My boy

Yesterday we entered the Olivander’s Wand Shop in Universal California. With a group of about 25 people we were all positioned against the wall by the assistant. Your father and I hoped one of you boys would be chosen as the special guest to have a wand fitted to you. The wand chose you, my first born son. Watching you go through this amazing experience, your eyes lit up.

You are now 12 years old. What the keeper of the shop did not know is:

You are the boy that saved me first.

You were the boy that saw me ugly cry the whole first year.

You were the boy that wiped my tears and told me “I don’t like that face, please stop crying Mommy” at age three.

You were the boy that turned to jokes to make me laugh so I wouldn’t cry.

You were the life in my soul.

You were the only boy that went through the horrible tragedy of losing your father with me.

When the witch helped you find the perfect fit, I saw your eyes begin to blink, my sensitive boy, I know you were fighting back tears. Mine came rolling down my face. Tears of pride and happiness that she chose you!

You read all of the Harry Potter books and enjoyed seeing each movie after finishing the book.

That experience was so special and meaningful for you. I am blessed to have been there to watch the magic my boy.

The woman who picked you for that experience has no idea what an amazing young man you truly are. However the words she spoke were so accurate and meant just for y-o-u.

With horse hair, this wand is meant for a person who is so loyal to his friends and family. Son, you are incredibly loyal to your friends and peers. Whether it is sitting with the child who sits alone at lunch, to being best friends with the boy who couldn’t find his voice and purposefully not associating with the mean kids. The wand chose you.

My boy I love you with my whole heart, and am thankful our tragic loss shaped you for the better and you came out a more powerful person.



August 18, 2019

Father’s Day for Widow’s Children

The next time you think you have it bad, think about a child who has lost their Dad. That’s right, as Father’s Day approaches there are people all around the country not happy to celebrate this day. I have talked to many adults over the last 8 years who lost their fathers young. I am intrigued by their sharing. Why? Because they help me know what my own children could be feeling. I lost my partner Jon when I was 34 years old. I know my own feelings. I have watched how my children process things as they get older. I can infer how they feel, but my Dad is still alive so I don’t truly know what it is like for them to not have their father.

I do however get to deal with their range of emotions on any given day, by any possible trigger. Recently, my seven year old son nonchalantly told his Dad after school “Today I could write about a special person, and I chose you. You’ll get to see it soon.” Hours later after his (2nd) Dad left for a meeting, I got the anger and confusion from this school assignment. I got the “you know I could pick my favorite person to write about today and I didn’t choose you. And of course I didn’t choose Dad Jon. (Biological father) I chose Dad Tom. Now anger coming out, he continues “Fathers are supposed to raise their children and be there for them, Dad Jon didn’t raise me and he is not here for me!” Yelling, tears, and anger came next. He tried shutting the door on me as he went in the house. He headed for the living room, hid under a blanket and continued yelling and crying. I think to myself, this sucks, but good baby boy let it out. He was so angry with me. Angry and saying I caused the car accident.  Angry at me for “getting another husband and you were probably happy Dad Jon died”. That stung, because in these 8 years of raising my boys without their bio dad a lot has happened. But I always put them first. I didn’t cause that accident, I was home sleeping with my 3 year old son.  I wasn’t even in the car. But my youngest son didn‘t know this detail maybe or he didn’t remember it……after all he wasn’t born yet. My second son was born six months after his father died in the accident.

His older brother was only three years old when Daddy died. I do know that a child’s sense of security is taken when their father dies. Anxiety can be a result of this loss. Other challenges for children who lost a father can be: feeling alone, depressed, wishing they could go to heaven to visit their Dad, being angry with their Mom because she isn’t a Dad no matter how hard she tries. But most of all kids just want to be like other kids and have a complete family, both of their parents.

I also know that although I raise two sons who lost their father, their circumstance are very different and therefore their grief and loss is unique to them. One son wishes his biological father never died and he still had his best friend. He wishes he could remember him but his memories have faded. My younger son seems to long for the father he never met, the one he is not in any pictures with. He wishes he had any memories with him at all. At his tender age of seven he is processing his loss in a different way, trying to make sense of it. Both, circumstances are so difficult, but I have faith they will be okay. Their loss is woven into who they are. It’s a part of them.

