News

We Had No Unpaid Bills

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Oct 10, 2015

“You can’t have the happiness of yesterday without the pain of today. That’s the deal.”
Joy Gresham

Sometimes life is made up of such overflowing joy we can hardly contain it. Sometimes life is made up of such deep sadness we can hardly endure it. Sometimes the joy and the sorrow bounce around inside of us simultaneously that we virtually cry and laugh and laugh and cry at the same time. 

Along with countless other emotions, that is what it feels like when we lose someone we love. On August 19, 2015, Ellen DiTrolio entered heaven at age 53 and since then that is how Evie and I have felt  — like laughing and crying. But our feelings cannot begin to compare to those of her husband Rocco and their two sons, Stephen and Christopher. 

The joy began when Rocco and Ellen met as students here at the University of Valley Forge (UVF). She was from Long Island, New York, and he was from Portland, Maine. Soon after graduation they were married and a few years later they arrived in Argentina where they have served as missionaries for 27 years. 

Evie and I will never forget our visit to Argentina in 2003. Rocco and Ellen had invited us to provide leadership seminars to various church leaders in northern Argentina. We will always cherish those days with them as we felt their fervent passion for the people of Argentina. 

Several years ago they came to be with us at UVF as missionaries-in-residence. And though we knew that program would only last a couple of years, we all grew to love them like family. 

You can only imagine then, our pain for them when Ellen, after a routine physical, found out in April 2015 that she had leukemia. The first round of chemotherapy went well but after a successful bone marrow transplant some days later from her son, Stephen, she developed sepsis and went into a deep coma. The vigil over that next month was long and painful until God called her home. 

A few days ago Evie and I met with Rocco, Stephen and Christopher. We had a million things to say to each other, but as you know, words let us down at times like that. 

As we talked, Stephen said something most profound. There is a Spanish expression which when translated goes something like, “We had no unpaid bills.” Even though Ellen went into a sudden and deep coma from which she never recovered and they never had a chance to say a formal goodbye to each other, their relationship bills were paid up. In other words, they had all lived in such a way that, as a family, they had expressed their love to each other so many times and in so many ways, they just knew she loved them and she knew they loved her. 

I love that expression. But that does not mean that the overflowing joy of their love is not mixed with the deep sadness of their pain and loss. It sounds like the classic line in the 1993 movie “Shadowlands,” when C. S. Lewis’ wife, Joy, says to him when she is dying of cancer, “You can’t have the happiness of yesterday without the pain today. That’s the deal.”  

Later, after Joy died, Lewis said it like this, “Why love if losing hurts so much? I have no answers. Only the life I have lived. … The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”  

Rocco, Stephen and Christopher prepared memory videos titled “Celebrating Ellen.”  Ellen loved people, had a giving heart, loved cooking, loved to laugh and had an incredible sense of humor that she freely shared with everyone. She loved ministering with Rocco whom she loved dearly, and lovingly poured her life into raising their two wonderful sons. 

And that is why we must make sure with all of our relationships that we have “no unpaid bills.”    

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
Responses can be mailed to president@valleyforge.edu 
Official page: Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer
Follow on Twitter: @DrDonMeyer
Archives at www.valleyforge.edu/thinkaboutit