Those were the words of encouragement Wendy Casey’s husband, Steve, gave her before he died seven years ago. John Steven Casey had lost his battle with head and neck cancer.
And without him, Wendy Casey was left to care for two young children of her own – a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old – and two adult stepchildren, just starting to get out on their own.
“He was our rock,” Casey, 50, said of her husband. “He was a loving disciplinarian. He never raised his voice, he was very calm and he was a big presence, very intimidating before you got to know him. And the boys knew he didn’t play around.”
Steve provided the structure for the family.
Wendy Casey was a stay-at-home mom and always the comforter and fun parent. But when her husband died, she had to take on both roles.
Casey says she felt her children were cheated a little bit. Steve is not able to see them graduate or see them get married, or teach them certain things.
But at the same time it has brought the family closer.
Her two children are 14 and 16 now, the youngest a skateboarder in eighth-grade and the oldest a lacrosse player in 10th grade. Dylan, 16, and Aaron, 14, say they plan to do something nice for their mom. By Wednesday, Dylan, had already bought a present. Aaron was still looking for one.
Casey is known as the neighborhood mom. Many friends come to the house to hang out.
It’s the place to be.
“She’s taken care of me, buys me wants and needs, loved me,” Dylan said.
She’s always been there, he said.
“It makes me love her so much,” Dylan said. “I can relate to her and tell her what’s up and how I feel. I don’t have to lie.”
“She’s cool,” Aaron said.
Wendy attends every lacrosse match. She’s there an hour early and she’s usually the loudest one there, the two boys say.
“Oh my God,” Aaron said, “I’ve been to one game and I don’t think I’m going back.”
Casey said she never really expected to be a mom. She got married in her early 30s and before that she just never really imagined it.
“That wasn’t one of my dreams then,” she said. “But now I can’t imagine not being a mom. The love I feel for those boys, oh my gosh. I get choked up just thinking about it.”
Casey and her husband first learned he had cancer in December of 2008. It was Stage 4, and terminal.
The family thought they had five more years with Steve. However, he died seven months later.
“But that was the best seven months of my life,” Casey said.
During those months, he taught her how to do certain things he would normally around the house. For instance, changing the oil, sodding and maintain the lawn, all while he was sick from the chemotherapy.
“The focus was on him and I,” she said, her voice cracking and tears rolling down her eyes. “We had fun. We made everybody laugh in the chemo room. A lot of people have it so tough. There are a lot of older people and people who don’t have anybody. But we were pretty lucky because we knew we had each other.”
Casey said she can’t really remember the funeral, nor can she remember much of the first year after her husband’s death.
“I just remember we had to keep it moving,” she said.
Her nearest kin is her mom, who lives in Illinois. Although she had no family around, she decided not to move. They continued to live in the same house.
Casey had to teach her sons how to become independent. She taught them the proper way to cook, clean, wash their laundry, cut the lawn and other things their dad otherwise might have taught them. She got out into the community to meet people.
And now she co-owns Aversboro Restaurant. But Casey said she couldn’t have done it without the support of the community. She said they were there to pick her children up for school if she needed it and often came by to check on them.
“The people of Garner will always be there for us, and they have been,” she said. “During my darkest times I never really felt alone. I didn’t have family around me, but I had the community around me.”
Everything you go through in life, there’s good things that come out of it.
Those words, “Wendy you got this. You got this,” still ring in her mind everyday. She can still hear it.
“He knew that I could do it, and I had to,” she said. “You have to do what you have to do when you’re a single mom.”