After my wife Joanne died in August 2005, my 9 children struggled with the reality that she wasn’t coming back. When she first got sick, we lived in Georgia for 10 years, then moved in with my parents in NY when we couldn’t find any doctors in Georgia who thought she would survive. I was able to get a job transfer to NJ outside of Philadelphia, PA. After she passed away, I found a house in South Jersey. We closed on that house 4 days before school started. In a month’s time, their mother died, we moved and they started at a new school in a different part of the country. They are now beginning to settle.
My oldest, Nicole who’s 16, is studying for her driver’s permit. That will help a lot with all the picking up and dropping off we have to do. She’s an A/B student in 10th grade. I recently enrolled her in counseling because of some situations she’s gone through. She seems to be doing well. One of the ways that she has really impressed me was on a recent trip to Virginia Beach for business. I brought all the kids so they could have a weekend at the beach. I was in meetings all day for 3 days and I asked Nicole if she felt comfortable taking care of all the kids. She told me she was and she proved it that weekend. In fact, she blew me away with how she handled everything. She took them shopping for food at a local store, cooked dinner, made lunches, took them to the beach and organized all their bed times. It was inspiring for me to see her demonstrate her leadership skills. Nicole is an awesome artist and aspires to go to school for art and drawing.
My next child, Richie is 14. He’s probably been the one who has taken his mother’s death the hardest. On the night my wife died, he screamed at me and siad he hated me ran out of the house. We couldn’t find him for some time. For the next 17 months, he was miserable. Two months after she died, he threatened to commit suicide during a fight he was having with his sister. She called me while I was at work and my nanny was dropping another one of my kids off somewhere and I couldn’t contact her. I had no choice but to call 911 and rush home. When I got there, there were 4 State Troopers in my basement talking with him. They determined that he was not really going to kill himself but that he was just trying to get attention. Still dealing so deeply with my own grief, I elected not to enroll him in counseling at that time. Looking back, I should have gotten him into counseling immediately. Richie began making friends and seemed to be ok. He joined baseball the following spring and enjoyed it. He was still very moody and was getting into a lot of fights with his younger brother Matthew.
It wasn’t until he started getting involved in fights in school the next fall that I got really concerned. I became a regular in the principal’s office with him and he got suspended a couple of times. There were also numerous fights outside of school that he was involved in or threatening to be involved in. In January of 2007 after he and I had a huge argument I decided to enroll him in therapy with the therapist that I was seeing. This was to be the beginning of his healing. One of the things the therapist uncovered was that Richie had blamed me for his mother’s death. He had seen a letter I wrote that eluded to the fact that the doctor’s wanted me to stop her life support. Even thought I didn’t do that, Richie thought I did. We were able to have a meeting together with the therapist where this was cleared up. Richie has been wonderful since then. He had a huge weight lifted off his shoulders at that meeting. He has since joined the high school football team and absolutely loves it. It gives him an outlet for his aggression as well as discipline and leadership skills. He is struggling in school but we are having him tested for a learning disability. Several other family members are learning disabled. Richie would love to be a professional ball player.
My 3rd child, Matthew is 13. He, like his brother took his mother’s death really hard. Matthew loves the outdoors and enjoys fishing, chasing deer with a camera, and playing paintball and shooting airsoft guns in our woods. We’re fortunate enough to live on over an acre that borders 20+ acres of woods and open space. Matthew uses those areas for fun and for escaping to when he feels sad or angry. It’s been a blessing to all of us actually. He has many friends and does really well in school. He has a huge interest in animals demonstrated by his love for our two dogs. He’s often seen on our living room floor with one or both of the dogs close by his side. He has been able to spend some time observing a veterinarian that we know during surgeries and examinations. He will most likely end up as a vet or working with animals.