For the now adults that lost their father much too soon, I send love to you. I hope you got a wonderful male role model in your life. If you didn’t I hope you become a wonderful role model to a child that could really use one. My sons are blessed they did get a man that came along and needed a family. He needed us just as much as we needed him. I do believe God and Johnny sent Tom directly to us. For that I will be eternally grateful. To all the Moms out there being both parents, keep your chin up, smile…. you are beautiful and keep proving to your children what a true Warrior is, a fighter who never gives up. To all the Dads out there being both parents Happy Father’s Day, hug your kids and be assured your wife is smiling down on you and your family.


Written by Julie Brennan

Mother’s Day Story

Recently Heather Bartlett a We Do Care Support group participant was interviewed by a local newspaper The Brockton Enterprise. She made the front page on Mother’s Day! Just look at her beautiful children. This article gives you a glimpse into the journey of Heather raising 4 children who lost their father, Larry. She shares the importance of finding a place to go during her grieving. We hope you enjoy reading about how our programming is working and helping young widows and children who have lost a parent.


One cold February day I hurriedly took out the trash. A bag in one hand, the recyclables in the other hand, I took a fast slide on the slippery sheet of ice on my driveway. I ended up lying there with my left ankle twisted under my other leg, feeling the sharp and sudden pain of the fall. I had screamed quickly and loud as I fell, the scared feeling and surprise in my yell.

My son just leaving for school with his Dad ran out. Then my paramedic husband came next. “Alright what hurts,” he says as I lay there. My pride was probably wounded the most. I fell. I hurt myself. I could barely get any words out. I think I finally muttered “I twisted my ankle” grumpily, then got up abruptly put most of the pressure on my other foot, quickly got into the house, grabbed an ice pack, sat and iced that ankle. I had left them standing there. (I think I heard “whoa Hun take it easy, slow down.” As I made my way to the safety of my home.) I did want help but I just wanted a do over. I wanted to not have fallen and been laid out on my back, hoping someone heard me yell.

As I sat on the couch, icing my ankle I cried. Yes it hurt, I’d be okay but it hurt. And my morning now had to be figured out. This was not the day I had planned. I remembered this is vulnerable.

Vulnerable, when you feel weak and helpless. When someone offers you help and you can’t respond. You don’t know what you need you just know you are hurting. You need something but it’s either too hard to ask for help or you really have no idea what you need. The word vulnerable stems from the Latin roots vulnus meaning “wound”.

Have you ever been there? Feeling wounded sucks. Being a strong independent woman I can count on one hand the amount of times in my life I truly felt completely vulnerable. For those of us warriors where life gave us obstacles to overcome, we know how to fight back. We know how to stand strong on our own with little help. However there comes a few times in life when even the strongest warrior needs an army.

Grief is something many in our American society steer away from discussing. Death and dying is a topic we don’t casually bring up in conversation either. Most of us are not fortunate to have taken a class on the hardest stage in life death and dying. When each of us gets to that moment in life when we lose our closest person, can we ever be prepared for that? Will each of us know how to help our people when they experience close loss and are feeling vulnerable.

To be that person trying to outstretch your hand when your friend is falling deep into the darkness of grief, what can you do when they won’t accept your offer? You’ve called and they are not taking your call. You’ve said, “call me if you need anything”, and meant it. It’s got to be tough being that friend and feeling pushed aside when you truly want to do something to help and just want to be there for your friend.

What you can do is simple: Just keep trying! Be right by them when you can. When they let you in and you have time to be with them be there without judgment. Everyone responds in his or her own way to loss and death. We all have our own unique journey. Let your friend travel their journey. Tell them you can listen or just sit quietly with them in their sadness. Go cook a meal at their home. Really, food brings people together, and a good home cooked meal can nourish their soul. Help them find resources that may help them. But allow them to feel in control. Vulnerability is tough because you have a sense that you have lost control of your life. Not being in control is hard to feel.

