June 24, 2017

Jerzy Nowak’s Story II

My wife had a network in the community. Anywhere I went, to the bank, to the insurance company, to some utilities, it was like a red carpet for me. The support was tremendous. I continue with this network, fostering what she had established.

I tried to keep my daughter occupied, so there were always some friends coming. But at one point my daughter came and she doesn’t like hugs and she came to me and said dad, when is it over? When will we have a normal life?

An overwhelming challenge for me was handling parcels and letters. I also got close to 2,000 e-mails, various religious paraphernalia, numerous quilts, which were given to shelters. I learned that if I don’t open the parcels, I can just go to the post office and put on a sticker that says I refused to take them. That helped but it was truly overwhelming. There was also a certain level of anticipation for the return of gratitude which I couldn’t do. We developed a thank-you letter and it was published in the Washington Post, Roanoke Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, one French Canadian paper and the Halifax Herald. I also privately sponsored a thank you note for the news coverage in Poland, in my home town and university. That was the extent I could manage to respond. Various religious groups and zealots would resend what I sent back over and over and over. And then you had this flock of lawyers after you because somehow they learned that my wife was not a full-time employee and now we’re not getting any compensation.

About my family: Francine at the time was finishing university in British Columbia. Performing Arts and French, two majors. She handled the media and I will get back to that. Very articulate in both languages. She finished university and we all thought that she was taking this loss the best, but I was very wrong. Francine sort of became afraid of the next step in her life. She had big dreams, short term, long term, big dreams. Suddenly they disappeared. She immersed herself totally in social networks. She went to study theater directing in Paris, France, for a year and I thought that would help but it didn’t. She quit the second year of the master’s program. So she’s actually my biggest worry. A very talented young lady. She started the local anti-gun organization but somehow just cannot stay focused. She always refers to her mother, always talks about her. She got a part time teaching job, she teaches French and arts in a private school in Vancouver now with childhood education props my wife developed. She wants to mimic her mother’s career path now.

Sylvie was 12 when it happened. How does someone move on after a loss like this? Her world was violently shattered. Out of I believe five children who lost a parent on April 16, she was the only one who lost her mother. We didn’t know each other. I worked. My wife took care of everything. We had to rebuild our relationship from scratch. This picture I found was taken on the 3rd of July 2007, about three months after. Look at her hair. She didn’t cut this hair until last fall. She was hiding behind it.

During the funeral time when the family came, Jocelyne’s brother, who was an athlete, brought a videotape with my wife winning  a triathlon competition in Nova Scotia. Sylvie said what is a triathlon, and I had to explain it to her, and she said, “I want to do a triathlon.” And in June she got enrolled in the triathlon. She was a very good swimmer and runner so she just had to do cycling. In the last week of September there was a meet in Shelby, North Carolina, and she went there and won the competition. She won again in Richmond next year. Her time was almost four minutes better than the boy who won the competition. I could see her running like a marathon runner, passing everyone. She came to me and said dad I am not crying but dad I would like my mom to see me.

The school provided a counseling service that fall for children who lost their parents. This was a mixed blessing because they were taking these kids out of class for the sessions twice a week so then they had to catch up. The teachers didn’t like that. She did not open up, she did not talk to anybody. For a half a year she just sat there and didn’t say anything. Eventually she did start to build some rapport with one of the girls and with a counselor. But the next year she moved to the high school, so they tried to transfer her to  another counselor and then another one. And she came to me one day, she was 14 at the time and said dad, I hate counselors. She said they’re like spiders trying to grab me in their web.