When her son Tim died at age 26 in 2011, Cathy Hagerman’s life was upended. To say her relationships with her other two children changed is a big understatement.
“Ultimately, it strengthened my relationships with both of my daughters,” says Hagerman, a Maine Medical Center nurse anesthetist who lives in Standish. “It bonded us together as a family, and we’ve stayed close.”
Tim had been married just four months when he was diagnosed with a rare cancer in February 2011. His sister Lauren had just graduated from college. The baby of the family, Lindsay, was a college freshman.
Looking back at her parent-child relationships, Hagerman sees a typical evolution with her girls—with some normal drama and passing friction during their self-absorbed adolescence. But it was a different story with Tim. Even through his teen years, her relationship with her son was ever smooth.
“He loved his mom, that’s for sure,” she says. “And when he was sick, he was still so thoughtful. There was one period where it had caught up with me during his treatments, and he knew I was sad. And he went out to buy me a gift to make me feel better. That’s how he was.”
She called her son—who was healthy, energetic and active before the cancer—“a very likeable person, and one of the funniest people you’d ever know.”
His death 10 months after his diagnosis and the resulting grief caused lasting changes in the way Hagerman and her husband Reis interact with their girls.
“All I could think was that it must be horrible for my daughters to lose their brother. So I tried to make it my goal to bring as much joy to their lives as I could. My goals and attitudes changed, definitely. And Reis had lost a brother, so he did know what it felt like.”
Both girls now live in Boston. Lauren, 29, is married and a neonatal intensive care unit nurse at Mass General Hospital. Lindsay, 25, also is following in her mother’s footsteps, pursuing a nursing degree.
“Reis and I spend a lot more time together with our daughters than we otherwise would have, I think. I kind of have to see them often to stay happy now. Lauren and I talk every day, and with Lindsay, it’s just about every day and at least texting. We’ve also stayed close with Tim’s wife Molly and her parents and brothers through the years.”
Cathy says she believes all of her family members are warmer people as a result of their loss. “And I know that I am more deliberately expressive with them than I might otherwise have been.”
Patricia McCarthy worked for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram for 23 years, was publisher of The Cape (Elizabeth) Courier for five years, and has been a freelance writer and editor for 35 years. She has three daughters, lives in Cape Elizabeth, and also has a photography business (patriciamccarthy.com).