"It's a huge loss, we're going to feel this for years," mourner Julie Nastasiak said Wednesday, as she left the wake for Dr. Theresa Elaine McLaughlin-Wrage.
Nastasiak was a loyal patient of McLaughlin-Wrage for nearly 30 years. Wednesday, she bid a tearful farewell to the healer who also was her friend.
"She treated everybody like family," Nastasiak said.
Nastasiak's comments were echoed by hundreds of mourners who gathered Wednesday at Anderson-McQueen, a St. Petersburg funeral home, many of them in shock, for the wake of the doctor, killed in a skydiving mishap.
There were loud cries of sorrow and tearful embraces from the dozens of patients and families who had relied on the good doctor for so many years.
McLaughlin-Wrage, 60, died on New Year's Day in a skydiving incident in Zephyrhills, according to TampaBay.com.
Ed Wrage, her husband, jumped with her Sunday, according to TampaBay.com. Wrage told reporters with TampaBay.com that they kissed at around 4,000 feet and then separated. He said that his wife opened her parachute, but it had a "violent spin." Her reserve 'chute did not inflate in time. She died as a result of trauma, according to a medical exmainer's report.
The incident is being investigated by the Zephyrhills Police Department with assistance by the Federal Aviation Administration.
McLaughlin was in family practice at Suncoast Medical Clinic in St. Petersburg. She had been a doctor for 34 years. In that time, McLaughlin created enduring relationships with her patients. She had been with them through sickness and in health.
Nastasiak of St. Petersburg said McLaughlin helped her through some of the most difficult times of her life, making house calls to treat her young son with asthma and standing by her side when her father was terminally ill. "My dad was dying, and she came to the hospital. She helped me make the decision."
"She knew everything about your family. She was compassionate and loving. She never had a bad day," Nastasiak said.
Marlette Julien, also of St. Petersburg, was a patient of McLaughlin for 27 years. Julien says she'll miss her friendliness, kindness, open heart and open mind.
Julien says she never felt rushed during her visits, and she could count on McLaughlin to be there when she needed help. McLaughlin was more than a doctor, she was a friend.
Diana Lind of St. Petersbug, was shocked upon hearing of the accident. Lind heard that McLaughlin had completed over 700 skydives. She said McLaughlin was an adventurer, a compassionate woman, a caring doctor. She was "one of the nicest people. She always treated you with respect," Lind said.
All three women agreed that in order to become a patient of McLaughlin's you had to "be born into her practice or married into her practice." Lind said McLaughlin never lost her patients and therefore patients stayed with her throughout their lives. Patients admitted it will be so hard to let go.
Barbara Wallace shared her thoughts with Gulfport Patch by writing, "She cared about us. My husband and I went to her for 27 years. We love her dearly and I'm so honored to have known her."
More than two dozen people have shared their stories and memories on the Legacy Guestbook on TBO.com.
Pamala Prell, of Gulfport, wrote on the T. Elaine McLaughlin Guesbook, "Dr. McLaughlin has been my Doctor for 26 years, and she was my Daughter and grandkids (doctor) too. I will miss her dearly, I don't think I will ever find a new doctor that I loved and amired so much as Doctor McLaughlin. I am saddend by her death, but we all know that she loved skydiving. She is now a beautiful Angel in heaven and has real wings so she is still flying and she will send us care from heaven, I have no doubt."
Elizabeth Fichtl, of Gulfport, wrote on the T. Elaine McLaughlin Guestbook, "Elaine was a dear friend, an outstanding physician and a dear neighbor. She listened, laughed so well and had a strong, yet subtle compassion for all living things. I will sorely miss her. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family and loved ones."
Theresa Elaine McLaughlin-Wrage leaves behind her husband, Edward Wrage; stepdaughters, Sara Skelton and Jesi Wrage; stepson, Luke Wrage; brother, Dr. Charles McLaughlin; sisters, Billie Manheimer and Marla McLaughlin; mother, Nina Milton; stepmother, Martha McLaughlin.
Funeral services are being provided by Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home.