Jonathan said goodbye to his mother. She lay in a hospital bed, weak and succumbing to cancer. She was unable to speak, but Jonathan knew she could hear him. He desperately needed her to hear him.
‘We’ll be OK; you don’t have to worry,’ Jonathan told her. ‘I will take care of my brothers and sister.’
In a lucid moment, Laura, his mother, opened her eyes and gave a thumbs-up to her son. She heard.
The next day she was gone.
Jonathan has a boyish complexion and dark eyes that flash between confidence and uncertainty. Just 23 years old, he is now the primary caregiver for his three younger siblings. Kevin, 15, is nearly as tall as his big brother and has an easy, bright smile and playful demeanor. Edwin, 13, has autism and takes cues from his siblings when he has difficulty processing emotions. He hasn’t connected with the reality of his mother’s death and often asks when she is coming home. Kimberly, 11, admires all her brothers and is quick to joke and tease.
Having responsibility for his siblings weighs heavily on Jonathan, but he is not alone in his journey. He has the support of caring individuals at MCH Family Outreach who are committed to walking with Jonathan and his siblings through this challenging time.
A year before her death, Laura was referred to the Family Solutions program at MCH Family Outreach in Las Cruces, N.M. With her illness and frequent hospitalizations, she needed help with the basics – food, clothing, housing assistance, and transportation.
Osiris Beanes, a case manager with the Las Cruces outreach team, connected Laura with community resources and partners such as local food banks. As Laura needed frequent medical attention for her cancer, Beanes transported her to dialysis treatments at the hospital three times each week. Beanes and other outreach staff checked on the children during their mother’s frequent hospitalizations, arranged for transportation to and from school and made sure they had what they needed at home.
“Laura was already sick when we started working with her,” Beanes said. “The whole time, she was always concerned about the kids, specifically about their future and their education. She knew what was coming. All along, she was preparing me, as well, sharing about her Social Security benefits and what accounts she had.”
I don’t know where we would be without MCH. They are our family.
During a hospital visit in March 2021, the medical staff shared with Beanes that Laura’s prognosis was terminal. Arrangements were made for the children to visit their mother to say goodbye.
“The hospital staff was so supportive,” said Tiffany Gonzales, director of MCH Family Outreach in Las Cruces. “They set up a room for the family to visit and took pictures of the children holding their mother’s hand.”
After Laura’s death, the outreach team and others in the community rallied around the siblings. Hospital staff donated clothing and household items, and a local funeral home provided a meaningful ceremony free of charge. Jonathan carries a program from the service folded in his wallet. He said it gives him strength and helps him feel like his mother is with him.
“They have shown great strength and resiliency through their time of grief and trauma,” Gonzales said. “Jonathan is determined to move forward for his siblings and has displayed dedication in becoming the best caregiver he possibly can.”
Jonathan said it is important that MCH continues to walk alongside him as he learns to navigate his “new normal.” Beanes worked with Jonathan to create a very detailed plan of service with goals that will benefit him and his siblings.
“He has said on numerous occasions, ‘I can’t do this on my own,’” Beanes said. “But we tell him that is the reason we are here – to help him learn.”
The outreach team transitioned the siblings to the Gap program following their mother’s death. The program focuses on supporting children whose primary caregiver is a relative other than a parent. While commonly seen as a program for grandparents and second-generation caregivers, Jonathan – as a 23-year-old – matches the criteria as well.
“As a ministry that strives to empower and instill hope in children, youth and families, we know Jonathan and his siblings need help connecting to resources and tools to continue strengthening the family dynamics,” Gonzales said. “Our ministry is committed to assisting families like this to reach their full potential. Our Gap program is designed to build on the family’s strengths to find solutions in raising children, and that is what MCH in Las Cruces is doing here.
“This type of work is carried out through all our locations in Texas and New Mexico,” she added. “Our core values are what drive our work. MCH knows there is a long road ahead for these siblings, but we will walk alongside them through their journey.”
Gonzales said her team constantly brainstorms for ideas to help the children not just survive, but grow and flourish. One area concerns the children’s academics.
“Jonathan was timid about being proactive for his siblings at first; he would keep his head down and stay quiet,” Gonzales said. “Our team has been able to step in and act as advocates with the kids’ schools – meeting regularly with school counselors to find ways for each of them to have their needs met.”
Outreach team members meet with Jonathan and his siblings to help them discover ways to work together as a family, share responsibilities around the house and support one another. Once the younger children are dropped off at school, Beanes and other case managers meet with Jonathan in his home or at the outreach office to help him prioritize and develop action plans for the coming days. Plans are peppered with family-strengthening lessons from Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), a therapeutic, trauma-informed intervention model designed to meet the needs of vulnerable children.
Jonathan shoulders his caregiver responsibilities bravely, admitting he never could have imagined himself in this situation.
“At this point in my life I thought I would be doing other things like maybe going to school, being independent and going to parties,” he said with a sly smile. As it is, Jonathan cooks and takes pride in keeping their home impeccably clean. His siblings don’t offer a complete endorsement of his cooking skills, but do admit he makes decent frijoles (rice and beans), Kevin said with a laugh.
Jonathan expressed gratefulness for the support he and his siblings receive from the MCH team.
He has said on numerous occasions, ‘I can’t do this on my own,’ but we tell him that is the reason why we are here — to help him learn.
– Osiris Beanes, MCH Case Manager
“They have done so much to help,” he said. “There is a lot I still don’t understand and they have been here to help me all along the way. It has been hard these last few months, losing our mother. Nothing else compares to that, and now I have to be responsible for myself and three others.”
Beanes said Jonathan’s determination is paying off.
“He will say ‘I can’t do it,’ but continues to learn and stay on the right track,” she said. “He’s taking small steps forward; a day at a time. He is making a difference.
“We are here to empower Jonathan and show him all he has accomplished,” she added. “He has grown as a man before our eyes.”
Jonathan brushed away tears remembering his last moment with his mother.
“I told Mom not to worry,” he said softly. “I told her we would see her soon.” Until then, Jonathan, Kevin, Edwin, and Kimberly have a support system in the MCH Family Outreach office in Las Cruces cheering them on.
“We are going to keep doing the best we can to help this family,” Gonzales said. “As social workers, we all have had to do hard things, but this certainly tops it. We’ve wrapped our arms around this family and will continue walking with them through this time.
“It means so much to us to go above and beyond for this family,” Gonzales added. “I have never worked for a ministry or organization so amazing. MCH has allowed us to provide Jonathan with resources no other agency has offered. It is a blessing to carry out the mission and vision of MCH in this way.”
“I don’t know where we would be without MCH,” Jonathan said. “They are our family.”