If you are that friend reaching out be compassionate and kind. Look around and see what needs to be done, and just get it done. When a person feels in despair even the simplest of tasks can seem like climbing a mountain. Help your friend be ready to climb back up to the top, at their pace. At times they might need a piggyback. Other days it might just be a snack break they need to just keep climbing. Other days they might surprise you and themselves and be capable of so much. Offer your friend hope that this vulnerability won’t stay forever but you will.

The terrible twos of grief.

At first I heard that the first year is the hardest.  My therapist told me that getting through the “year of firsts” would be the hardest part.  The first set of holidays, first wedding anniversary without him, first everything would be the hardest.   That made sense.   And then I met other widows.  In support group and talking online.  And they said year two would be harder.  And that didn’t make sense.  I didn’t understand how anything could be harder than when I first lost Chris.

I saw getting through year one as an accomplishment.  And it was.  I don’t want to take away from the fact that it was.  I made it through that year of firsts.  I existed.  I’ve said before my only goals for that year were to not get fired, not get arrested, and shower on a somewhat regular basis.  I somehow made it through with some happy memories to boot which in my eyes was a huge win.  I had done it.  Surely from there things would get so much easier.

I didn’t see how it could get harder than the hardest year of my life.  I couldn’t wrap my brain around the pain being worse than the deepest pain I had ever felt or could ever imagine feeling.  But the other widows were right.  Year two was harder.  I’m approaching my husband’s two year anniversary next month, and can look back and compare.

The first year I numbly existed through pain.  Looking back I was still in shock.  I was still numb to so much of it.  I didn’t even see memories clearly in my brain yet.  The images of his funeral, the images of his brother approaching me as I sat on the front stairs of my house about to tell him that his big brother was dead, the images of me shaking the love of my life and screaming at him to wake up…. it took until after a year to even see those memories through my own eyes.  When I thought about them during year one it was like I was a third party watching a movie.  I saw myself in the memories, but I wasn’t myself in them.

But the first year I also just existed.  That was my only goal.  I’ve used the analogy before that losing a loved one is like losing a limb.  A leg.  Not that I can begin to know the pain and perseverance it takes when you lose an actual limb – but the analogy helps me.   To remind me that similarly, losing a loved one is not something you will ever get over.  You don’t wake up one day and forget your leg is gone.  It is a loss that you will never recover from, but you can learn to function without it.  You can be happy again and learn to dance again and run again somehow.  But it will never be the same.  But first, you just have to physically heal.  You can’t move.  You just have to lie there and let your body heal.  And that’s all I did year one.  Went through the motions.  Survived it.

Year two is about learning how to walk again.  Those gut wrenchingly painful first steps back into the land of life.   Numbly existing without him was so hard.   But feeling every painful part of trying to LIVE without him, well that’s even harder.

When you first kiss someone else…. its harder.  When you first fall asleep next to someone else, it’s harder.  When you finally cancel the gym membership you’ve been paying for in his name for almost two years, because it was something that was his, it’s harder.   When you first develop feelings for someone other than your husband, it’s harder.  When you meet someone that you’d actually consider dating for the first time, it’s harder.  When you find out you can’t have kids easily, and he’s not there to hold your hand, it’s harder.  When you go through your second set of holidays and you see your mom reading a book to a group of kids and you think that if he had lived maybe you’d have one by now, it’s harder.  When people stop checking in to ask how you’re holding up, it’s harder.  When you lose a best friend because of the way you behaved in the depths of grief, it’s harder.  When your almost five year old niece tells you she doesn’t remember him, it is harder.  When you stop feeling him around you, and stop hearing his voice in your head every day, it is harder.  When you look at apartments and realize you can’t afford any place close to your family on your own, it is harder.

This weekend I cleaned out my car.  It took almost 2 years.  I moved out of our apartment the week after his services.  I was in shock and running on pure adrenaline.  It was his car before it was mine.  And up until this weekend it was the only place left that had things where he had left them.  For some reason keeping it the same, keeping those things where he had placed them, was paramount to me for so long.  To the point where my car got so cluttered and messy I literally couldn’t fit another human being in the car with me.  Things in my car since I moved out of my apartment because I couldn’t face looking at it.  I couldn’t go through it, I couldn’t move it.  And then I did.  And it was harder than cleaning out my entire apartment.  I am not numb anymore.  So it was harder.

