Faith in God helps Watson family move forward
Published: Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 5:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 5:49 p.m.
Cayden Watson takes after his mother when it comes to reading, and some of her facial expressions.
Cayden, now 10, was 5 when Nicole Watson died on April 1, 2008. His brother, Gavin, was 18 months old. Gavin, 6, loves hard candy, which is what Nicole ate constantly while she was pregnant with him.
The boys' father, Chad Watson, who was the same age as Nicole — 25 — when she succumbed to squamous cell carcinoma, has raised his sons on his own, with a lot of help from family members and friends.
Nicole's illness and her valiant battle — uplifting others as she became more and more fragile — was documented by the Star-Banner. She was diagnosed in January 2007, when the cancer was found on her tongue.
“We thought it was a canker sore,” Chad said.
The cancer spread to Nicole's lymph nodes and lungs. In January 2008, doctors gave her about six months. After chemotherapy, radiation treatments and five operations, she decided to have hospice care at home so she could spend her remaining time with her children.
On a recent Saturday, Chad and the boys visited the Memories of Missing Smiles (M.O.M.S.) Park, where many people who died too young are memorialized. The setting is serene, with lush landscaping, a soothing waterfall and a reflecting pond. As the boys pointed out a butterfly, Chad said, “Mommy loved butterflies. When she was sick, ready to give up, God would send butterflies, even at the wrong time of year.”
While watching Gavin cavort along the pathways, as Cayden stayed close by, Chad remarked, “It has been very challenging. They fight for my attention. My mother and mother-in-law have been a big help.”
He said Cayden is an A-and-B student, but has anger issues and sometimes “acts out,” which gets him in trouble at school.
As Chad talked about the days and weeks following his wife's death, he said many of the items she held dear, and photos of her, remain in the home they shared. He stuck out his hand to show a gold ring. “The diamonds from her engagement ring are in here, and in rings for the boys,” he said.
“And we kept her cat,” Cayden said.
“We kept most everything, but gave away her clothing,” Chad said.
Cayden punched his father on the shoulder and said, “That's for getting rid of Mom's DS.”
Chad said Nicole's game control was pink, while Cayden's was black, and they could be interconnected. “She used to color pictures and send them to me when she was in the hospital,” Cayden added. “I have a bunch in my room.”
Chad said Gavin mostly knows Nicole through the recollections of others.
Chad's mother, Linda Watson, alternates having the boys sleep over one night a week so they have a close relationship with a female.
“It's a lot easier one-on-one. I can give them undivided attention and Chad can give the other his undivided attention,” Linda Watson said. “Cayden is sweet and laid back; Gavin is wide open all the time. As they grow older, you can see their different personalities. Gavin remembers pictures, but Cayden really had a nurturing relationship with his mom. I try to be as much a mother as I can but, he's quick to let me know I'm grandma.”
Chad said Cayden is “strong-headed, but I was a challenging child, too. Gavin is my monkey. Right now, they're both stinkers.”
He thinks Gavin will follow in his footsteps by being in sales. If Cayden sticks to his plan, he will design video games when he grows up.
Both boys take karate lessons and enjoy various other pursuits. Dad and the boys enjoy spending time together riding personal watercraft on local lakes most weekends. Attending church and sharing their faith is still a big part of the family's life.
“Chad is a great father. He's still a godly man. I'm very proud of that. He couldn't be as successful as he is without God in his life; it would have been much worse if he wasn't a godly man,” Linda Watson said.
Emily Barker was by her daughter's side every minute at the end. Now, she said, she is proud of how well Chad and the boys are doing, but she still struggles.
“Seeing so much of her in them helps me. But as a mother, coping with the loss of a child is different. I feel like a piece of my heart has been taken away. It's a hole that is never filled. I don't know how people do it without faith. Nicole and I would always say, ‘In the blink of an eye I'll see you again.' I believe that. I carry her spirit with me. That spirit still shines bright. Her spirit is still touching people. I don't think people have forgotten.”
Barker said she hopes Nicole's story will touch people who are hurting.
“Nicole just wanted to be a true person of God. Her spirit shined out from her. I don't know how else to explain it,” Barker said.
Of the grieving process, she said, “There is a way to get through it; it never goes away, but it softens. You can't see it in the beginning, but it does.”
Beth Robinson, a licensed mental health counselor and doctoral candidate who owns Serenity Counseling in Ocala, began private practice in 2004, specializing in emotional trauma. Her clients range in age from 4 and up. She said many of the challenges faced by young parents raising children alone after the loss of a spouse stem from several complex issues.
“Grieving is often put on hold in order to appear strong for the children. Unfortunately, it waits for you,” Robinson said. “Grief has five stages: Denial, bargaining, depression, anger and then acceptance. This is a very painful process, but part of our humanity and important to complete for the parent's ability to be fully present for the child or children.”
Robinson said a lack of a positive support system can complicate the healing process and that a positive support system can help young parents raising children alone by giving them a break from the parental responsibilities, and space to grieve.
“Adults who lost a parent in childhood often report a double loss as the remaining parent was isolated or withdrew from them and were not emotionally available,” she said.
Financial insecurity can result from the loss of the deceased parent's income, or medical bills related to their care, Robinson added, which can cause the surviving parent to overwork and put off the healing process.
Her advice for meeting the challenges for the parent and children is to take the time to grieve.
“Be aware of distress in your children and get them the support they need, too. You do not have to do it all by yourself, as it can be overwhelming,” she said. “Young parents who lose a spouse are encouraged to forge a positive support system with family, church, friends, therapy and/or support groups, and hospice provides free grief counseling to the family in circumstances such as this.”
The Watson boys often have questions that typically get them faith-based answers.
“Cayden told me one time he wanted to die and I asked him why and he said he wanted to see his mommy,” Linda Watson said. “Gavin recently asked me if his mom would know him when he goes to heaven and I said of course she will. And he asked if he would be an old man and I replied, ‘Well it depends on when God wants you to come to heaven.' He quickly said he wanted to be a little boy when he goes to heaven so his mommy would know him. Chad and I try to keep Nicole in their memory and in their future, so we teach them they have not seen their mom for the last time.”
Chad said he has dated a little over the past five years, but his boys and his job as a regional manager with Copytronics are his priority.
“The boys are in a crucial state. They have to be my focus,” he said.
What he misses most about Nicole is her companionship.
“We were together since we were 12,” he said, a wistful look crossing his face.
“Nicole was a great mother. It's what she did best,” he said.
As challenging as life is now, and has been in the past — Chad nearly lost his own life years ago when he was hit by a train and lost part of a leg — he is a forward thinker.
“It's very exciting to see who they become,” he said of the boys. “They have so much to offer the world, their friends and family.”
Chad has had lots of losses in his life, said his mother, but “instead of using his pain and sadness to feel entitled to have a hopeless attitude and live a nonproductive life, he uses his pain and sadness for justifying his choice to trust, love and serve God.”
Chad's advice to anyone facing loss and trauma is this: “To remember that God has a plan and purpose for every challenge we face. God is love, and he has been my rock. His love has gotten me through every day. With time, things get easier, and our flesh will always wonder why, but when we stand before the gates of heaven as our loved ones greet us and we see the true glory of God, the question why won't matter.”
Contact Assistant City Editor Susan Smiley-Height at 867-4121 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ssmileyheight.