By late October I was in desperate need of help. My mother had left and there was no one I could call to help me with the kids. Some friends took me/us under their wings. We spent a lot of time together as families, but I needed to get things done; I needed a break from motherhood. I needed a Mrs. Doubtfire.
A close friend recommended the mother of one of her college-age sitters with the referral of, “If I could have Mary Embry raise my kids, I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute!” And Mary Embry became our Mrs. Doubtfire.
Wise, competent, honest, pragmatic, flexible, and caring, Mary had seen it all. Fifteen years my senior, Mary had married a family friend, Charlie, who had been widowed shortly after Mary’s divorce 15 years before I met her. Mary had been a friend of Charlie’s wife, and their children had played together in the neighborhood where they lived. For Charlie’s daughters, Mary was a connection to their mother. Mary’s children gained a kind and thoughtful stepfather. There were four children between them: three girls and one boy. The children had been in elementary school when Mary and Charlie married. When I met them, the kids were in their twenties.
Mary and Charlie scooped us up and brought us into their fold. Jen, Bill and Tim would go there for sleepovers. I could drop Timmy off for the afternoon. Mary and Charlie’s children (Sarah and John, Kristin and Corrine) embraced my kids like little cousins. We had found a family. Although I paid Mary, it was secondary to how we felt about her. We didn’t just get Mary; we gained an entire family.
Mary would tell me to take time for myself. She encouraged me to get out and do things alone. She kept Timmy for me when I took Jen and Billy skiing for the first time that winter (ages 7 and 4) and when I took them to Williamsburg that spring.
Mary had never met Ted; she only knew me. She saw in me a relatively young widowed woman with a lot of time ahead of her. Not having known the person who died, she saw only the person who was living. She had no guilt or (perceived) disregard of the person who was gone. To Mary it was simple. Mary showed me a future; something I was convinced I’d never have again. Mary’s stories of marrying a second time and raising a blended family gave me hope. Theirs had not been an easy road, but they were a close family of very good people. They loved each other and fought through the difficulties despite the struggles of a complicated family life. Not only did Mary help me with my children, she showed me a future with possibilities.
9/11 widows held a precarious stigma. It was a macabre celebrity. Honoring the dead and the circumstances that surrounded their deaths had placed us in a gilded cage. Men thought they could not come near us. It wasn’t until January of 2003, over a year after 9/11, that my friend Tom told me I should start dating. He was someone I respected and whose opinion I valued. He knew and loved Ted. He was the right person and a credible source that gave me permission. He was the first one to breach the gap and I will love him for it forever.