Emotionally I feel like that terrible twos toddler throwing tantrums because they are frustrated and can’t express themselves and their feelings and disappointments in a clear way.   There are days I wish it were acceptable to throw myself on the ground and kick and pound my fists and yell and cry and just throw a fit.  Because when the waves of grief hit, it is so frustrating.  No matter how many times people remind you that there’s no timeline for grief, there’s still frustration with yourself when you feel like it is still kicking your ass after “all this time”.   You start to doubt yourself and your emotions.  It is hard to tell if your reaction to a situation is how you truly feel about it, or if it is an exaggerated overreaction based on the fact that you are overly emotional and grief stricken.   Sometimes you let a few weeks pass and realize you feel the same way you did in the middle of the meltdown.   Sometimes the very next day you regret the behavior and know that you wouldn’t have been so dramatic or demanding or “crazy” if you weren’t also trying to battle the grief monster in your head.  It is extremely frustrating to not trust your own emotions.  To second guess yourself and always wonder if you overreacted to situations.   And when you realize you did, it is really hard to apologize in a way that anyone who hasn’t lived through this could ever understand.  Like a toddler.  Throwing a tantrum.

I felt a shift after year one.  Like I hit a milestone.  I am hoping I feel that same shift a month from now, as we mark another anniversary of the day we lost Chris.  I don’t know what the next stage looks like, but now I know not to just assume it will be easier than this.  It could be harder before it gets easier.  I do trust, however, that it will get easier someday.  That as I learn to walk again and learn to take each painful step after step back into living without him, I will find my stride again.  It will get easier with time.  The lesson I learned this year is that we can’t predict each year when exactly that will be.  And that is okay.  As long as I know I’m working towards a day where it will be easier.  The day will never come where I don’t miss him.   Or that I will fully be over it.  But maybe year 3 is the year the terrible days continue to be fewer and father between.

Parenting Solo with BRCA1 by Mel Tibbetts

My mother died from breast cancer at the age of 37; I was 18 years old when she died.  She fought for 2 years.  My maternal grandmother was in her 60’s when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She was one of the lucky ones.  She lived a full life until the age of 82.  Me, well, I always had a feeling that breast cancer would find me too, and then it did, but not in the way you may think.  

My husband and I got married when I was 31 years old.  We had 2 children within 4 years of marriage.  In August 2013, my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer; the cancer had spread to his liver.  He was 41 years old.  I knew right at that moment that he did not have long to live and that he was dying.  I had lived through cancer before as a teenager and I had seen how it destroyed my mother.  I knew that it would ravage my husband too.  

My husband wanted to have genetic testing done because of his diagnosis of advanced cancer at such an early age.  He wanted to ensure that our children would have all of the medical information that they needed to prevent cancer from “getting” them after he died. He met with a Dana Farber genetic counselor on November 13, 2013.  His results came back on December 13, 2013. They told me, “He has no genetic mutations. We do not know why or how he has cancer.”  My first thoughts were, “Phew.  What a relief.”  I shared this information with him and he was elated that he would not be leaving a genetic scar on our children when he died.  He then turned to me and said, “What about you?  Will you do the genetic testing for the kids?”  He was right.  I needed to do this for them just as much as he did.  

While my husband was hospitalized for the umpteenth time, I met with a Dana Farber genetic counselor on February 12, 2014.  My husband never heard the results of my testing and I am so thankful for that.  I wanted him to leave this world with peace.  He died on February 23, 2014.  My children were 5 years old and 7 years old at this time.  

On March 10, 2014 I met with the Dana Farber genetic counselor to discuss my genetic results.  At that time I was informed that I have an altered BRCA1 gene.  This mutation is associated with high cancer risk for hereditary breast cancer and ovarian cancer and should be clinically regarded.  A woman with an altered BRCA1 gene has 50-85% lifetime chance of developing breast cancer and a 20-40% chance of developing ovarian cancer.  My world crumbled even more in the midst of my grief.  I felt defeated.  My first thought was my children, “Why them?”  We had just lived through cancer taking someone that we could not live without.  I wondered how I was going to fight this.  How was I going to parent my two children solo while the only thing I could think at this time is, “I am going to die next.  Cancer is finding me too and it will kill me.  My kids will have no one left.”  I do not pray often, but I prayed hard that night.  I prayed that my angels would look over me and my children and guide me through this new journey of solo parenting with cancer still looming over me.  I prayed for guidance and  I prayed for strength.  

