Cabrini student matures after tragic loss

By Elizabeth Scopelliti
April 18, 2010

The tragedy that struck the Skurka children during the latter part of the 2009 year was one that would forever change the lives of siblings Casey, Tara and Matt. What started out as an eventful and fun-filled summer ended in tragedy as the school year began.

After the passing of their grandmother in August, the sudden death of their mother MJ in September severed the lives of the children, along with their father Steve.

Casey, eldest of the three siblings and current sophomore at Cabrini, took on the role as “mom” and attempted to make things as easy for her family as possible.

“I felt like I had to assume the role of the mom. I became concerned about the well-being of my dad, Tara and Matt. We all had to step up. Mommy did a lot of things for us. We were independent, but at the same time we were dependent on her, like meals, dinner, and laundry. I never had to scrub a bathroom in my life until she died,” Skurka said.

Casey also spoke fondly of her mother and the memories that they were able to share for the 19 years Casey had with her.

“The beach, that’s my number one memory. Cape May specifically. She lived for the beach. I miss her smile, her laugh, her sense of humor. And when I’m not feeling well, you know? I just want my mom,” Skurka said.

Casey, Tara, Matt and Steve were able to make it through Thanksgiving without MJ and were preparing for their first Christmas without her. Little did they know, another catastrophic event would put their lives on hold and make things even more heartbreaking and difficult.

On the morning of Sunday, Dec. 20, Steve Skurka went outside to shovel the snow produced by the blizzard that had hit earlier in the week.

“Matt had actually snowblown the driveway and sidewalk several times that weekend,” Skurka said.

When Steve returned inside, Casey could immediately tell something was wrong. Casey went to retrieve a glass of water for him, but when she returned, he was unable to talk.

“I called 911, and I ran outside and screamed for my neighbor Dave. He came and performed CPR on him,” Skurka said.

An ambulance quickly arrived to their house and took him directly to the hospital, where, after countless attempts at trying to resuscitate him, he was pronounced dead. Casey later found out that her father had a blood clot in his artery. “I guess the efforts of his shoveling dislodged the blood clot,” Skurka said.

Casey, Tara and Matt were in utter shock and dismay at losing their father only three months after losing their mother. It was an unexpected and unfortunate struggle that the Skurka children had to deal with right around the Christmas season.

They decided it would be best that Steve be buried the day after Christmas, instead of Christmas Eve (the other option they were given).

“I tried to distract Matt through the whole thing when we buried Daddy,” Skurka said. “I was in a fog during the mass because it would have just made it harder if I dwelled on it.”

Once they buried their father, Casey had to focus on the legal issues present, primarily regarding their house and the guardianship of Matt. Because Tara turned 18 in January, the three decided that it would be best for Casey to sign for legal guardianship of her brother. There were also issues with different bills, which Casey described as “more difficult ‘roadblocks.’”

“This is a totally different experience than Mommy. We had time to mourn for Mommy, because Daddy took care of everything,” Skurka said. “Personally, I feel like I don’t have time to think about what happened. I try my hardest not to explain the situation to people because it gets awkward.”

Now that things are slowly settling down, Casey is focused on the well being of her younger siblings, and making sure that things are as normal for them as possible.

“The way I look at it, I’m 20 years old. I went through high school. I got to live my life normally, unlike Tara and Matt. I don’t mind doing bills and paperwork so they can have a ‘normal’ life. They have so many milestones coming up. Prom, graduations, college; these are big things. I want to make things easier for them,” Skurka said.

Tara, who will be graduating from Cardinal O’Hara high school in June, will be attending college for speech pathology in the fall of 2010. Matt, who attends Haverford Middle School, will be graduating the 8th grade and continuing on at Casey’s Alma Mater, Haverford High School.

As for Casey, she is excited to see what l ife has to offer “I’m excited to move forward,” Skurka said. “I just hope for smooth sailing from here on out. No obstacles to run into. I can’t see anything worse happening, so I can’t wait to see my future. Things will be good.”

The Skurka family pictured at a benefit at Temple University in March2009. From left to right: Matt, MJ, Casey, Tara and Steve. -- Casey Skurka/Submitted Photo

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Elizabeth Scopelliti

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