Take charge of your health. Sign up for HealthyWomen newsletters:

Healthy Aging

By Sheryl Kraft

Share on:

I am so upset I don't know whether to scream or cry.

Alaina Giordano, a North Carolina divorced mother with stage IV breast cancer, has lost her two children in a decision by—of all things—a woman judge. Heartless? Ridiculous? Unfair? Ludicrous? Absurd? Bewildering?

Take your pick. Not only is Giordano battling a disease, but now she has to battle this decision.

The judge, Nancy Gordon, contends that children of a sick parent need to have more contact with the parent who is not sick, so that they can have a normal childhood. (Never mind the non-sick parent, Giordano's ex-husband, lives in Chicago, which means that the two children, ages 5 and 11, will have to be completely uprooted.) If moving away from all they know to a strange place means their childhood will be "normal," I think the judge should reexamine the meaning of the word "normal." If being taken from their mother at such a vulnerable time just to be with a "healthy" parent is normal, I'd hate to consider what is "abnormal."

The judge cited a forensic psychologist who said that children divide their world into a cancer world and a non-cancer world. Huh? I think children divide their world into a lot of (other) things, with cancer possibly being at the bottom of that list, if they understand its implications at all. What about the division between feeling secure and insecure? Loved and abandoned? Safe and unsafe? Cherished and disregarded?

The judge is not a mother; that's not to say women without children cannot empathize and understand the urgency of this situation or one like it. But her judgment seems unusually harsh and unsympathetic to the needs of both children and mothers and the bond that exists. Besides, aren't custody decisions supposed to take what are the children's best interests into account? To take these children away from their mother—whose disease, though incurable, is stable right now (and could remain so for an untold amount of time)—is not, in my opinion, in their best interest at this time.

These children know their mother is sick. That, no doubt, would cause them to feel the need to spend as much time as possible with her—caring for her and being cared by her, comforting her and being comforted by her, and most of all, loving her. To take them away from her right now only serves to further mystify what it means to be living with cancer and makes the situation terrifying and threatening, robbing the children of getting to know their mother while they still can.

Does parenting have to be contingent on being in good health—especially if that parent is perfectly capable of caring for their children? And, what is "healthy," anyway? If I were the judge—and maybe she's already done this—I'd surely consider both the physical and mental health of both parents.

Subscribe to Midlife Matters by Email

Comments

I saw this reported on the morning shows. Just appalling. I wonder what Elizabeth Edwards would say if she were alive?

Good point, and one I thought about too. John Edwards, after his behavior, would never have tried to do something like this.

Wow. No words...

I am thoroughly disgusted w/ our nation's family court system. This judge, the children's father, and his attorney should ALL be ashamed.

Both of these children will not only have to suffer the loss of their mother, but will also have to reside w/ the man who robbed them of their last moments w/ her– under the pretense of protecting them! How is THAT in their best interest? How are these children being protected?

NO ONE can be "protected" from death!

I am left w/ NO faith what-so-ever in our country's legal system. We have buried common sense, & decent human nature w/ profit seeking lawyers & judges who believe it is for them to play God.

May this mother find peace, may her children find it, as well as acceptance of their loss, and may their father, and all those who contributed to &/or profited from this unnecessary misery be haunted by what they've done.

God willing these children will grow into adulthood. But will they be able to escape the traumas inflicted on them? God may forgive these people, but I cannot.

Another horrible side note to all of this is: the poor daughter will most likely face this same disease one day, as there is a hereditary link. Will her father then seek to "protect” her children in the name of what is best for them?..

I am thoroughly disgusted w/ our nation's family court system. This judge, the children's father, and his attorney should ALL be ashamed.

Both of these children will not only have to suffer the loss of their mother, but will also have to reside w/ the man who robbed them of their last moments w/ her– under the pretense of protecting them! How is THAT in their best interest? How are these children being protected?

NO ONE can be "protected" from death!

I am left w/ NO faith what-so-ever in our country's legal system. We have buried common sense, & decent human nature w/ profit seeking lawyers & judges who believe it is for them to play God.

May this mother find peace, may her children find it, as well as acceptance of their loss, and may their father, and all those who contributed to &/or profited from this unnecessary misery be haunted by what they've done.

God willing these children will grow into adulthood. But will they be able to escape the traumas inflicted on them. God may forgive these people, but I cannot.

Another horrible side note to all of this is: the poor daughter will most likely face this same disease one day, as there is a hereditary link. Will her father then seek to steal “protect” her children in the name of what is best for them?..

Thanks for stopping by, Tina. You bring up so many valid points and much to think about. It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out.

This is absolutely incredible. Thanks for this passionate opinion. I have come to believe we need to speak out on aberrant things like this, even if the decision was made by a woman judge, and not let them pass as normal.

