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'The new normal' isn't easy for family of Sarah Turpin

12/02/2014 05:09 EST | Updated 01/31/2015 05:59 EST
The husband of a woman who died earlier this fall just a week after being diagnosed with cancer says it's been a challenge adjusting to the "new normal" of life without his partner.

Sarah Turpin died just a week after being diagnosed with cancer.

Peter Russell and his wife Sarah were busy working parents, raising three young children together in Bay Roberts, N.L. But after his wife's sudden death, Russell is busier than ever.

"I'm calling it the new normal. It's a whole new way of parenting," he said.

"Were a team, and it was hard as a team, and to take this on on your own, it's a lot."

Sarah Turpin was diagnosed with cancer on a Friday after a visit to a doctor. By next Friday, she was dead. She was just 32 years old.

Russell said he's been receiving plenty of help from Sarah's family following her passing, caring for three children all under the age of three, but things just aren't the same.

"I haven't seen another mother like Sarah. Sarah was in tune with the babies and paid so much attention, not just at play time but to their diet and activities and crafts. Nobody loves kids like Sarah loved those kids," said Russell.

"She loved being pregnant, actually. To be quite honest, she didn't want to stop at three."

Positive pregnancy tests

When Sarah was diagnosed, it came as a shock. Russell said it was the furthest thing from what they expected.

Pregnancy tests Sarah took shortly before her death had turned up positive.

"We thought Sarah was pregnant. As far as we can tell, where it was a maternal death, there's quite an investigation that gets performed to find out what happened exactly. From what I gathered, I believe the cancer cells were raising her hormone levels and creating a false pregnancy."

Sarah's cancer was rare, and developed in the placenta.

"It's a cancer of the uterus and pretty much only occurs in women that are pregnant or were pregnant."

In January, Sarah was pregnant with the couple's fourth child when she had a miscarriage.

Memories and traditions

Russell said things have been hard for him, and he's still grieving, but doesn't have time to slow down his busy schedule.

Sarah's death put a financial burden on the family. She was a school teacher and without her salary, and no life insurance policy, the family is finding it a challenge to make ends meet.

Her doula group has organized a fundraising campaign, called For Sarah's Kids, to help alleviate the family's financial burdens.

But Russell said by keeping busy, he's able to focus his mind on other things. At least for a while.

"She died right in front of me actually. I don't know — I re-live it every now and then. Usually around 4:30 in the afternoon when I'm driving home in the car I re-live it. That's probably the only time of the day I'm not busy is when I'm driving, so that's kind of when I think about it," he said.

"Being busy is what's been the most therapeutic, I guess. The kids are the most important to me now. It comforts me to make sure they're comfortable. As long as they're comfortable, I feel good."

He said the twins, Grant and Ellis, are still a bit too young to understand what is going on, but their daughter Rowan, who will be three years old on Dec. 31, has a better grasp.

"There were a couple of weeks where Rowan had dreams about her mom and she'd wake up a little bit upset. That was the hardest, but Rowan looks forward to having dreams about mom now. She looks forward to going to bed because she'll have dreams about mom."

For now, Russell keeps Sarah's traditions with her children alive; every night, he plays the fiddle and the kids have their nightly dance party.

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