At that moment, I decided that cancer could not win in my life anymore.  I made some medical decisions to reduce my risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer and I have followed through on these decisions.  I get screened for breast cancer every 6 months with mammograms and MRIs.  I have a wonderful breast cancer specialist that I meet twice a year who has helped guide me in this journey.  I can honestly say that I feel empowered over this BRCA1 mutation now.  I have control over it, it does not have control over me.  I will win because my children need me to win. My children cannot lose another parent to cancer.  I will do all that is humanly possible to ensure that.  

Down the road, I will need to share this information with my children as they, too, will need to make decisions about genetic testing.  I dread this day.  It will almost be like telling them all over again, “Daddy died.  I am so sorry.”  I continue to pray that neither of my children have been passed this genetic mutation.  I pray that if this is the case, there will be bigger medical advances in the world of breast cancer and all cancers so that cancer will not feel like the monster it has become for them.

Raising Grieving Children

Raising children who grieve might be the hardest thing ever.

I thought telling my 3 year old son back in February of 2010 that his Daddy died was the worst thing I ever had to do. That his “heart stopped beating. that although the doctors tried very hard to save him and usually doctors DO save people, his father had died. His Dad’s heart stopped beating.”

Yes, those words, while sitting on my lap a cold February day. The boy just turned three years old. His Daddy was his best friend.

Six months later, when his beautiful baby brother was born, and that precious little three and half year old baby boy came into the hospital room so eager to meet his new baby brother, he walked right over to him. Bent down, and whispered in his ear: “My Daddy died.”

That’s right, only hours in this world, and Anthony heard it first from his “Big brother”. My response was “Jayce it was his Daddy too.” Jayce then said, “Our Daddy died”.

My Dad had to leave the hospital room. That was hard. Hearing my tiny little boy say that was hard. But it was empowering for 3 year old Jayce. He let out a secret. He told his new little baby brother, they had lost their Daddy. “Their Daddy had died.” They had a bond. A “shared experience of loss”.

I was 35 years old that day.

I understood death.

I loved my children.

For seven and a half years, I have raised these children the best that I knew how.
I did the best that I could in that time.

Today I was told a lot of things by an expert. An expert who did not raise grieving children.

With tears rolling down my face, I type, raising children who grieve their father, is very hard stuff.


Instead of judging, do something.

Just do something.

Instead of labeling, a kid with anxiety. Or whatever you think that kid needs to be branded.

Meet that child where he is today.
HUG his parent.

‘Cause lord knows she has tried with every ounce of her being… be there.

She has tried to be his superhero.

Maybe she succeeded and kept it all together most days.

Maybe she screwed up as we all do some days.

But give a care.

Go visit that mom.

Go play with her kids.

Feed her kids. Clothe her kids.

Hearing your child say: “I wish I got to meet Dad Jon.” or “Where is my picture with my father holding me?” “I wish I could die, so I don’t have to watch my parents die, because it’s too much to handle” while getting in his pajamas. Or “I wish I could go to Heaven see Dad and then come back”. Those big ideas that come out of my son’s mouths at any given moment take my healed heart and rip it out of my chest and twist the hell out of it. How can it not?

Yes, death is a part of life.

Young loss is a horrible part of life.

Children knowing this young loss is tragic.

Raising babies who grieve is like running a marathon when you have not trained. Running that marathon when a quarter of the way in, you break your ankle. But you can’t stop running, because there’s an attack dog behind you. If you stop for water, you might get bit. If you tie your laces, you might not get back up. You have to run. You have to get to the finish line.

Healing your yourself in your own time, is like crossing that finish line. Helping your children grow and learn and grieve is crossing that finish line.

Thanks for listening.

Now go care. Judge less, spread light, give hope. You may just pull up the shades on a day that seemed pretty dark.