Angela Fernandes: In Memoriam

What follows is published with permission of the family of Angela Fernandes.

It was really out of left field.

Angela Fernandes has been a friend since the mid 2000s. She was bold, brash, funny, smart and adventurous. She moved to Seattle from North Carolina somewhere around 15 years ago. A committed lifelong Catholic, she marched up to me after Mass at Blessed Sacrament and introduced herself (she’d read something or other I’d written and knew who I was). She immediately became friends with our whole family and was often over to our house for meals (she was a MAJOR foodie and gustatory adventurer) and conversations often punctuated by her boistrous laugh. A decade or so ago, she had gotten a degree in counseling and become a very gifted therapist, serving a wide clientele in the Seattle area.

We were practically the first people she met when she came to Seattle.

And this past Saturday evening, we were the last people she saw in the moments before she died.

She died right in front of me. We had been swimming, having a lovely evening, her, Jan, and me. We swam back to the shallows and had just reached the point where the lake was shoulder deep. Just as she reached the spot where you can stand and not have to swim, she suddenly just slipped under the water for a moment and then assumed a Dead Man’s Float position in the water, which I took for her relaxing after the swim. This went on for a minute or two and I tapped her on the shoulder to try to get her attention, wondering what she was up to. She did not respond, so I assumed she was perhaps timing herself or trying a breath-holding exercise. People don’t just collapse and die in front of you and she was fond of a joke, so I thought this must be some sort of prank or something. This went on for a minute or so more and I started to get scared, so I grabbed her arm and she still did not respond. That’s when I really got frightened and started pushing and dragging her toward shore. I flipped her over and she was unresponsive and foaming at the mouth. I tried to get her out of the water, but she was limp, wet, and slippery and too much for one person, so I screamed for help. The weather was sunny and warm, so the beach was packed and a bunch of strong guys came instantly and carried her to shore and started CPR, while every phone on the beach called 911. I ran around looking for a defib device but there is nothing like that at the lake (Ballinger). The EMTs got there a minute or two later and worked on her, while one of them and some cops asked me what happened and for some information about her and so forth. One of the EMTs asked how long she had been under and I told him 2-3 minutes, at which point he said that this was not very long and so that was a hopeful sign, particularly since CPR had begun immediately. They asked us to come to Swedish-Edmonds hospital since we were the only ones there who knew her or what had happened. So Jan and I blasted home (we only live a mile from the lake), got changed and rushed of to S-E (which is about 3 miles from the house).

We had grabbed her bag from the house on the way to the hospital, on the dim hope that she might want her stuff (though they had not been able to get a pulse all the time they worked on her there on the shore). So we had her phone with us in the car. It was about 8 PM our time 11 East Coast time and, as we were driving to the hospital, her phone rang and it was her Dad. So Jan had to tell him she was not breathing and had no pulse last we knew. She also sent a message to our family asking for prayers for her and we prayed on the way. (Heck, we had been praying from the moment it all began. Those incoherent “Please help!” prayers you say when your field of vision narrows to a pinpoint and feeling drains away and you are just putting one foot in front of the other while the back of your mind replays everything over and over and you scrutinize every thing you did from one millisecond to the next, wondering if you could have done anything differently and if this was somehow your fault and trying to anticipate what happens next and trying to focus on somebody besides yourself and your survivor remorse.)

As we drove over, my head began to clear and I thought about the sequence of events. The EMTs had all assumed it was a drowning incident and I was too addled to think about it clearly at the time. But as my head cleared, I realized that a) she is a very strong swimmer and b) she was, in any case, in shoulder-deep water. Whatever had happened, it was not drowning, but some kind of catastrophic event, most likely cardiac or cardiovascular (though we won’t know anything till the medical exam and results are released on Wednesday).

We got to the hospital and were met by a succession of chaplains who got info from us and took us into a back room to just be with us. Angela’s sister called as we sat there and Jan talked to her. The chaplain went to check on Angela and when she came back I could tell from the look on her face that it was over. Jan put her sister on speakerphone and the chaplain announced that she had died. Her sister, of course, fell apart and we all just sat there in shock and grief.

Then the doc came in and explained that in the 55 minutes they worked on her, they simply had never been able to get a pulse beyond an occasional very bad arrhythmia, which makes sense if the problem was something cardiac.

At some point, one of the chaplains called Fr. Augustine Hilander from Blessed Sacrament (her parish). Then while we were waiting for him, they asked if we wanted to come and sit with her body for a while, which we did. So we walked down the hall to the emergency room and they took us in. She just looked asleep after a lovely swim (and it had been a lovely swim. She had been absolutely in the pink that afternoon, eating and drinking and laughing with gusto, as was her custom. Jan had admired her bathing suit and her big hoop earrings and her glittery eye shadow and we had swum out to the middle of the lake at a leisurely pace, chatting the whole way). Now she just looked like she was napping after being tired out (albeit she was intubated).

Her Dad had called after they announced her death and the chaplain gave him some basic info on what to expect/do next, and as he rang off, he asked us to kiss her for him, which wrung my heart. So we made the Sign of the Cross on her forehead and I delivered her father’s kiss to her forehead too, as well as one from us.

