Among the photos on display in the Miglore home on the northwest side of Chicago is one of Adam at his 2004 college graduation. Clad in cap and gown and flanked by his beaming parents, the young man brandishes his new accounting degree. Who could have guessed that the joy of that sun-dappled spring day at the University of Notre Dame would be so brief?
Seven months later—on Christmas Eve—his mother, 48 years old and the picture of health, collapsed at the family home. Despite valiant efforts by medical personnel, Barbara Miglore died an hour later of a brain aneurysm.
“The whole thing seemed unreal,” Adam said quietly, struggling for the right words.
Adam and his two younger sisters, Amanda and Gina, barely had time to heal when they found themselves grappling with another wave of trauma. Their 54-year-old father, Tom, was suffering from respiratory problems. While the retired Chicago police officer had been diagnosed six years earlier with colon cancer, his health had been relatively stable. Now, he was back in the hospital and the prognosis was grim. On Feb. 23, 2005—just two months after the Miglore kids buried their mother—they were now broadsided by the death of their father. “He really wanted to be here for us,” says Adam. “He just ran out of time.”
With both parents gone, the Miglore children’s lives were upended. Adam had planned to move into an apartment downtown—the next step for most college graduates in Chicago. Instead, he found himself staying in his childhood home, assuming custody of his 16-year-old sister Gina, a sophomore in high school. For the next few years, he will need to be on hand for everything from soccer games to homework.
He uses a light touch, preferring to approach his new role as a brother—not as a father. “Luckily, Gina is a really good student. She helps me out, just as much as I help her,” he says, with more than a touch of pride.
Then, there’s the never-ending “to-do” list that goes along with being a homeowner. “I’m learning plumbing on the fly,” he says. Looking back, he adds: “There was so much I didn’t know. I was overwhelmed by taking care of a house—vacuuming, dishes, laundry, cooking, pets. I had no idea. I had lived in a house with a bunch of guys during my senior year. This was not the same!”
Adam is also learning the ropes in his new position at the Deerfield, Ill.-based Beam Global Spirits & Wine Inc. While most new graduates pay attention to salary, stock options and paid vacation, Adam stresses the importance of choosing an employer that gives more than lip service to work/life balance. Recently, he was promoted from the sales division to staff accountant in the finance department, requiring some 12-hour days—especially when he needs to close the books at month’s end. But he praises his firm for putting family first.
“It’s not something I gave a lot of thought to before,” he admitted, “but things have been easier because my company has been understanding.”
Rather than contributing to the stress, work has provided him with an outlet to channel both his grief and his energy. “Learning how to do my job better has given me something else to focus on...It’s taken my mind off all the bad things that have happened,” said Adam, who relaxes by reading and watching movies.
Adam has also found comfort in a closely knit neighborhood. The Miglore parents were beloved not just by their children but also by neighbors, some of whom were interviewed for an article in Good Housekeeping. Barbara was a librarian at the local parochial school, which all of the Miglore kids attended; she was also one of the “corner ladies,” four women with beautiful gardens and strategically placed houses from which they could observe local doings. On a summer’s evening, the quartet could be seen on a porch with citronella candles, noting which motorists ran the stop sign or which kids were playing music too loud.
As for Tom, “His life revolved around family,” says Bob Fujara, his former partner on the police force’s night shift. “Tom talked about his kids constantly and he was madly in love with his wife.”
In the beginning, filling the shoes of his parents proved particularly difficult for Adam when it came to managing the family finances. Suddenly, he was responsible for numerous bills, including tuition payments for his 21-year-old sister Amanda, a sophomore at Illinois State University. No matter how sharp a pencil he took to the family budget, he couldn’t figure out how to stretch his entry-level paycheck far enough to keep them in the house—a top priority for three kids whose lives had been rocked by change.
Thankfully, neighbors were aware of the difficulties Adam and his sisters were facing. Soon after Tom’s death, phone calls began flying around the community. Kristen Gianfortune, a former grade school classmate of Adam’s and a daughter of one of the corner ladies, wanted to parlay the concern into real financial support. “The Miglores are like family to me,” she says. She convened well-wishers who decided to throw a benefit party for Adam and his sisters at their parish, St. Thecla, in June 2005. The group fixed the admission price at $20 and wrote to local businesses to solicit raffle and silent-auction donations.
What happened next amazed everyone. Donations came pouring in from all corners of the city and suburbs as people were touched by the story of the kids’ pluck and self-reliance. Contributions included everything from a golf outing to dancing lessons to a Mike Ditka-autographed football and a stay in a Colorado condo.
A local DJ and the bagpipers of the Emerald Society, who play at funerals of fallen police officers, signed up to provide music. In the end, everything had been donated—right down to the plastic cups for the buffet, arranged by a woman who had also lost her parents in her 20s. The event netted $50,000—enough to allow the Miglores to stay in their home, at least until Gina graduates from high school. Says Kristen Gianfortune: “I couldn’t stop smiling for a week.”
The three Miglore kids are back at work and school these days—finding their way without their mom and dad. “My parents would have been as overwhelmed as we were by the help, but they knew this is the kind of community we live in,” says Adam. “Out of such sadness came an incredible gift.”
Still, coping with so much at such a young age is no small feat. Adam credits, in part, his years in South Bend as helping him step up to the plate.
“People often say that when things like this happen, you get to a breaking point. You either lose religion or it becomes stronger; more a part of your life. For me, it is definitely the latter. And that rather than being a pessimist, I’d have to say I’ve become more of an optimist. I make a conscious effort to look for the good in things—and I think that came from my faith and my Notre Dame experience.”
Also on the “blessings” side of the ledger, he mentions his siblings. “I know my sisters a lot more...We have grown much closer through this last year. You learn to lean on people...and that your family will always be there for you.”
Still, he is relieved that the first year of mourning is behind them.
“Christmas was the toughest... so we went to Tennessee, where we have relatives. We just knew that we had to get out of the house and get out of the city.”
His advice to others who are coping with loss?
“Just stick with it. It does get better—and time does heal. But there are no shortcuts...you just have to grind through it.”
—Bonnie Miller Rubin is a general assignment editor for the Chicago Tribune and has written numerous articles and books including Quick Escapes Chicago.
This article includes excerpts which first appeared in Good Housekeeping.