It does sound appalling, but I wonder if we know everything. Don't the courts usually interview the children and take their desires into account? How awful if adults can swoop in an uproot children's lives like that.

Yes, Vera, some others had the same question. I am sure there are many, many facets to this case but it is a shame that if there are, they're overshadowed by the illness itself.

this is the most awful story. Is there anything we can do? as a community of women...who care.

This is an outrage! Whether our country wants to admit it or not, the system still has a terrible bias against women. In another news story this morning, I was hearing all kinds of sympathy for how the life has been turned upside down of the powerful man who was recently accused of a violent sexual assault on a hotel maid. Where is the sympathy for her!? I agree wholeheartedly. These children need to be spending as much time with their mother as possible. As a person who lost her father at age 17, I know all too well that the memories of their mother will be all too precious.

Sorry about your loss, LL, and I'd imagine this hit you harder due to losing a parent at a relatively young age. It's infuriating when something like the man accused of the sexual assault gets "pitied."

I'm with Vera. It seems like there must be more to this story. My initial reaction is like yours, but then it seems like the public is sometimes only given snippets of the story instead of all the details...sad any way you spin it, though.

Yes, I totally agree, Kristen. But as I replied above, if there are other valid reasons for the ruling, we should know about them - and not think of the illness as the reason. The whole thing is a big, sad shame.

Boneheaded, cruel, incomprehensible. I can't think of anything more to say.

That about says it all, Ruth.

I saw the stories about this floating around and felt deeply saddened. Is it ridiculous to wish that the public outcry might change things?

I don't know if it's ridiculous, STeph. I do know she set up a facebook page and had many, many people weigh in in protest to the judge's ruling. Whether or not that ultimately will matter only time will tell...

I find the idea in general, appalling.

but I hesitate a moment to ask... what are the views of the other parent in this... the children?

Before forming an opinion, wouldn't it be best to dig a little deeper to see what is actually going on here?

did a little lookup... and there may be more to all this, including cheating, abuse by both parties, ....

I know only what I'm reading, such as
http://healthland.time.com/2011/05/13/the-mom-with-stage-4-cancer-speaks...

will keep an eye on this... sounds like a possible ground-breaker case.

Nice to see you here, Vince. You ask all valid questions. Nothing, I know, is as simple as it seems. I'm sure this case has many, many other threads, and I do know there were allegations of cheating, etc.. But I did not choose to get into those, because, really, whose word can you believe? It hit everyone's emotional nerve just with the news of her illness alone, I think. I do wish that that would not have been the focus if - and I say if - there are other, more logical reasons for the judge's decision.

Incredible doesn't even begin to describe this.

On the surface this sounds terrible, but like others, I have to wonder if there's more to the story. Any idea?

From what I've read, Kris, there are charges of adultery and more. But I did not want to get into that in describing the case since to me the biggest shame of all is a mother with a terminal illness being deprived of her children. And who really knows the truth except those involved. It's all so confusing to read so many different accounts, which will always be skewed one way or the other, no doubt.

This story breaks my heart, but like Kris, I do wonder if there's more to the story than we know.

Frankly, I don't think that the fact that the judge isn't a mother herself should be brought up at all. This is a question of consideration, full stop. Whether the judge is male, female, mother, father, sister, brother, whatever, shouldn't have anything to do with it.

Yes, I totally agree that consideration is paramount. No matter who it is should have the understanding needed to rule this case. But I can't help but think that a woman who is a mother MIGHT have looked a bit more sympathetically at this. I could be wrong, but that'a my (emotionally-charged) feeling.

I was never consulted on which parent I preferred when my parents divorced. I'm sure my parents just assumed I'd stay with my mother. Which was fine.. but I often wonder if I'd have chosen my father. What about parents that have drinking problems? Isn't that a disease? What about parents that have clinical depression? What about me? A person who suffers from horrid migraines and some days it's all I can do to get through a day. My kids know, "Mommy's got a my-brain.. get her an ice pack." This seems like a slippery slope... (and why you have to be so cautious whom you marry and have children with--so the custody thing never becomes an issue. Perfect world, I know)

Valid points, Claudine. In a perfect world there would be no divorce and/or illness and it is a shame that this is all affecting these children and they will have to pay the price.

This is just so sad and unfair. I can't believe it.

I don't know all the details of this story (who does?) and abuse is certainly a serious allegation but what does adultery have to do with a dying woman seeing her children?

Such a sad story on so many levels. Such a shame that family/friends haven't stepped up to help this ailing woman keep her kids, or the ex hasn't been big enough to move back for a brief period to maintain some normalcy for those poor children or the court, since it came to that, couldn't come up with some creative solution to a challenging situation. But then it's just awful that this challenging family situation wound up in court anyway.

Add new comment