It’s been a heart-wrenching and emotionally gruelling four years for Jennifer Strowbridge, dealing with the death of her sister.
“It’s still hard to believe she’s gone,” said Strowbridge, whose younger sister Heather Farthing died June 15, 2014, at the age of 35 after a long battle with epithelioid sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. “I miss her so much.”
But when Heather’s husband, Norm Farthing, died suddenly two weeks ago, things got even more complicated and Strowbridge’s once-small family was transformed forever.
“It’s been life-changing,” said Strowbridge, who opted not to discuss the details of Norm’s death. “It’s been hard to get my head around it all. Emotionally, there are lots of things we haven’t been able to feel yet because we’re just in shock. The reality of all this hasn’t hit us.”
The biggest loss has been for Heather and Norm’s two children — Ethan, 11, and Lauren, 8 — who were left with no parents.
However, there was no doubt for Strowbridge as to who would step up for them.
Although Strowbridge and her husband Dane Sharron have two children of their own, of the same ages — Jacob, 11, and Amelia, 8 — they immediately took the Farthing children into their home and will raise them as their own.
“There was never a question,” Strowbridge said when asked about the decision to take her sister’s children. “And anyone who knew the relationships myself and my husband had with my sister and her children also never questioned what would happen to those children (when they lost their parents).
“We’re going to take care of them for the rest of our lives.”
An unexpected larger, blended family meant big changes for the Strowbridge family.
“The kids went to bed one Monday night and woke up Tuesday morning to a completely different family dynamic. They went to bed as cousins and woke up as siblings,” said Strowbridge, who noted the children are undergoing counselling to help them cope with the recent tragedies in their lives.
“Right now, it hasn’t really registered with them. (Ethan and Lauren) just feel like they’re having an extended sleepover at our house.”
It will also mean things will be more financially demanding for the family. Besides the everyday costs of raising children, and long-term expenditures, the family will have to expand their house to accommodate the newest members.
Dealing with such grief right now, Strowbridge hasn’t thought about that too deeply, but her friends in this province have. They’ve set up a GoFundMe page. More than $20,000 have already been raised.
“It’s been amazing and certainly appreciated. It’s not something I ever asked for because, quite honestly, I can’t even imagine what this means financially,” said Strowbridge, whose family is originally from Botwood and has lived in Middle Sackville, N.S., since the late 1990s.
“I haven’t thought about it a lot, but I know down the road we’re going to need a lot of support to raise them the way they’ve been raised.”
Donations have come in from people all over the country, as well as from various companies, one of which offered the lumber for their house extension.
“This has been such a difficult time for us and we’ve got a lot of responsibility, but we’re truly blessed,” said Strowbridge, whose family has worked to help the Terry Fox Foundation raise funds for cancer research over the last five years. “We want is to give the children a good life with lots of love.”