Then we just sat there with the chaplains and laid our hand on her blanketed arm for a while, not sure what to do. We made small talk. The minutes ticked by. Then her sister called again, and at the same moment, Fr. Augustine arrived. He was his golden-hearted, lovely self, 8 feet tall and full of gentle kindness. He did not anoint her, of course, since she had already died. But he prayed the Prayer of the Dead with us and with Angela’s sister on speakerphone, as well as the Litany of the Saints, both of which were beautiful and filled with peace.

He was also very consoling to me in a private conversation, but that’s neither here nor there except as testimony to what a very good priest and very good man he is, so I mention it.

Then he left and the chaplains informed us that, contrary to what they had thought earlier, we would not be needed for a statement to police, so we were free to go, if we wanted.

Son Peter had texted Jan that he was on the way to the house, so we decided we had better go meet him. So one of the chaplains guided us through the maze of hallways from Emergency to the main door.

We walked out into a cool, full moonlit summer evening and Jan (who, like me, had not the slightest worries about Angela herself or her already-begun eternity in The Ecstasy) smiled and said, “Such a beautiful Moon to light her way to Heaven.” It was such a quintessentially Jan thing to say. Jan recalled her mom’s remark that when it was her time to go, she had “places to go and people to see” and that grief was for us who remain behind, not for her.

That’s been a help as we continue to reel from the seismic aftershocks of this whole thing.

Please pray for Angela and for all of us who mourn her sudden passing!

Eternal rest grant our beloved sister and friend Angela, Father, through your Son Jesus Christ. And give her family and all of us who mourn and love her grace, peace, consolation, strength, faith, hope, and love through the same Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

(Angela is the one with the long black hair, second from the right):


35 Responses

  1. Mark, I am so sorry about the loss of your dear friend, Angela. My heart breaks for her family and all of you who love her. Thank you for sharing the story. Praying that God will comfort all of you as you mourn for Angela.

  2. Mark,
    So grateful to you for this story.
    I needed it.
    Beautifully, painfully written & received.
    Angela was a dear, soul friend who was in a 6th grade CCD Class that my wife and I taught at Immaculate Conception in Durham.
    She and I talked often and shared deeply her inspired life.
    I have been meaning to call her to be sure she was safely back in her apartment that needed some repairs due to a plumbing issue in the floor above.
    Now I can relax in your story … knowing that my call would not have prevented her rising to Heaven…out of left field.
    I’m 72, and will miss our phone conversations for at least a little while, but then there will be the Glory of the infinite generosity of God’s Love and Mercy.
    Angela and I kidded about how Alice & I still owed her a trip to the Kings Dominion amusement park. We had a contest for our 6th grade class where students could win an overnight trip to Kings Dominion near Richmond, VA, by accumulating 100 points over the course of the year. The students could earn points by doing projects at home and turning them in on our Sunday morning classes. Angela was the first one to 100 points … but she could not go on the trip because it conflicted with a family vacation.
    So, in her memory … and in gratitude for your beautiful story of her passing, I am going to contribute the cost of a Day Pass @ King’s Domimion to your blog account.
    That seems fair, don’t you think…?
    Many, many thanks for your love and care & you’re timely telling of this story.
    All Grace,

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing your wonderful memories with me.

      Instead a donation to my blog, I think the very best way to honor Angela would be to donate to this organization, which helped her with her abuse trauma:

      Thank you so much for your big generous heart. May God our Father bless you and yours in this hard time through Christ our Lord.

      1. Thank you for this kind suggestion Mark. We are certainly grateful to have this support to continue our work serving abuse survivors.

    2. Hi Kirk,
      Angela’s family could most assuredly use the money for her funeral. Angela was a friend and colleague of mine. I am thankful for all the gifts I received from her in our time together. Thank you Kirk and Mark for the beautiful tributes.

  3. Mark,
    Great suggestion…
    Since Angela had to wait so long for her trip to King’s Dominion…I got her the 2-Day Pass.
    Very Grateful,

  4. Dear Mark, The loss is immeasurable. And the love. She was fortunate in that she died with a beloved friend beside her, in the true and certain knowledge of the resurrection. May you find comfort in the days to come.

  5. Mark,
    This must have been so painful to witness and experience. I wish I could give both of you a hug. Jan’s response was poetic. We recoil from death, but for the faithful, it is really birth. This world is just the shadow of the real thing. Even though we know this by faith, it doesn’t make death any less jarring.

    Death, you have lost your sting!

  6. Mark, I prayed for you and Jan and asked others to pray as soon as I heard. I’m so sorry for your loss. Prayers continue. ❤️

  7. Angela graduated from the MA program in Psychology at Seattle University in 2015. She took two classes from me. Angela was a great writer, smart, was determined, gusty, and had a great sense of humor. Kathryn and I became good friends with her and over the years she came to spend many weekends with us on Whidbey Island. She was such a good company, a wonderful conversationalist and a woman with a great zest for life. Her death was so unexpected and shocking. I had texted with her the day before she died. Our hearts goes out to her family and all her many friends, and certainly to Mark and Jan who were with her when she died. She spoke often of the value and goodness of her friendship with her. The psychology faculty at Seattle University who knew her have expressed their deep grief as well as their fondness and admiration for Angela.

