Chris Ferraro’s return to the ice was facilitated by a vision in the night.
Chris Ferraro likens it to a robbery.

While sleeping peacefully, safe and secure, you awaken to find emptiness.

“Everything you’ve worked for is gone,” said Chris. “Nothing’s there for you.”

A few months after their first wedding anniversary, Chris watched his wife Jennifer slip from his grasp. A year-long fight with cancer claimed her in November, and Chris was suddenly stripped of the love of his life, his soul mate, the spark that illuminated every moment.

“When my wife passed away, I passed away,” said Chris. “I had no motivation to do anything. Waking up was a challenge enough. To face life without her was such an obstacle and such a difficult task. I would actually hope and pray that I wouldn’t wake up, that I would be with her and I wouldn’t have to go through this.”

It was a realization that Chris knew he might face from the day Jennifer was diagnosed with stomach cancer in October of 2001. There were a few glimpses of hope, but the inevitable hung over them like a mighty storm ready to wreak havoc.

Chris spent nearly four sleepless days with Jennifer before she took her last breath that November day. Yet, no amount of preparation helps cushion the blow or fills the sudden void.

“The vivid memories that I have, face to face with my wife with her mask on trying to take every little breath that she could until I saw her (take her last breath) and that was it, you think that’s ever going to leave?” said Chris. “It replays in your mind.”

Chris says you don’t move on after such heartbreak and loss. The best you can do is carry on. During the fight with cancer, Chris was pushed by devotion and the care of his wife, drawing strength from her. Now all that remained was emptiness, bitterness and anger.

“It makes you wonder who’s responsible for this?” said Peter Ferraro, Chris’ twin brother. He was extremely close to Jennifer, calling her his best friend. “Why did this have to be to the point where the poor girl had to suffer for 13 months. She had no quality of life at all. It’s like “Alright already, what more do you want to do to this girl?” To see someone so beautiful and fragile go through nonstop pain, she wasn’t deserving.

“Why would such a healthy, clean cut, perfect person get stricken with this kind of disease. Why would she have to suffer for 13 months? It’s disgusting. Who do you take revenge on? You feel like you want to take revenge. It brings a heat wave over my body. I just want to explode, but you don’t know what to do. I want to break my hand on a wall.”

Temptation was great to give in to the pain and let the thirst for vengeance overwhelm. Acrimony and hostility wasn’t the answer. It only fueled the pain and made their darkest days bleaker.

“I questioned my faith when this happened,” said Chris. “But to quickly take a different approach, I turned to God and I thanked him. ‘You could have shared Jennifer with anybody in the world but you chose me.’ Whether it was nine years that we spent together or one year together, those nine that I spent with her, I have so many memories that will last a lifetime. We accomplished everything from two young kids in college to moving on and getting engaged and getting married. We were a perfect fit, a perfect match for one another during that time.”

Instead of questioning or blaming God, the Ferraro’s put their faith to work. They came across a minister on television that just happened to be speaking on the subject of losing a loved one.

“He said ‘You have to come to the realization that God has another plan for you,”’ said Chris. “You have to realize that evil and the Devil, they want to keep you in this depressed state. They want to keep you upset. They want to keep you thinking because they’re taking over you. They want you to be depressed and lonely and to live this way. All that stems out to being an evil person. You have to come to the realization that God has another plan for you, and you have to move forward.”

Still, losing someone so bright and energetic took a toll on everyone in the Ferraro family, where she had become an integral part and so beloved over the last decade. Carrying on was easier to believe in than actually accomplish. .

“Now we have to take a step back and get back to what we used to have without her, which is obviously not fair,” said Peter. “My mother doesn’t go through one day without breaking down. She misses her Jen. Every time I talk to her, her voice crackles.”

Hockey was one of the last things on the minds of Peter and Chris. Chris had already missed virtually all of the previous year while caring for Jen. Peter had continued playing while taking time off to help whenever he could.

The passion and desire for hockey just wasn’t there and there was no guarantee when, or if, it would return.

“I left it up to Chris,” said Peter. “I said, ‘I’m on your side, whatever you want to. Whatever it takes. It’s entirely up to you. If you want to take the year, you take the year off.’ Obviously, in a case like that you have no motivation to do anything. You don’t even want to get up in the morning.

“He got to the point where he felt comfortable after a month and a half being at home. It reached the point where he said, ‘Let’s get back.'”

One crucial factor in preparing Chris for that return was a vision that provided some light at the end of this very long dark tunnel. He dreamed of a mansion in Heaven. The timing, the clarity and the message all have pushed him forward.

“It was so clear,” said Chris. “I’m 30 years old and I’ve never had a dream even close to that. Exactly one month to the day after she passed away, I had that dream. It was just incredible.”

