From the Field

Faith, forgiveness and a mother's painful memories

Posted: May 27, 2013 6:44 AM ET Last Updated: May 27, 2013 6:44 AM ET
Mary Louise Orichefsky talks to Jesus. Every day. He's hard to miss in her Cole Harbour home. His enamel eyes survey her kitchen from the statue on top of the refrigerator. He sprawls in his mother's arms in a charcoal print on the counter. He's on the bookshelves, the tabletops and always on her mind.  

It's easy in these secular times to scoff at someone who runs rosary beads through her fingers daily. It's even trendy to dismiss that person as simple or misguided. Mary Louise Orichefsky is neither. After a few moments at the kitchen table she begins to talk about Jesus, she can't help it. She also shares a mother's story. One that makes you wish she would talk about Jesus again. One that might help you understand her fierce devotion.

She smiles and bounces a little in the chair as she talks about her beautiful daughters Renee Lee and Danielle. She grows still as she describes in heart breaking detail what she saw when she lifted the sheet in the sterile hospital morgue to stare at Danielle's lifeless young face. She had to see her baby to believe it she explains through tears glistening over dark, piercing eyes. 

She stares into the tabletop as she revisits the moment on that same summer night when she wandered out of the hospital waiting room. That's when she found the other gurney. The one that hid Renee Lee beneath blood soaked blankets. She grabs a nearby tissue and dabs tears as she describes exactly what Renee looked like in those final few seconds of her life. 

It happened 18 years ago. As you sit with her and look through those tears, hers and maybe yours, you can see it is happening again. Now. In front of you. She is taking you there with her. Hold on. There is more. Renee Lee and Danielle were killed by a careless young man. Ralph Parker had been drinking, a little he claimed. He had been speeding, a lot. 

Danielle was lying on her side on the church lawn, her elbow planted on the grass supporting her head. Mary Louise holds her own head as she mimics her daughter's final pose. Renee Lee was kneeling beside her younger sister. May Louise smiles as she recalls the final moment the sisters shared.She is proud as she explains a selfless act of love. Renee Lee did not run. She screamed and grabbed Danielle's hand, trying to protect her as Parker's car left the road, leapt into the air, and flew toward them.

Mary Louise sat through the trial, heard from the witnesses. She saw the photos. She tells the story as though she saw it all happen. She certainly sees it now. She says the car ripped the sisters apart. Renee Lee slammed into its wind-shield. It tossed her into the telephone wires overhead. She fell to the side walk still breathing. The car landed on Danielle. It dragged her across the church lawn and left her in a rut. She was dead. 

These are a mother's stories. Told slowly with great care behind eyes that hold you.

Mary Louise will take you to an unexpected place now. To the moment she finally met Ralph Parker. Her heart pounded at first. Then a mother's eyes saw a frightened young boy. She held him close in a long embrace as she forgave him for killing her girls. Today those tears swell again, not for her loss, not for her girls. For Ralph Parker. Because he drank and sat behind the wheel of a car again. Only days ago.

She forgives him for that too. She says he should be grateful to the RCMP officers who arrested him. They stopped him from killing again she says, from destroying more lives, from leaving another mother who cannot escape the horror created by his mistake. 

She leans forward, reaching across the table to reassure as she explains she is not trapped by the pain he caused. She does not live in her grief. She visits it she says, on mother's day and father's day and on unexpected days like this when she shares her story again.

How can she do that? How can she survive and forgive? Well, she points to her daily conversations with Jesus. She'll talk to him about Ralph Parker again she says. She'll do it every day. Especially in July, exactly 18 years after he killed her daughters. That's when he will stand before a judge again. 

You don't have to believe in Jesus, or God, or have any faith at all to recognize something special in Mary Louise Orichefsky's heart. You might even call her strength and her ability to forgive a miracle.
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About the Author

Phonse Jessome has been chasing stories down the main streets and back roads of Nova Scotia since the spring of 1981. So far he is showing no signs of giving up the chase.

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