BAXTER - It's been more than six months since his wife, Kelly, died, but there are days when Shawn Long of Baxter doesn't feel it's hit him yet.
He still has days when he picks up the phone to call home from work as a shift supervisor at the Wausau Paper Mill to see how her day is going, only to remember she won't be answering the phone.
But the difficult times come after he's put their four children, Ashley, 7, Katie, 6, David, 3, and Rebecca, nearly 7 months, to bed.
Shawn Long, Baxter, fed his daughter, Rebecca, who turns 7 months old on Thursday, while his other children, David (left), Katie, 6, and Ashley, 7, mugged for the camera at their Baxter home. Long's wife, Kelly, died two weeks after Rebecca was born. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"My kids keep my mind off it," Long said through tears. "The worst times are when I put the kids to bed at night. She was always there."
Kelly died on Dec. 8, 2008, two weeks after she gave birth to their daughter, Rebecca. It was later discovered she died of spontaneous postpartum coronary dissection, a rare condition that occurs predominately in apparently healthy women during or after pregnancy where the artery dilates and blood becomes pooled within the lining of the coronary artery, leading to a narrowing or closure of the artery.
Kelly had been in their living room nursing Rebecca about 11 p.m. Dec. 7 when she collapsed. Shawn performed CPR on his wife and called 911 but doctors told him there was nothing that could have saved her. She was 31.
Kelly Long, Baxter, shown in a family photograph, died Dec. 8, 2008, leaving behind a grieving husband to care for their four young children.
Shawn, 31, has been learning to adjust to life as a widower and single father. It hasn't been easy because Kelly took care of everything. She was a stay-at-home mom, though she also worked 30 hours a week online from home for Cappella University. Shawn works a full-time job at the paper mill and co-owns Professional Advantage Lawn and Landscape with his brother. He was frequently gone because he was working.
"I was out trying to make money and she was staying home and raising our children," Shaw said.
Kelly loved being a mom. Shawn said Kelly, whom he met and started dating after a church ski trip when he was 16, previously said she wanted only two children but she loved her children so much she just couldn't stop at two.
Kelly graduated from Brainerd High School in 1995; he in 1996. The high school sweethearts got married on June 26, 1999, at St. Francis Catholic Church. Kelly got her bachelor's degree in psychology and speech communications from St. Cloud State University. The couple lived in the Twin Cities area for about five years before moving to Baxter in 2004. Two years later they bought a home about 1-1/2 blocks away from Shawn's parents, Steve and Jane Long, and had been in the process of remodeling it when Kelly died.
Kelly loved gardening, growing flowers and vegetables. She and her children would sit together in the garden and eat peas straight
from the vine, Shawn said with a smile. She would often take many photographs of the children, including silly ones with her in them, ones that Shawn cherishes today.
"Kelly was so patient it was unbelievable," said Jane Long. "She was just a sweet little girl. She was so patient and kind. She never said anything bad about anyone. It's been really hard. It's been a drastic change for Shawn, besides losing her."
Since Kelly had breastfed all their children, Shawn suddenly needed to learn how to formula feed his newborn baby girl and found himself getting up throughout the night for those feedings, something Kelly just naturally did. Kelly always did the laundry so he didn't know where the kids' clothes were or which outfit belonged to which daughter.
"I was giving the kids the wrong shirts," said Shawn.
"And the wrong underwear," reminded 6-year-old Katie.
"I'm not very good at color coordinating either," said Shawn.
Jane Long would come over to help with the girls' hair and often gently reminded her son that his baby girl was so cute that she needed to be dressed pretty, too, something Kelly would have done.
"I never realized babies go through so much clothes," said Shawn.
When Shawn would come home after his 12-hour shift at the paper mill, Kelly always gave him a half-hour on the couch to relax before taking over some of the parental duties. His half-hour of free time no longer exists. He also learned how challenging it can be to take four children to the grocery store.
"A simple thing like mowing the lawn I have to get a babysitter because you can't leave a 6-month-old with a 7-year-old," Shawn explained. "I don't know how she kept the house clean, took care of the kids and had supper ready when I got home. I have help from my mom and it's still really hard. I never realized what it took."
Both Ashley and Katie are in Girl Scouts, so it was up to Shawn this year to walk with them around their neighborhood to sell Girl Scout cookies.
This tragedy has also made Shawn feel closer to his children. He feels he's developed more patience. Admittedly, he wasn't at home much when his older daughters were little.
He sees parenting from a new perspective now - Kelly's.
"I see a side of babies I never saw before," said Shawn. "I see why Kelly loved having children so much. It's opened my eyes to how amazing babies are. That was her favorite part and Rebecca is smiling all the time."
"He's doing a wonderful job, we're very proud of him," Jane said of her son. "We just take it one day at a time. He has really good kids, luckily. They're really well behaved. I think he's doing as well as can be expected. And of course, some days are good and some are bad."
On Sunday, Father's Day, Shawn said he has no plans but would like to stay home and relax.
Soon after Kelly died, a memorial fund for her children was set up. Those who wish to donate may mail checks to the Kelly Long Memorial Fund at Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union, 200 S. Sixth St., Brainerd, MN 56401.
Kelly's mother, Lucy Murphy, and Kelly's friends are collecting memories of Kelly for a book for her children. Those who have memories of Kelly that they wish to pass along may visit the Kelly Long memorial Web page on Facebook.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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