It was a three-story mansion, big enough for the whole Ferraro family. In the back yard was an Olympic sized rink. It was a sparkling winter day. Chris looks out the window and it’s 5:30 in the morning. There are skaters around the ice rink. There is a sprawling sandy beach out front that stretched for miles. Over the house, hovers a glorious rainbow. Inside an enormous bedroom were hardwood floors and a large bed, where Jennifer was sleeping peacefully.

Just days before Jennifer was diagnosed, Chris experienced a tremendous feeling of contentment while walking to a restaurant in Anaheim, California, to meet his sister. The joy from his wedding to Jennifer that summer, the reuniting with his brother, the overwhelming happiness, encapsulated him. The dream brought back those same sensations.

“That’s when I felt that inner peace again,” said Chris. “I felt that again in my dream. That same type of feeling. I felt like I was invincible, like no one could even come near me.

“I got up and said to (Peter) and my Mom, I just hope I dreamt our house in Heaven. I just remember feeling so secure and safe. That feeling was just incredible again.”

The change in Chris was obvious. Peter noticed the difference right away and actually felt some of the same liberation.

“That excited me too,” said Peter. “It made me feel like I was part of that as well.”

Shortly thereafter, the Ferraros called Tim Army and the Portland Pirates and gave them a timetable for their return.

“It is a passion of mine, and I enjoy doing it,” said Chris. “Not only the excitement factor of playing hockey but playing hockey with (Peter) was a motivating factor. I know Jen would want me to be playing hockey because she was so passionate about me playing hockey.”

Despite being away from competitive hockey for 18 months, Chris and Peter’s return not only sparked the Pirates but also showcased the kind of magic expected when the two were reunited. The two believe part of their landing in Portland together, ultimately, was divine preparation, giving them each other during this torturous time.

Still, her absence is a giant hollowness in their lives. She’s not around the house. She’s not at the rink. Her smile, her enthusiasm, her fun are just memories and are greatly missed.

“Every time I wake up from sleeping, whether it’s a pregame nap or in the morning, she’s the first person that comes to my mind,” said Peter. “Because I want to jump up and go see where Chris and Jen are. That’s what I’m used to. That’s what I’ve been inclined to do for nine and a half years of my life. I want to go in that room and joke with them. That’s my first thought, where’s Chris and Jen. I stop myself and my whole body is completely numb after that. There’s no life at all.”

Hockey has helped sustain and distract them. It gives them focus and an existence outside of their hurt. But that only goes so far.

“You’re playing so much, and you’re on the road, and every other day it seems you have a game,” said Peter. “You have the preparations. So you’re distracted enough to get through the regular day.

” Obviously your time off, it’s great to have days off because you can rest and relax and recover but these are our worst days. When you have that free time, you start thinking how you always had Jen there to make a day off an exciting day. You looked forward to having those days off with her.”

Some days now are better than others but having a good day doesn’t seem possible for the two of them. They’ve gotten tremendous support from Army and the Pirates. Army has known the Ferraro’s since they were young hockey players at a hockey camp he worked at.

“Our teammates and coaching staff have been wonderful with us,” said Peter. “They’ve been patient with us. They’ve been encouraging, and they’ve been understanding. They’ve fit us right into the puzzle that they have. We were two missing pieces, and they made us part of this. It’s been incredible for us at this point.”

The two were named captains at the American Hockey League’s All-Star game in Portland. The response they got from fans was overwhelming and touching.

Both have tried to be open about their experiences. Chris says talking about it can be therapeutic at times but reliving many of the details can be painful. Yet, it is an experience they want to share.

“By people reading about her, she’s helping people,” said Chris. “Physically, she’s not here, but she’s still helping people through our explanations.”

Though many never knew Jennifer, she has become memorable to many through this ordeal and through the message that the Ferraro’s carry on. A fund has been established in her name to help with victims of stomach cancer. At the all-star festivities alone, over $5,000 was raised. The Philadelphia Phantoms players, coaches, wives and staff recently collected $2,300 of their own money to donate, presenting Chris with a check following last month’s game. When a Phantom season ticket holder heard about the money raised, he sent a $300 check. The fund was something that both Jennifer and Chris decided to do, trying to turn tragedy into some form of triumph.

“He’s going to do Jen’s work here on earth, while she’s looking over him” said Peter of his brother. “We’re going to start a foundation. We have some ideas but nothing’s set in stone yet. It’s obviously going to be contributing toward patients and people that are unfortunate and are seeking better health care.”

She may be gone but Chris and Peter feel her presence and spirit wherever they go. It heals them and motivates them. It leads them forward, slowly but surely. The pain still aches and the void is still unfulfilled, but they push on.

“This experience has obviously been the worst of our lives and beyond words to explain what’s going on,” said Peter. “It’s just a day-to-day struggle. You have to somehow regain your strength and get through it.”

The Jennifer Ferraro Fund was established in her memory to benefit gastric cancer research at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York and the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., where she was treated. Donations can be made to:

Jennifer Ferraro Fund

P.O. Box 155

Sound Beach, New York 11789

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