    1. Steen, I would love to know if you recall Angela’s “special beach” on Whidbey, where she’d go and have a cry from time to time. I’d very much like to go and feel close to her as I say goodbye to my dear friend.

  8. I will pray for Angela. She sounds like a lovely soul and I am very sorry to hear of her passing. I recognize the name of Fr Augustine Hilander. I was invited to a talk/retreat he gave in our area a few years ago. He is indeed a great and holy priest.

  9. Mark and Jan, I am deeply sorry for your loss, and the way you experienced Angela’s death.

    I appreciate you sharing more about the circumstances. It’s incredibly tragic, but it’s also helpful to hear more about what happened and know that she had dear friends near her at the end.

    Thank you for being such wonderful friends to Angela! I only knew her for a few months, but she had already inspired me with her courage, faith, and determination.

  10. Thank you for this write up, Mark. I knew Angela from the MAP program at Seattle University. We were classmates from 2013 to 2015. Angela and I worked together on a few projects and had some interaction throughout those years. Angela was always very kind and also hilarious. I remember laughing like I hadn’t laughed in a long time when she read one of her project papers in class. It was so well done, so creative, and so professional sounding that I asked if she had considered writing for a professional publication. One of the last interactions I had with Angela just prior to graduation, she gave me a book with an inscription in it encouraging me to reach out to her again in the future. Every time I think of that graduate program, my memories of Angela are among the fondest. God bless Angela, family, and friends.

  11. I was a classmate of Angela’s at Seattle U as well. While I haven’t been in touch with her since, Angela’s powerful, depthful, and firey spirit rushes through me upon reading your words. She’s a beautiful and graceful force. She took no bullshit and that was inspiring to me. I am heartened to hear that her final day here was beautiful and full.

    I pray for the comfort of her loved ones rocked by the shock of her sudden transition. And I wish her peace, ease and a celebratory welcoming into the expanse.

  12. Thank you Mark. I’ve been realy puzzling over this one. How could a woman so full of LIFE just die? Thanks for the eye witness account. I’m sorry for all of us who knew her but especially for her family. Peace to us all.

  13. I was privileged to be a lector with her at Blessed Sacrament Church. I will honor her life with prayer and contemplation. Grief is love, with no place to go …

  14. I’m Angela’s Mama and she liked to call me Mama Duck 🦆! I appreciate so very much all of her friends especially the Sheas, everyone who loved and respected her during her short journey here below. She told me about every one ! She is my oldest baby girl and she is the Greatest to everyone!! Whenever we talked I had to know what she had to eat and she would send me pictures of each course……if it was a Special Occasion. I’m so glad 🙂 I know who Jesus is and my baby girl does too. If you don’t know Him please ask Him into your heart ♥️ today!!

    1. My deepest condolences to you on your loss. She was loved by so many people and a dear daughter of God. May she rest in peace through Christ our Lord.

  15. I am grateful to have known Angela for a short time, as my neighbor here in our counseling offices in West Seattle. Our offices are next to each other, and I will always remember her lovely laughter echoing as she helped folks through the difficult work of therapy. My deepest condolences to everyone who knew and loved her. What a tragic and hard-to-comprehend loss. My brain doesn’t want to accept it. It is heavy sitting here today on the other side of “our” wall without her here.

  16. I met Angela several years ago at a small dinner party through our common friends, Steen and Kathryn. Steen’s words earlier in this post capture the energetic joy of my experience with Angela as well! After our laughter-filled first meeting, we shared several dinners, phone conversations and a few unscheduled vacation plans. Angela’s capacity to see past her own trauma experiences and into the hearts of others revealed a unique and courageous way of practicing faith in today’s misplaced shame ridden world. I’m going to miss our heart-to-heart conversations, her bold tell it like it is adjoined by a gentle innocence that still believes in the possibility and power of humanity’s love. The news of her unexpected passing arrived when I expected to next deliver to her and close friends some beautiful news. After reading these posts, I know even more that the power of love connects us – even those who may never meet. For all who had the very special opportunity to know this vibrant and beautiful soul, we are blessed because we knew and loved Angela. May God’s Mercy and Grace continue to light our paths. Miss you Angela!

  17. She was always so full of life and so loving. We miss her , but are at peace knowing her love for Christ! Rest in peace dear friend!

  18. Dear Mark and Jan,

    I am so glad that you were enjoying the gift of a beautiful day when Angela was called home. I am so sad to have learned of her passing (yes, a bit out of the loop). Angela had a special gift that she never kept for herself and everyone who knew her, knew of her passion for living and how important her family and her faith was to her. May all your happy memories override the way things ended for her and may God grant her family and you and your family peace.

    Emily Janiszewski

Leave a Reply

Follow Mark on Twitter and Facebook

Get updates by email