Between 2005 and 2012, Paula Gleeson of Edina, MN, lost her only daughter, Molly, to a heart attack at 26, her oldest son, Spiro, to brain cancer at 35, and then her husband, Paul, to sepsis, at 62, after an ear infection.
She would prefer not to have a perspective on sudden death vs. having time to say goodbye, but sadly can confirm the options are equally agonizing for those left behind.
To talk about healing with someone who has suffered so much might seem hollow, or in poor taste, but Paula, a longtime CaringBridge author, doesn’t look at it that way.
While the ache of loss will never go away, she said there has been healing. Its primary source is family, the same source of so much of her sorrow.
“Molly’s death, Spiro’s death, and Paul’s death have left us all changed,” Paula said. “Nothing is ever as funny; our family gatherings are always missing our beloved.”
But change, she said, signals that healing is happening. Not on a fast track or straight path; that would not honor how painful it has been for an original family of seven—two parents and five kids—to become so much smaller.
From the outside, you can see the change.
Spiro’s widow, Meritxell, changed careers to become an oncology nurse after her husband’s death. Their daughter, Eulalia, just 3 when her dad died, is now 11. Her middle name is “Molly,” for the aunt she never got to meet.
Eulalia is the apple of her grandma’s eye. Well, actually, there are three apples.
Paula’s youngest son, Abe, and partner, Meg, spend every waking moment running behind 3-year-old Luka, whose blue eyes and big mop of hair are the spittin’ image of his Irish grandpa, Paul Gleeson.
Alex, who was the middle child, is now the patriarch. He and his wife, Lorin, are parents of Winnie, who might be the cutest baby ever.
While it is tragic that the grandchildren will grow up knowing Molly, Spiro and Paul only through stories, and as faces in photographs, what shines through in this family, as strong as always, is love.
Paula and her sons, including Sam, working in the Pacific Northwest, will never stop missing those not at the table for Sunday dinner. But they are so grateful for their beautiful, growing family.
“There will always be pain for us, just under the surface of our hardened skin,” Paula said. “But the goodness of us being together is healing.”