2 “Big Fat Greek Weddings” Five Years Apart

By Donna Phillips

My story begins framed by 2 “Big Fat Greek Weddings” five years apart.  Yes this is my ancestry and yes, the movie was true to life.

I had traveled with my family to Cape Cod for the wedding my cousin’s daughter in September of 2007.  We are close to this part of my family, having spent summers together as kids in up state New York and as adults, seeing them yearly and talking to them at least once a month on the phone. Not only do we see our cousins, but also cousins from her husband’s side of the family, one of whom was a junior bride’s maid.  Her name was Isabelle, but everyone knew her as “Izi”.

The wedding was beautiful and we had a great time and were back in California, when less than months later, we heard the terrible news that Izi had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.

The brain tumor was inoperable. Her family was lucky in that they had many medical options.  They decided to go to St. Jude’s in Memphis for treatment, as they were told this was the best chance she had for ‘cutting edge’ treatment. Hal, her father, and Martha, her mother, kept everyone informed of her progress through a website that they were able to use to communicate with loved ones far and near.  We were also able to post messages on the site of our prayers, love and support, as they went through their terrible ordeal.  Izi made many trips to St. Jude’s for her treatment with one, or both of her parents, spending more than a month at Ronald McDonald House in October and November.  It was hard on Izi’s brother and sister and the entire family, but everyone pitched in to make sure that Izi was getting the best care possible, both conventional and unconventional, with hope for the best possible outcome.

She was very lucky and got into a clinical trial. The medication she was given shrank the tumor to a size that was almost undetectable.  After many trips, back and forth from Connecticut to Memphis, she went home, grateful for her time at St. Jude’s. She went back to school and resumed her regular routine; seeing friends, sports, movies, and spending time with her family.

Izi’s life was ‘normal’ until April 15th of 2010, when her tumor was again detected.  This time around there was nothing medically that could be done.

Her family watched as she slowly lost her battle; something that no parent should ever have to endure.

On December 19th, her father wrote:

Our Isabelle has slipped away.

It was a very long journey for our young girl. May god bless her and our broken hearts. Martha, Harry, Margot, Thalia and I will always be eternally grateful for all the prayers, positive energy and support you gave our family over the past three years. God bless you.


Upon hearing the news, less than a week before Christmas, 2010, all I could think of was that they would always associate the birth of our Savior with the death of their Izi.  That Christmas was understandably difficult, but they slowly put their lives back together.

I pick up my story in September 2012, when we were again at a “Big Fat Greek Wedding”.  This time we were attending the wedding of my cousin’s son.

When we got to the wedding, we found ourselves seated behind Hal and Martha, Izi’s parents.  Before the ceremony started, we started talking to them and mentioned how we kept them in our prayers and how very sorry we were to hear that Izi lost her courageous fight.

Martha turned to us, smiling and said, “We feel so lucky for all those who prayed for our family.  We are convinced that those prayers were answered, giving us two extra years with our Izi.”

“We feel so lucky for all those prayers giving us two extra years with our Izi.”

I have never heard anyone speak with that much grace and I knew I was seeing God work through this remarkable woman.  Here was someone so grateful after going through such a terrible ordeal of losing a child and I doubted I could ever have that much grace.  It was hard not to cry at the sight of such a generous sprit.

I have thought about Martha and Izi almost every day since September 15th, 2012, not because of what had happened to them, but by how they handled their circumstance.  Hearing what Martha said that day is a gift I will always cherish, as a remarkable example of gratitude and grace.

Feeling gratitude is a gift.  When I think back to my favorite Christmas gift, it isn’t one I received, but one I gave.  I like to think that there is a little of that in each of us.  That at least one of your favorite gifts was one you gave.

Over the last few weeks you have heard a lot about gratitude and “The Season of Gratitude”.  I am someone who is so grateful for this place and the wonderful people I have met here and that are part of this parish family.

I hope that your giving is an expression of gratitude rather than obligation. It should be something done with joy and freedom, making you feel lighter, not burdened.

The Rev. Ed Bacon wrote, a human being cannot live without air, water, food and generosity. Without the first three the body shrinks. Without generosity, the soul shrivels.

I wish you all joyful souls and I hope you all remember this as we make our Pledge commitments and that we all “Flourish in Faith.”