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Healthy Aging

By Sheryl Kraft

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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.

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