their friends look forward to dinner at the Pettey’s and talking about and remembering Dom. They like to go in his bedroom and be among his things.
I envision that Daniel is living the life Dom would have lived if he were still with us. I imagine it must be difficult to hear what Dom’s friends are doing in their own lives but the Petteys give no hint of sadness or regret. I don’t know if they realize how much their visits have helped the boys heal from this tragedy. I pray for them every day and I have no doubt their reward in heaven will be great, when they are reunited with their beloved son Dominik.