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Fathering the Fatherless, Part II: It takes a Village

On February 28, Pam Washburn’s life — as she knew it — ended. It would be the start of something new, but it's a “new” she would never have wanted to know

That morning, the van was acting up. After returning from the auto parts store, Pam’s husband, Leigh, spoke to a client from his home office, promising to call him back in 20 minutes, then headed to the garage.

Half an hour later, Pam called to Leigh, who was still under the elevated van.  

“I asked him, ‘Are you done?’ And he didn’t respond. I was irritated, like, ‘Are you kidding? You’re not talking to me?’” Pam recalled.

When she looked under the van, her husband wasn’t moving. Amidst panic and confusion, she called 9-1-1 but hung up. A neighbor several doors down heard her cries and ran to her aid.

“The whole time that was going on, I think I knew …” she said. “He was gone.”

Since that day, Pam Washburne's life has been something of a fishbowl.

A self-described “private person,” Pam knows people are watching her as they never have before.

From the time she came home from the hospital to a house full of family, friends and pastors (even before her children arrived home from school to learn the news from her) until now, “We really haven’t been alone,” she said.

When a spouse dies, trying to cope with the partner’s absence isn’t the only adjustment. You have to get used to the presence of help. Help that is needed but that you’re not used to having. Help you never wanted to need but which you know you couldn’t survive without.

It’s exhausting. And it’s one of the things that carries you. 

Whether it’s someone mentioning perceived struggles with the lawn mower or her phone ringing with neighbors letting her know her garage door is still up late at night, someone is always looking out for Pam.

“I wouldn’t change it," said the Jackson Township resident and member of . "I’m so grateful. I wouldn’t want to feel like, ‘No one cares.’ I prefer this, but I used to guard parts of my life, and now … everyone knows everything,” she shared.     

She’s also adjusting to school hours. Because Leigh was self-employed and Pam is an at-home mom, it has been especially strange.

“Every day, the kids would go off to school, and he’d sit in that chair and work, while I did my thing. So many times I expect to just be able to walk in here and tell him something … and then I catch myself. Silly things … like every time I vacuum. I don’t have to ask him to move.”

Does she look at the life she once had as idyllic?

No marriage is perfect, Pam acknowledges. She spent most of her adult life with someone she loved whom she now has to live without.

“He was my best friend,” she said.

“I loved my family … who we were as a family, and I think that’s all I ever wanted. Was to have that — mom, dad, and kids — that was what I wanted to be and who I wanted to be, and I had that. Leigh was an amazing dad.” 

Leigh was a father who “definitely loved every moment. For him it wasn’t so much about the big things but the day-to-day stuff,” Pam said amidst tears. “He was such a good dad, and his kids would have lots to tell you
about that.”

Pam says it's difficult to think that they are a "family of four now."

How do they get through the days? "We get through because we have to.”

Life is busy, so the days are easier than the nights.  

When she thinks about the future, Pam says the word that comes to mind is: “overwhelming.”

“Sometimes I can think about it and other times, I think, ‘I can’t do that … high school and college and all of the ways I don’t want to parent on my own.’”

On the day of the funeral, Pam told a friend: “I don’t want my kids to be without a dad.”

She struggles with that every day.

“It’s just not fair, and I can’t give it back. I can’t fix it, I can’t change it.”  

On good days, she can “hope for people to come into the kids’ lives and fill the gap — coaches, youth leaders, someone unexpected.”

Recently, a guidance counselor made a personal visit and asked if he could pray with the family. “I love that. Little things that I know God is working out. As much as I hate what they are going through, I know … that there are people watching out for my kids … these things make me see that we are not alone.”

This series is called “Fathering the Fatherless.” How does Pam feel about that phrase?

"I hate to say, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ but it does. Honestly, our family and the Jackson Township/North Canton community and our church have been amazing. I don’t know how we would still be functioning today if it weren’t for that. I might have just crawled in a closet and said ‘forget it.’ It makes a difference when so many people care. I could not do this alone.”

Pam hasn’t lost hope.

In fact, Pam has responded amazingly to some of the “firsts” she has encountered already. She is being proactive in planning for seasons to come. Next week, “The Growth Chart” continues her story, which includes a few little miracles, like giving Easter gifts to her children, from their dad, and how her daughters were able to attend and enjoy their school’s father-daughter dance just weeks after their family’s traumatic loss. Pam will also tell about her plans for Father’s Day.

Be sure to read her story. It’s raw and real and worth knowing.

Perhaps not unlike yours.

Note: A benevolent fund has been set up in the name of Leigh Washburne to help the family in this time of hardship. Donations may be made at any Key Bank.

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