The word gratitude is defined as the “quality of being grateful.” Gratitude can be found in many ways. It could be as simple as the feeling you get when a stranger holds a door open for you, or in the pleasing support of a friend or family. Gratitude is exhibited from the journey of life, a beautiful sunrise, the work of an important charitable cause, or the thankful feelings you sense for the relationship you share with someone.
Sometimes acts of gratitude are public, frequently they are simple and sequestered. In some cases, acts of gratitude can be profound and eternal. The gratitude I write of here was unassuming and private, yet the inspiration and humanity behind this person’s act will remain eternal.
It was this humble act that touched the life of a mother in the final moments of her life on earth. This gesture of kindness was one which we should all aspire to achieve. When I learned of this person, a teacher at St. Agatha’s School in Milton, I felt this was a story to be told.
Two weeks ago, Jackie Nazzaro Wuestefeld, the owner of Blue Hills Towing in West Quincy, passed away from a rare and very aggressive form of cancer. I first met Jackie when I was just out of high school and worked for her father at Blue Hills Towing in Milton Village. Jackie was a firecracker, some days the Tow operators would take turns driving her from her home on Bonad Road to St Mary of the Hills School and later Fontbonne Academy, where she attended High School. She had a big heart and a fiery personality. A few years later when I was a young Milton police officer, Jackie became one of the 1st female Milton Police Cadets. She loved everything about public safety, but her heart drew her to continue the legacy of Blue Hills Towing which she took over from her father a few years later. I can say with much certainty that Jackie loved life, her company grew, she married the love of her life Tommy, had great kids and did everything she could to give back to others. Whatever the cause, Jackie would help. While I cannot remember Jackie speaking of her faith, it is very clear in how she lived, that faith mattered. Both her boys Matthew and Derek, attended St. Agatha’s School and her oldest son Matthew now attends Archbishop Williams High School in Braintree.
Last August, Jackie suddenly became very ill. Her diagnosis was a rare and aggressive cancer. For months she sought treatment and battled this horrific disease, all the while maintaining the persona of the courageous woman she was. Late last month I was sad to learn from her husband that Jackie was back at Brigham and Woman’s hospital, and that her cancer was terminal.
I was grateful to be included in the family and friends that Tom invited to come and see her in the hospital. I recall driving in for the first visit the next day and the feeling of sadness and anxiety you get when you are about to experience a person in the final moments of life. 34 years in policing and witnessing death in so many ways, yet that feeling you get in your stomach just never leaves you.
This day we spent an hour together alone. Death was close but she was still fighting. Every breath was a struggle, but for a solid hour we talked about nearly everything we had seen or shared from Tow Trucks to Police work, her beloved Troopers of the MSP and Jimmy G, who she loved!
Two days later I returned for what would be the final time I would see this tough young lady. On this morning, I could tell something was on her mind. I asked what it was about. Jackie said it was her youngest son Derek. She went on to say how he had been struggling in math and that his religion teacher, Miss Perez had been giving some extra time to help him. In her eyes, I could see it was more. She then told me in the most kind and loving way that the morning before, Miss Perez had gone into Derek’s locker and saw a soiled school basketball uniform. Knowing that he was on the team and I believe they had a game the next day, Miss Perez took the uniform home, washed and ironed it. The next morning it was hanging all ready to go in his locker.
The gratitude of this dying mother for such a simple but profound act of kindness was outside any description I could offer. I believe if Jackie could have willed her cancer ridden body from that hospital bed and driven to St, Agatha’s School, she would have given Miss Perez a hug so huge, that it may have broken her ribs.
As our visit ended, I knew that this fight to live was almost over. I don’t consider myself a holy roller but I do have strong faith. I told Jackie as I left that I was going to walk up the street to the renowned Basilica of Our Lady (known to most as the Mission Church) to pray the rosary for her. Her eyes lit right up and she said “really?” I replied” yes.” As I left the room, her final request was to ask me to say a prayer for “Miss Perez.” Such a caring request to offer her thanks in the most reverent manner.
A few days later Jackie departed our world. Her funeral at St. Agatha’s Church was packed. Hundreds of Tow Trucks from across Massachusetts lined both sides of Brook Road outside for nearly a mile. When I entered the Church, I saw Deacon Dan Sullivan and I asked him who Miss Perez was. He had no idea why and said yes, Victoria Perez, and immediately pointed out to me a woman sitting on the left side of the altar where all of the parent’s staff and students of St. Agatha’s were gathered together. I watched and saw her quietly sitting, interacting at times with her students.
When it came time for communion and I reached the front of the church, I realized she was assisting the priest. As I approached, I looked into the eyes of this woman. She had no idea who I am or about what Jackie shared with me. In our brief interaction, I could see in her eyes, the kindness of a teacher, one who embraces compassion and caring, I could also witness her sadness. A human understanding of the loss and pain of her young student, who has witnessed the death of his mother, as well the deep hurt to Jackie’s family and many friends.
In a world today that is so filled with discourse and lack of unity, this story defines the term “gratitude.” A faithful mother who was so grateful for the gift of a wonderful Christian teacher, and a teacher who could understand and embrace the struggle of her young student who was experiencing the most profound loss.
Miss Perez, I do not know you, but your compassion and kindness “rocked the world” of a dying mother. I hope my words can define the gratitude that was felt as she departed this world.
To the St. Agatha’s community and all of us who make up this Town we call Milton, the message of these two women, mother and teacher, is something we should all take notice of and embrace.
Richard G. Wells Jr.