How My Family Is Coping After Our Nanny's Sudden Death

We found the nanny of our dreams. Then one day, she was gone.

Our daughter was only 5 weeks old and our twin boys were 3 when my family moved across the country from California to Virginia. My husband is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, and frequent moves are a part of life for us. Still, when he started work two weeks later, I looked around at my bare-walled house and burst into tears. What on earth would I do each day in an unfamiliar city -- where I knew no one -- with three small children?

I immediately placed an ad on for a part-time nanny. One week later, a woman named Maryanne came floating into our home like an angel, all sunny and cheerful and capable. I hired her on the spot.

It wasn't long before Maryanne was part of the family. She became my rock, calming me when I was stressed, guiding me through tricky situations with the kids, and being there whenever I had a work deadline or an appointment or just needed a break. And my kids adored her, bounding to the door with glee whenever she arrived.

It was a blissful 15 months, full of crafts, games, water-gun fights and all sorts of fun. But then one February day, everything changed.

I'd gone to the grocery store after working all afternoon. When I returned, Maryanne and the kids were happily playing. But the boys were disappointed that they had run out of time to bake the cookie dough she had brought.

"It's OK -- we'll bake cookies tomorrow!" she assured them, giving each child a kiss before leaving. She waved from her car as she pulled away, just like she always did.

And that was the last time we saw her. Two hours later, Maryanne had a massive stroke and died. I'll never forget when her stepdaughter came to tell us the news. The shock and grief washed over me like a tidal wave, then hit me again when I thought of my children sleeping so peacefully and innocently in their beds. They had never experienced death before. How would I tell them their beloved nanny was never coming back?

My husband stayed home from work the next day so we could break the news to them together. The boys knew something was wrong as soon as they saw him.

"Aren't you supposed to be at work, Daddy?" one asked.

"Maryanne is coming to bake cookies!" said the other.

After what seemed like an endless silence, my husband replied, "I'm sorry, guys...Maryanne isn't coming."

I watched their little faces crumple as we explained that Maryanne had gotten very sick and her body stopped working, so she wouldn't be able to come see them anymore. We said she was in heaven now with her loved ones who had died.

"Did she bring her cell phone so she can text us?" they asked.

Clearly they needed to process the news, and for the next week or so, they didn't talk about Maryanne at all. Only our then 17-month-old would ask for her, pointing at the front door and saying, "Mah-man?"

But soon, they started to ask for her again. Then the questions started coming. "What happens when people die?" "Are you going to die?" "Are we going to die?"

It's not easy to talk to 4-year-olds about death, to teach them about their own mortality. We've tried to be as honest as possible without going into too much detail, and to reassure them that most people live until they are very old.

READ: How to talk to kids about death

I write this nearly three months later. And the kids are doing OK now. They miss Maryanne a lot, but we have remained close with her family, and that has helped us all. Her stepdaughter, in fact, watches the kids a couple of afternoons a week while I work.

But you know who it's been hardest on? Me. Here I was thinking about the kids, and how they would cope. But I've felt paralyzed without Maryanne. I missed work deadlines. I couldn't get the boys to preschool on time. I was constantly sick. Sure, she made my life easier. But this was a reminder of how precious and fleeting life is.

Slowly, we've been picking up the pieces. I've used the lessons Maryanne has taught me to be a better and more patient mom. I have learned to manage my time more efficiently. And I've learned to truly appreciate every moment I have with the people I love.

There's something about someone who cares for you. Someone who devotes her life to yours. You lean on them, depend on them, connect with them, love them, yet might never put in words how grateful you are for them -- how much they've changed your life. As a mom, I can relate to this -- my kids might never appreciate what I do until they're parents themselves. But for 15 months, I too, was taken care of, and because I paid for her hard work, I have this haunting feeling that she didn't know the extent of how much she made our life better. Perhaps because I didn't realize it myself -- until she was gone.

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