Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Love Stronger Than Death

Have you heard of the Coakley family? Maybe you read something on social media over the past month about their story, about the sudden diagnosis of aggressive testicular cancer, just before Christmas. About the beautiful back story involving infertility, miscarriage, and then finally, joy of joys, adoption and conception. 

Maybe you clicked on a picture of Paul, grinning magnetically in a bright pink shirt, and followed the link to one of dozens of blog posts popping up all over social media, extolling his otherworldly thirst for adventure and his outrageous sense of humor.

Maybe you checked Facebook dozens of times each hour, one cold week late in January, holding a kind of cyber vigil over the span of a couple days, your heart seizing with an indescribable ache when you happened upon the picture of Paul and Ann holding hands as he labored for breath in his hospital bed, hers clad in latex to protect their unborn baby from the chemo drugs poisoning his system in a heroic effort to halt the terrible march of cancer through his ravaged body, now his lungs, his brain.

Maybe your babies woke you up all night the day before he went to the Father's house, forcing you to count your blessings and hold them, quieting their whimpers and offering midnight prayers for a family you never met, a couple whose love story inspired you and terrified you by turns.

And perhaps that next morning you read Ann's updates with a lump in your throat and real tears trickling down your face as she announced bravely that her beloved had raised his arms (after 12 unresponsive hours of suffering) and gone to meet his Savior. And then maybe your 4-year-old scrambled into your lap and asked what was wrong, and then cracked the dam of sorrow open wide with his innocent, joyful observation that "Heaven has a new saint, Mr. Paul is with Jesus now!"

Such sweet sorrow, this family's story. And it's the story of a wider community rallying around his widow and their 4 precious children, one still in the womb. 

The week following his death has to be one of Franciscan University of Steubenville's finest, as alumi and students from decades past and present rallied around this grieving family, offering support, prayers, food, money, and finally, literally lowering Paul's coffin into his grave with their bare hands, the bonds of Brotherhood evident in an indescribable and unforgettable photo.
Photo credit, Jason Pohlmeier
We live in a culture both saturated with and utterly terrified of death. It isn't understood, it isn't revered, and it certainly isn't discussed. 

These past few weeks the Coakleys showed us in an unforgettable way that this life is but the beginning, and that the point of our time here on earth is to love fiercely, to live bravely, and to seek His will above all else. Thank you, Paul and Ann, for your living tutelage of what it means to "do" marriage. You have offered us a glimpse of heaven, of the Father's heart, and of what it means to be Christian.

For ways to support the Coakley family, and to meet Annie and the children, visit LoveLikePaul.com

Paul Coakley, pray for us.


  1. What a beautiful witness. His death was a glorious return to the Father! There was almost a palpable lifting of him through prayer up to the heavenly gates.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this and helping to get the word out. His life was such a beautiful witness to infinite love and faith. Pray for us, Paul!

  3. I wept hard throughout his final days, not knowing them but through friends of friends. When I had an insanely difficult night with excessive vomit and blacking out, I literally clung to this notion of unifying our suffering with his for the greater glory of God. A saint in our days. Thanks, Jenny.

  4. I never knew Paul, but only through a friend who went to college with him and they were close...this story reminds me of the true mission of all our lives...to point others to Jesus; which from what I have heard Paul did in his life and death...

  5. Well said. What a moving story, what an incredible example.

  6. That picture is so moving. Hannah has added him to our family litany all on her own. "St. Paul Coakly, pray for us."

  7. Beautiful. <3 I cried. I shared with family and friends and his family definitely was in our prayers and hearts. My husband and I were often silent just thinking about what they were experiencing and still are. Continued prayers.

  8. Beautiful post - I am incredibly moved by Paul and Ann's powerful witness, and also by the witness of the Franciscan University community - and am reminded of the quote from Tertullian in the 1st century: "See how those Christians love one another." Praying that their witness and Paul's intercession will lead many to Jesus.

  9. I can't get this family out of my mind or off my heart. I never met them - I didn't go to FUS! But for whatever reason, this story just keeps jumping out at me. Is it weird that I really think he's a saint and I didn't even know him?

  10. Thank you for sharing this striking image of the burial. I've been so caught by this story and have found myself being kinder or more attentive to those I love because of Paul. You just never know when the end of this life will come. I do not know the family either, but every time I see Paul's smiling pictures I feel as if we're old friends. The photos of his last days, the wake service, and the funeral have me hoping that I could be worthy of that sort of celebration of my own life when I die. To be laid to rest with such love and affection is surely the sign of a life well lived.

  11. So sad and yet so beautiful. A testament to love in its purest sense. Thank you, Jenny, for your post.


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