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Joe Gerard Vethanayagam, of Rockville, Maryland on Wednesday, August 7, 2019. Mass of Christian Burial will begin at 11am on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, 4101 Norbeck Road, Rockville, Maryland 20853. Interment private.
“I lived in North Dakota for a long time and I know the deep freeze of winters very well. I lived in different parts of the world and I am aware of what each season brings. I have seen from nowhere in the thick of a grey winter the tulip bulbs spring out. If you have seen the fields of colored tulips in The Netherlands mesmerizing you, you surely believe in magic. Many different varieties of bulbs that create the flower carpet in the spring need to go through the cold temperature cycle in winter for their magic to happen. Life is the same way. We go through humbling trials of our lives to see the glory of our survival. We all go through periods of darkness, loneliness, and desperation. The cold winters do not destroy the tulip bulbs. Failures do not destroy us but our closed minds and negative thoughts do. Surrendering ourselves to the thoughts of failures is like longing for failure. We have to believe in magic and we have to let our own light come through. As the stars shine the most in the darkest hour, the astonishing light of our soul will emerge victorious during our periods of trial. The jubilant celebration of spring with green covering the land is the testimony that happiness will return if you believe in it.”
- Dr. Joe Gerard Gratian Vethanayagam
On Wednesday, August 7th, 2019, Dr. Joe Gerard Gratian Vethanayagam freed his body from the torments of an aggressive form of leukemia at the age of 59. Though professionally he was a scientist, Joe succeeded in his life beyond all measures by creating a blissfully happy family life and selflessly devoting every moment of his life to support those who were hurting the most.
Joe was born in Sri Lanka and was the eldest of 5 boys and took his role as the eldest in stride. Growing up during a civil war, he longed for an education and career that would bring peace and virtue to his surroundings. He was schooled under Jesuit priests before leaving Sri Lanka as a young adult to continue his studies in The Netherlands. Upon arriving in Amsterdam, he devoted his free time to the suffering and despondent at Sint Nicolaaskerk (The Church of Saint Nicholas). During his time in The Netherlands, he completed his master’s degree at Wageningen Agricultural University.
From Holland, he moved to the United States of America to obtain his Ph.D. at North Dakota State University. In his professional career, he worked as a protein biochemist at the medical school at the University of North Dakota and later at the National Institutes of Health, where he contributed to understanding the biology of HIV and Hepatitis.
In recent years, he wrote about his understanding of our life journey and human suffering in a book titled “Soul Lovers and Soul Makers: The Life of Abundance.” The book is intended to comfort those afflicted by beasts like cancer. Since its release, it has touched and consoled so many who are grieving.
Joe found great joy in nature and passionately toiled to cultivate a flourishing garden at his home in Rockville, Maryland. He referred to his garden as his teacher and entertainer and wrote: “My garden is a strong enough force to imprint upon me my responsibility to nature.” Joe was immensely proud to be an American: as a child in Sri Lanka he watched US Presidential Elections on TV; in his last moments he still proclaimed “America is great!”
Strongly intuitive, Joe anticipated his own suffering in his final years and his family knew it as well. With his deep faith in God, Joe fought cancer bravely, at first for his life to stay, and later for his life to end. We are so immensely grateful to him that he made his own decisions and spared us the pain of deciding his fate.
There are countless beautiful words that we could attach to Joe as a person. He was deeply spiritual, born as an old soul, a true empath that could connect to human suffering. He was able to offer support to his loved ones and complete strangers. It seemed that everyone with pain was drawn to him.
We are hurting and grieving his physical absence but feeling relieved that his suffering is over. His beautiful soul continues to love and watch over his family: wife Majda, daughter Margaret, son Nicholas, and newly added family member Jacob. For Majda, Gratian (as she calls him) has been a true soul mate and an empowering force. She will draw from the strength he instilled in her for the rest of her life. For Margaret and Nicholas, he was a selfless, nurturing father who reveled in their successes. We are comforted that just a couple of months before his premature death, he witnessed Margaret’s doctorate graduation and Nicholas’ high school graduation.
Throughout his life, he watched over his brothers and the rest of his family members. He suffered through the deaths of his beloved grandmother Margaret, his parents, and one of his brothers. His surviving brothers - Jude (Sasha), Brian (Nishan), Chrishan (Dusha), and their families - are grieving with us. For his two aunts, Vani and Mary, the loss is immense.
Joe shared with us months ago that in a dream, his mother invited him to join her for a meal celebrating the new harvest. In the dream, he told her it was not yet his time. He told us the burden of declining her offer weighed heavy on his heart. We are comforted to know he has now joined his mother for the new harvest meal and that his soul is eternally quenched of all hunger and thirst.