Minnesota has suffered a tremendous loss with the passing of Cheryl Rossi. Years ago, Rabbi Harold Kurshner wrote about why bad things happen to good people; a bad thing happened to two good people the evening last month when Cheryl was accidentally struck and killed by a vehicle as she was rolling down the side of a road in her wheelchair. The driver never saw her.
Cheryl’s grace and spirit touched many of us over the years since senseless tragedy struck her the first time. Twenty-five years ago, Cheryl was found in an abandoned field, the victim of a gun shot wound to her head. Cheryl somehow survived that ordeal, which involved a three-day exposure to near zero temperatures from where she lay on that cold snow-covered ground. She also dealt with the resulting amputation of her legs and one arm.
I met Cheryl at that time when she came to us at Sister Kenny Institute for rehabilitation services and for instruction with independent living skills for people with disabilities. Since then, I’ve seen Cheryl a few times at public events or on the bus. I wish now we had gone out for coffee, too.
When I first heard Cheryl was killed, I called my high school friend John, who worked for Minneapolis Housing Patrol and rescued her from the snow back in 1981. He had already heard about Cheryl’s death. We shared memories of our relationships with Cheryl and how we each drew from her incredible strength. The lump in my throat was followed by a chill that ran down my spine when John recited Psalm 121 the way he remembered Cheryl had done as she laid in a near frozen condition those many years ago. John recalled how Cheryl had recited the psalm in a calm and steady voice. He said he memorized the passage in part due to her tremendous spirit that was passed to us through those Old Testament words.
Cheryl also deeply touched Mary Schoelch, the coordinator of volunteers at Catholic Charities St. Joseph’s Home for Children, who said, “Cheryl helped children to discover life’s possibilities, an invaluable sense of self-worth, and a more positive view of the future. Her wisdom and warmth on wheels and will be dearly missed by all of us at St. Joe’s.”
Schoelch further expressed Cheryl’s gift, saying she “was a proactive advocate as well as a beacon of hope and help for children and youth who have been abused, neglected and abandoned. She logged thousands of hours assisting St. Joe’s to serve children most in need by coaching, counseling, teaching, mentoring and providing superior leadership for kids, staff, volunteers and the community at large.”
Thanks, Cheryl, for the light you helped us to find inside of ourselves.