In Loving Memory of My Sister!

Welcome to Real Life. Like it or not, death is a part of real life.

Theresa (Salva) Keeler
September 8, 1957 - July 7, 2023

Theresa/Terre/Tess[1] was my sister, my friend from the moment of my birth until her last breath. I don’t know how to live without a sister. I don’t want to learn. Yet, in the midst of my sadness, I am incredibly grateful God blessed me with a sister.

In many ways, Terre and I were black and white. We did not look like sisters. We grew up sharing a room, and drove each other crazy with her messiness and my neatness. She was Miss Morning Sunshine. I crawled out of bed and growled. Bone deep, however, we were the same. Our foundation stones were cut from the same quarry. We were the daughters of Slovak immigrants who were fiercely proud of both their US citizenship and their Slovak heritage. Our father arrived on this continent in his thirties with little more than the clothes on his back. Our childhood was simple and carefree. My mother did not drive, so we walked or took the bus everywhere. Our eyes rolled in tandem at our father’s silly jokes. We could quote our mother's favorite Bible verse: In him (Christ) we live and move and have our being.[2] I felt completely known, loved, and accepted in my sister’s presence.

In our teen years, my older sister was beautiful and popular. I wanted to be just like her. She taught me life skills: how to apply make-up, walk in platform shoes, kiss a boy, and hitchhike. And then, after she began smoking marijuana and misusing other drugs, she taught me that, too. However, it wasn’t long before we left drugs behind for something far better. 

Our parents laid the foundation of our faith life, especially our mother. After high school, Mom had been a nun for eight years. Before taking her final vows, she left the convent to pursue a different ministry—marriage and children. Our parents raised us in church with a healthy respect for God and the things of God.

Our Mother as a Nun

In her mid-teens, curious and seeking, Theresa prayed with a street preacher on Cleveland’s Public Square. A few years later, our brother Joe joined the military. At a Christian Servicemen's Center, Christ radically transformed his life. My brother's night-to-day conversion caused me to begin searching and ultimately commit my life to Jesus Christ. And our faith, inspired my sister to deepen her commitment to Christ. Throughout the moves and changes in Theresa's life, her faith in Christ remained her rock-solid foundation. That rock anchored her through the storm that was coming.

In 2012, Terre fell and broke a hip. In surgery, they discovered stage four breast cancer that had metastasized to her hip bone, weakening it, and precipitating the break. Further tests revealed the cancer had metastasized to both breasts, her lymph nodes, a rib, and her hip. She endured more surgeries: a double mastectomy, breast reconstruction, a hysterectomy. She started chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She lost her hair. Her hair regrew. She’d switch treatments and lose her hair again, and again, and again. She began collecting wigs! Her aggressive stage 4 breast cancer never went into remission. Theresa persevered through an entire decade of chemotherapy to keep the cancer at bay.

Tess and Daughter Breanna

Although Tess was not strong and in good health during those years, she remained fairly stable. She enjoyed life! And we, her family and friends, enjoyed her presence with us. My sister was a warrior—physically and spiritually. “I love to pray,” she told me. She prayed hard and fought hard to have those years with us! And I'm so thankful she did. My brother Richard said, “Tess was perhaps the most courageous of all the Salvas!”

Just because someone carries it well,
it doesn’t mean it’s not heavy.

In her last nine months, as her health was failing, my sister fiercely clung to her solid rock Jesus. She read her Bible from cover-to-cover twice. One of my pastors gave her the book, Imagine Heaven by John Burke. Burke researched near death experiences and compared them with the biblical descriptions of heaven and Jesus Christ. In her final days, this book inspired many conversations between us about heaven. “I can’t wait to see Jesus,” she told me. Tess eagerly anticipated the heavenly reunion with our parents. She began dreaming of my mother. “And I can’t wait to hear Daddy say, ‘Wow!’ again.”

Tess in Hospice

My sister didn’t lose her battle with cancer. She won eleven years of life. She fought the good fight. She finished the race. She kept the faith.[3] She is now safely home with Jesus. 

I know I will see my sister again. “When it’s my turn, will you meet me at heaven’s gate?” I asked her. But my heart hurts. I miss her sweet smile. I miss wiping away her kiss lipstick. I miss her vulnerable honesty. I miss her prayers. I miss hearing, "Hi, Baby Sister!" I miss her unfailing love. Yet I smile through the tears, because I thank God for the gift of a wonderful sister!

The Lord is my strength and shield.
I trust him with all my heart.
He helps me,
and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.
Psalm 28:7 NLT

(This is the last Scripture Tess posted on her Facebook page June 20, 2023.)

Take it further...
Please pray for her husband Michael and her daughter Breanna as they grieve. They (and especially Mike) took excellent care of my sister in their home until her dying breath. 

[1] Theresa went by Terre most of her life. In the last few years, she decided she wanted to be called Tess. But I remember her best as Terre.
[2] Acts 17:28
[3] 2 Timothy 4:7


  1. This is a beautiful and heartfelt tribute Peggi. Even though we only reconnected for these last couple years, she became absolutely precious as a sister in Christ. There is definitely a hole where our conversations used to be. I miss her and I too, look forward to seeing her again in Paradise. Many Blessings and God's peace for you and the family. I'll be praying. ✝️❤️🙏

    1. Thank you for your beautiful comments -- and especially your prayers! I'm so glad you two reconnected. It's a blessing to see how many lives she touched, and that others miss her, too!

  2. What a beautiful tribute to your sister! We went to high school together and I remember her as a very kind person! She will be missed 💔

    1. Thank you for your sharing your kind thoughts of my sister!

  3. Thank you dear niece. It was good of you to write and share this touching tribute to Theresa!

    1. Thank you, dear Aunt Cathe! Writing this was a healing experience for me.

  4. Beautiful Beautiful tribute. Very recently my sister passed away, unexpectedly, and there are words--descriptions in your tribute, including 2 Timothy 4:7 reference that I share in the memory of my own big sister...I understand the hurt, the missing her, and rejoicing in knowing where she is. Thank You, Lord, for Your healing grace and comfort.

    1. Dear friend, thank you for your kind comments. I'm so sorry for your loss. I pray God's comfort and peace over you!

  5. Wonderfully written and full of faith and joy. My sister died in November 2022. I do not have the same assurance of her faith. May the God of all comfort be with you and her family, too.

    1. Thanks, Sean! I'm so sorry for your loss. How difficult it must be without that assurance of your sister's faith in Christ. Regardless, it still hurts, of course. But I cling to that precious hope that I will see my sister again! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, my friend.


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