Alla Jillions Wheeler (1958-2010)
Alla J. Wheeler, aged 52, fell asleep in the Lord on Tuesday, June 22, ending a two year battle with cancer. Her husband, Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, their two children Jack (John) and Azure (Alexandra) together with many members of her family were at her bedside at home when she died after weeks of palliative care, much of it given directly by Protodeacon Eric.
Alla was diagnosed with “Adenocarcinoma of unknown origin” in June 2008. It attacked her liver, bones and brain, but the oncologists could not pin down the primary site. She went through a barrage of treatments: including radiation, chemotherapy, and an operation on her back to insert steel plates and screws to prop-up her crumbling spine. On Holy Thursday this year she received a diagnosis of “carcinomatous meningitis,” an aggressive cancer that spreads through the spinal fluid attacking the central nervous system, causing weird symptoms, seizures and distorting muscles.
Alla was born April 28, 1958 in Montreal and was the third of five children. Alla met Eric at the St Vladimir’s Seminary College Student Christmas Retreat in 1977 and they were married at Holy Trinity Church after Eric’s graduation from seminary in 1980. They went to Alaska that summer to run tours at the Cathedral in Sitka, where they lived with the late Bishop Gregory (Afonsky). Eric worked at St Vladimir’s Seminary and the OCA Chancery in important administrative and leadership capacities. Since 1999 he has been Director of Finance at Old Westbury Gardens in Long Island, NY.
Eric was ordained deacon in 1986, and throughout his ministry Alla was a deep friend, companion and supporter, especially during the difficult days of the OCA’s crisis in administration (1999-2008) which Protodeacon Eric had such a crucial role uncovering. Although those years were very painful for Alla - and led to a sense of alienation from the Church for a period of time - in the last few years Alla was reconciled to church life. The family is part of the St Sergius Chapel community at the OCA Chancery in Syosset, where Fr Alexander Garklavs is their pastor and friend. She said at one point, “You peel off all the outer layers of the church’s troubles and failings, and there in the middle is something so good.”
At the final session of the last All-American Council Council (2008) delegates unanimously recognized former OCA Treasurer, Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, who brought to light the financial mismanagement at the OCA Chancery, and offered an apology to he, Alla and his family for the mistreatment that they had endured as a result.
Professionally, Alla was a dental hygienist. After many years in clinical practice and then completing a Masters in Health Care Administration she was appointed Clinical Instructor of Dental Hygiene at New York University (2002) and then Assistant Professor (2004). This was a new vocation for which she was deeply grateful, because she felt that all her talents, expertise and experience were coming together. She had the opportunity to do research as well and was collaborating with a team to detect diabetes through blood testing as part of normal dental hygiene practice. But in all this what impressed her most was the humanity of her colleagues, many of whom were not religious at all. “There was so much kindness, especially after this terrible illness started,” she said recently. “They were such human beings, and it never stopped.” Then she corrected herself, “I said they were ‘human,’ but no, it’s not just that. These are human beings who have been touched by God, only they don’t know it.”
Just before Paschal Vespers this year a brief prayer service for Alla was held at St Sergius Chapel. She stood in the center of the tiny chapel, surrounded by family and friends. She was frail and everyone knew this would be her last Pascha with us on this earth. But Pascha is such a defiant celebration, so the words “…trampling down death by death” took on a very personal meaning. At the end of the prayers, Alla said goodbye and thanked everyone, and asked forgiveness. There was not an ounce of self-pity or sentimentality, only radiance and gratitude. What a strange mixture it was then and still is - of grief entwined with joy and peace.
In addition to Protodeacon Eric, Jack and Azure, she leaves behind her mother Alla Jillions (91), siblings Fr John Jillions (Denise), Tania Kerno (Ivan), Tamara Carson (Michael) and Andrew Jillions (Kathleen), aunts, uncles, cousins and many nieces and nephew; not to mention her many, many friends throughout the OCA and her professional life.
Funeral arrangements are as follows:
Memorial Service, Thursday, June 24, 7:00 pm, Holy Trinity Church, 369 Green Ave, East Meadow, NY
Funeral Service, Friday, June 25, 9:30 am, Holy Trinity Church, East Meadow
Interment to follow at St Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA
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In lieu of flowers, contributions can be sent to:
The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation
Att: Team Hope
One Exchange Plaza
55 Broadway, Suite 302
New York, NY 10006
May Her Memory Be Eternal.