A lesson in trust

If you passed Lud and Trudy Koci on the street, you’d think they were just any other late middle-aged couple, happily enjoying a stroll together. But behind their smiles and calm demeanor lies the lingering pain that is the result of decades of suffering.

The Kocis live in West Bloomfield, Michigan, and are parents of eight children — three biological and five internationally adopted. Of the eight, four died tragically.

Too much loss

Their oldest and biological son, Chuck, was killed in a bike accident in 1986. He was 28 years old and newly married. He and his wife were waiting for the second car they’d ordered to come in, and Chuck had volunteered to let his wife use their first car and to take his bike instead. While on his way to his summer camp counseling job, a school bus ran him over. He died immediately, but the bike remained unharmed. Chuck would be 56 today.

Three years later, their fourth-oldest and adopted daughter from Vietnam, Connie, died in a tragic car accident. She was 22 years old and had recently discovered that her older biological sister had made it to the United States. She was getting married in Utah and wanted Connie to be the maid of honor. Connie went to Utah in order to help her sister prepare for the wedding. While she and her younger sister drove together to tend to wedding affairs, an inexplicable and torrential downpour occurred, and her younger sister, who was driving, lost control of the car and ran into a pickup truck. At the funeral, the Kocis barely recognized Connie from her sister because the swelling of their faces had been so extensive. Connie would be 47 today.

Their third-oldest and biological daughter, Carla, died from a brain injury in 2007. She was 43 years old and had been in a difficult marriage. She was planning to come home with her two young daughters to enjoy Christmas with the Kocis. She’d been drinking some, and fell and hit her head, severely damaging her brain. There was nothing the doctors could do; she lived four days and then died. Her daughters are now being cared for by her older sister, Chris. Carla would be 50 years old today.

Their sixth-oldest and adopted son from India, Adam, died in November 2013 from a degenerative and genetic brain disease. Shortly after the Kocis adopted him at age 11, they noticed that something was not right in the way he functioned mentally. Their research uncovered that Adam had a disease called metachromatic leukodystrophy and was given three to five years to live. Wanting to give him the best possible care, the Kocis converted his bedroom into a hospital room and Trudy and two wonderful nurses cared for him. For 13 years, they tended to him. Adam would be 41 years old today.

Their four living children are their biological daughter, Chris, 53; adopted daughter, Cindy, 41; adopted daughter, Carrie, 38; and adopted son, Armando 31. Armando is from Costa Rica.

Led to conversion

In an interview, the first thing the Kocis pointed out was that they’re not saints; they’re just “regular people like everybody else.” Their ability to endure the tragedies that have been sent their way has nothing to do with their own volition and everything to do with God’s grace. That, they say, was what got them through it all.

“The Eucharist helped more than anything,” Trudy said. “If you really believe what the Eucharist is, how can it not help you?”

That’s an even more significant statement when one considers that the Kocis converted from the Lutheran to the Catholic faith after Chuck’s death. Trudy had been inspired by the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary and developed a relationship with her that became the instrument of her conversion. In particular, she received an inclination from Mary to teach the Rosary to Adam. That was the seed of her conversion.

“I wasn’t even Catholic yet and didn’t know how to pray the Rosary,” Trudy said. “So I had to ask a Catholic friend to teach me so I could teach Adam. Repetition is very good for people with brain conditions like Adam’s. He did learn it and loved saying it. It really helped him.”

Lud’s conversion was facilitated by his engineer’s mind — he sought answers from books that eventually led him to the Catholic Church.

They mutually confessed their desire to convert while enjoying a drink together on a plane.

“We were sitting there, and I could tell that Trudy had something on her mind,” Lud said. “Then she told me, ‘Well, this is as good a time to talk to you as any. I feel called to join the Catholic Church.” Then I said, ‘I think I will, too.’ She thought I was doing it just to be with her, but I’d already decided on my own. We were both surprised to find out the other wanted to convert.”

Finding strength

The crucified Christ became a valuable symbol for the Kocis, reminding them that Jesus suffered, too, and that he would be the source of their strength and accompany them through anything they had to face. By contemplating Christ’s Passion, they learned to put one foot in front of another and not to look back. Living in the past, they said, is an obstacle to healing. They also found great comfort in the Scriptures. They had even taken an in-depth Bible study course while in the Lutheran church that had increased their knowledge substantially. It increased their love for the Lord and their patient resignation to God’s will.

In regard to bearing the grief of their losses, Lud said, “the hurt never really goes away. It’s like losing a limb. You reach down to scratch it, but it’s not there. You don’t get over it; you just learn to live with it with God’s help.”

To those who know the Kocis, it’s evident that their trials have only served to deepen their faith and strengthen their now 57-year marriage. Lois Michaels has been Trudy’s close friend for nearly 50 years, and was in kindergarten with Lud (a fact they only discovered after Michaels and Trudy became friends). Their love and devotion — to God and to each other — is contagious, according to Michaels. Seeing them withstand so many losses has increased her admiration of them.

“Their lives are like part of an endless river that overlaps the lives of everyone they touch,” she said. “They’re wonderful people who are interested in others and just keep reaching out.”

Love in action

One tangible way the Kocis have reached out is with Mary’s Children Family Center, a facility that provides a day program for young adults with brain injuries. Trudy co-founded Mary’s Children with Marilyn Joseph, whose child suffered a closed head injury in an automobile crash. By fundraising and sweat equity, Mary’s Children now cares daily for 30 clients, and there is a waiting list.

“The best way to get over your own troubles is to do something for somebody else,” Trudy said. “That takes you out of yourself.”

It’s their putting love into action that has gained not only healing for the Kocis, but also the respect and appreciation of others.

That is one of two main reasons Father Tim Whalen, a longtime friend, is inspired by them. Father Whalen is rector of St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

“They are always donating of their time, treasure or talent to someone or some cause,” he said. Father Whalen cited the devotion of the Kocis in caring for Adam at home and seeing to it that he had all the love and attention he needed.

The other reason the Kocis are an inspiration, said Father Whalen, is because they live the cross.

“Lud and Trudy have experienced more loss and grief in their lives than most people could imagine, but this hasn’t made them bitter or resentful toward God because they live the Paschal Mystery,” he said. “In other words, they realize that real happiness isn’t something you can find in this life. It is something that is shared with you in the next life by an all-loving God because you were willing to love until it hurt and to believe even when it didn’t make sense in this life. That’s how Jesus lived, and that’s how he died on the cross, and Lud and Trudy are true disciples of the Lord Jesus.”

In summing up their life together, the Kocis recommend just one thing to others suffering tragedy.

“Trust, trust, trust,” Trudy said. “There are losses of so many kinds today — divorce, immorality, separations, as well as deaths.

“We live in a broken world. And in every case, trust and try not to look back.”

Marge Fenelon writes from Wisconsin.