Imagine your father gets deported and your mother dies a few years later after a long battle with Multiple Sclerosis.
Imagine your sister’s husband kills your sister and her two children.
How do you recover from such trauma?
That’s the question two families faced after two women, both in their 40s and both with ties to the area, died suddenly in recent years. The women were not connected in any way, but their family and friends have taken similar paths to move beyond their grief: They have set up foundations to ensure that the people and causes the women deeply cared about are not forgotten.
Stacey Udell started a Family Support Fund through Jewish Community Foundation, which is supported by the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, because she and her husband, Craig, now have four girls living at their home in Cherry Hill, N.J.: two daughters and two nieces. The nieces, who had been living in South Carolina, essentially became orphans in February when their mother, Lisa, Craig’s sister, died suddenly from kidney failure and a stroke related to her MS.
The girls were estranged from their father, who was deported to Mexico four years ago, less than a week after the younger daughter’s birth, and has played no role in the girl’s lives since.
Craig Udell traveled down to Belton, S.C., the day after his sister died and picked up his nieces, Talia, 8, and Gabi, 4. They returned to New Jersey via airplane and stayed at a hotel for a night, activities they had never done before.
Lisa Udell had been raising the children on her own and unable to work because of her health and frequent hospitalizations. They lived in a poor, rural area and had only her Social Security Disability Insurance as income.
“She was an excellent mother,” Stacey Udell said of her sister-in-law. Even though they lived in poverty, Lisa made a Shabbat dinner with her children whenever possible and her older daughter still has what she calls her “Shabbat dress.”
“Her kids are the most incredible kids in the world. I’ve been amazed at how well behaved they are and how loving they are,” Stacey Udell said.
Gabi and Talia are now both attending Kellman Brown Academy, a Jewish day school in Voorhees, N.J., where Craig teaches science. Aware of the unfortunate situation, the school has not charged the Udells any tuition for the two girls. (The Udells’ two daughters also attend the school.) And members of the community have reached out, donating clothing and toys.
But more expenses remain. Talia, who was old enough to remember her father and his deportation, is in therapy to help her cope with the loss of both parents. Both girls struggle in school and will likely need tutoring. Doctors have told the Udells that, physically, the girls are developmentally behind.
The fund will help them pay for the girls’ daily expenses, education — the Udells say they would like to pay Kellman tuition— and recreational activities. Their daughters and nieces will attend the JCC Camp in Medford during the summer and the family will hold a fundraiser Jcffamilysupport.wix.com/jcffamilysupportfund  there on June 18.
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Jill Gobora, a Newtown resident, lost her older sister, Amy Perez Friedlander, a Havertown native, in 2011. Perez (family and friends now use her maiden name in referring to her) had been going through a difficult divorce but her husband was still living in a separate bedroom at their home in Westchester, N.Y. Concerned about the situation, family members spoke with Perez several times each day. When no one had heard from her one day in October 2011, a friend called the police. They entered the house and found a domestic disaster scene.
Perez’s husband had brutally beaten her to death with a rolling pin. He then used a shotgun to kill their daughter, Molly, 10, son, Gregory, 8, and afterwards, himself.
“My sister was the sweetest, kindest, naive, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly person,” said Gobora.
“It was a devastating loss beyond comprehension,” said Patti Cush, Perez’s best friend since preschool.
Perez, a graduate of Cornell University and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, had started an SAT tutoring company with a friend less than a year before she died, and Gobora said it was doing well. Perez told friends that when the business took off, she wanted to offer free tutoring for underprivileged children.
With that in mind, Gobora and Cush, who lives in Erdenheim, have started Amy’s Kisses Foundation (Amyskisses.org ), a nonprofit organization that will help provide education to children in financial need. Perez used to toss her students chocolate candy when they answered a question correctly and that habit inspired the foundation’s name, the women said. They will hold a fundraiser on June 2 at Tyler State Park in Richboro, where participants will register and walk three laps, one for each of the victims.
“One of the things I said at the funeral was, ‘There’s a hole in the world where Amy and her kids are supposed to be,’ ” said Cush, who delivered a eulogy. She said friends and family need to fill that hole and “we’re doing that by helping children in need.”