For more than 40 years, Edwarda O’Bara hadn’t uttered a word. She had not lifted a hand to touch the face of a loved one nor acknowledged the hundreds of visitors that made their way to her bedside.
Yet her story touched people from around the world.
O’Bara, 59, died Wednesday at her home in Miami.
She was born in Johnstown, where her grandfather, Eddie McCloskey, served as mayor from 1931-35.
At just 17, O’Bara, a diabetic, fell ill.
“Mommy, don’t leave me,” the frightened teenager implored her mother just before she slipped into a coma.
“I will never leave you,” her mother, Kaye O’Bara, said. It was a promise she kept – rarely leaving her daughter’s side until her death at 79 in 2008.
Although many suggested she put her daughter into a nursing home, O’Bara refused and took her daughter home. Despite overwhelming medical costs, she provided round-the-clock care for her daughter – giving insulin shots, feeding her through a tube, bathing and constantly turning her patient to prevent bed sores.
Her niece, Melodee Guy of Johnstown, said her aunt never knew what it meant to sleep eight straight hours.
“She had an arched back because she was always leaning over (her daughter),” she said.
A devout Roman Catholic, O’Bara referred to herself as “mother and guardian of a precious soul.” She often told people she felt the presence of the Virgin Mary in her daughter’s bedroom.
The story of the mother and daughter was featured in a book by Dr. Wayne Dyer, “A Promise is a Promise: An Almost Unbelievable Story of a Mother’s Unconditional Love and What It Can Teach Us.”
Visitors stopped by the home at all hours. Among the more famous were former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and President Bill Clinton.
“People were looking for some answer to their problems,” Guy said. “They would come from all over the world and sit quietly in the room. They would pray or they would come in and talk to her. So many had sightings of the Virgin Mary and some people were actually healed.”
After her mother’s death, Edwarda’s sister, Colleen O’Bara, quit her job and stepped in to continue the care of her sister.
On the morning of her death, she bathed and got her comatose sister ready for the day, earning a big smile.
She left the room to get a cup of coffee and when she returned, her sister was gone.
Guy said her cousin is having a difficult time. “I spoke to her and she was really down. She said ‘I have this emptiness in my heart,’ ” Guy said. “She became the mother to Edwarda. It was almost like losing her own child.”
Guy believes the sacrifices her aunt and cousin made to care for Edwarda had meaning.
“She changed people’s lives for the better,” she said. “You could actually see the difference in their faces.”
In addition to her cousin and sister, O’Bara is survived a nephew, Richard O’Bara, and a great-nephew, Joseph Michael O’Bara, who also lived in Miami.
A memorial service is planned for today at Memorial Plan Southern Memorial Park and a funeral service is planned for Wednesday at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Miami.
In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting for donations to help pay for burial expenses. Donations can be sent to:
Edwarda O’Bara Fund
P.O. Box 693482
Miami, Fla. 33269