Next is Jessica and she’s 11. Jessica is in 6th grade and does phenomenally well in school. She reads several books a week and often has to be scolded for bringing a book to the dinner table or to church! She has read every Harry Potter book 4 or 5 times and never tires of reading them. I recently threw out several of them that were literally falling apart from her reading them so much. She also reads many other books. Recently she read Little Women in 7 days. Jessica has many friends in school and is in the choir which just sang for the 2nd consecutive year in the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade. She aspires to be a recording artist as she loves to sing and dance. We are going to register her in dance class for the second year in a row. Jessica is my most rambunctious child. She’s a real fighter. She’s a little too young for the older group of kids and a little too old for the younger group of kids. To compensate, she takes to the books.
Jessica has been grieving hard lately for her mom. She misses her dearly. She’s a pre-teen and her body is starting to change. It’s hard for her to talk to me about the changes she’s going through although I try my best. She tries to rely on her older sister but Nicole is busy with her own life in high school and, like most girls her age, would rather spend time with her friends than her family. I recently enrolled her in therapy because she’s been experiencing a lot of anxiety lately and having trouble sleeping. It’s been doing her a world of good and I’m starting to see some great improvements.
Sarah, who is 10, is next. Sarah is my little helper always willing to help me with whatever I need. She’s capable of taking care of all her siblings younger than her and does it with ease. Sarah is in 4th grade and does well. When her mom first got sick in Georgia, she was struggling in school. It’s still hard for her and she gets some extra help but she does good. Sarah has also been grieving her mom a lot lately. Like most of the younger children, she grieves hard for a few hours and then she’s fine. From what I’ve learned, the younger children grieve differently. The grieve more in a quick, intense way and then they could be fine for several months.
Sarah’s grief usually comes at bed time when I go in to say good night. She’s often quiet and won’t tell me what’s wrong. She just wants me to hold her which I do until one of the other children calls me. She also suffers from separation anxiety. Every time I have to travel or even run out to the store, she experiences a lot of stress about me leaving. She often clings to me and says, “Don’t forget me daddy when you’re gone.” I know she’s going to need counseling eventually and I’m keeping a close on her as to when that will be.
Alyssa, 8, is my next daughter. She’s in 3rd grade and does good in school. She has been classified with a learning disability. She was also struggling in school when my wife first got sick in Georgia. We had gotten both her and Sarah help with a local tutor but when we moved to NJ she still struggled. The school was recommending that she repeat 1st grade which I didn’t want to do. Then they made the suggestion of getting her evaluated which I did. Her disability is in reading. She’s very strong in her other subjects.
Alyssa’s grief process is inconsistent. Every once in a while she’ll cry for mom but it’s usually when she’s tired, which is after 8 p.m. But to say that she’s fully grieved would be untrue. I think, like most of the younger kids, she’s going to be dealing with this most of her life.
Anna, 7, Emily, 5, and James, 3 are my youngest children. Anna cries more often now then before because she misses her mom. She was 5 when Joanne died and she says she just misses her. She can’t recall much about her mom at this point and the same goes for Emily. Emily often cries at night saying, “I miss mommy.” I try to comfort her as best I can and when I ask her what she remembers most about mom she can’t say. James says he misses her too but he’s just mimicking Emily. He was 11 months old when Joanne died.
My heart aches for all of them but mostly for my 3 youngest. They will grow up with memories of their mom from pictures only. Maybe it won’t be as bad as I think because they can’t really grieve what they don’t remember. But when all their friends start talking about the good memories they have with their mothers, these three won’t have any. And their will undoubtedly be times that they know that a mother is the only one who can help them with this or that she’s the only one who will understand something. I only hope I can provide a similar experience for them.
I can’t imagine what these kid’s lives are really like. I know my own grief still gets intense after over 2 years. But them, having to face life without a parent, especially a mom who was the foundation of our family, has got to be tough. I often cry for them because of that. Even though we have a lot of people involved in our lives, none of them can replace their mom. My prayer is that they can somehow make it through their childhood years and emerge with grace and confidence to live successful lives. And I hope that I can do an adequate job as a single parent to help them get there. If my older ones’ emerging qualities are any testament to that, then I think we’re on our way. And if they can do that, my dreams will be fulfilled.
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