Benefit this weekend for young family that lost mom to cancer

The Lagasse family could use a little help from the community to at least get through the next few months.

Their story is one that heartbreaking movies are made about: Michelle Lagasse, the mother of three young children and one on the way, died in August, not even a month after giving birth to Savannah. She had learned that she had breast cancer in March when she was pregnant. The cancer was a form that a family friend said was one of the most invasive and dangerous kinds — invasive mammary carcinoma, triple negative breast cancer.

As Michelle struggled to fight for her life it became apparent to her doctors that at just 31 weeks they would have to take Savannah from her mother's womb. When the surgery was over, Savannah was taken to intensive care, and Michelle was taken to Hospice. She died about four  weeks later.

Today, life goes on in the busy Lagasse house in Walnut Beach where there is enough activity to keep peoples' minds off mourning for the time being.

Katelyn is 10 and she has soccer, school work and friends. She's the oldest of this household of children that Dan, their father, is now taking care of pretty much on his own.

After Katelyn, there is Zachary, 3, who just started pre-school, and then Aiden, 2, who really likes it when his father holds him and then pretends to drop him, only to catch the toddler as he slides down past his hip. Aiden giggles and obviously wants his father to do it again. Then there is Savannah, three months old, a newborn in need of a lot of care and attention.

Despite what is obviously a sad story, the beach area home is not a sad one on a recent day after school. Dan has just picked up Katelyn from Pumpkin Delight School, and his mother, the children’s’ grandmother, Faith Mara, is inside the house with the baby. Nichole Lyons, a lifelong Milford resident in her 20s, has just been hired as a weekday nanny, and she's keeping Aiden and Zachary busy.

Dan explains that he's a union electrician with C. White Electric, and his job is sort of on hold until he can get back to work. He isn't collecting unemployment because he likes his job and plans to get back to it as soon as he can; his boss is great, and he thinks that once things have settled down at home and he's gotten certain situations under control, working his 7 to 3:30 shift will work out just fine.

But with no money coming in for the last few months, he's pretty much used up his savings, and things are getting kind of tough. He's not too proud to accept a little help from his friends — some of them very new friends — who have organized a fund-raiser at Jonathan Law High School for Saturday, Nov. 9 from 4 to 8 p.m.

“My savings are almost depleted,” he says while bouncing one of the children on his hip. He looks a little tired — more than a little tired — and explains that Savannah is a bit of a night owl: The newborn does not sleep through the night yet, and for him, napping during the day to catch up on lost sleep isn't too easy to accomplish.

“I think I may be turning into one of those … insomniacs,” he says, rubbing his eyes after searching for the right word.

Katelyn, being the oldest child, speaks as if she is old beyond her years, Dan says as they start a conversation in the kitchen.

Katelyn explains that in the wake of her mother's death, she is “confused, happy, sad, mad, angry, nauseous, sick, worried and nervous.”

She explains that she read those words on a poster at school, and her father says that she really needs to start talking about how she feels and not just repeating words from a poster.

“But you don't really want to talk about it,” he says.

She responds, “We'll manage.”

Dan and Michelle met during high school, Dan explains. They were born on opposite ends of the country; he in Rhode Island and she in California. But when they were teenagers they ended up living on the same street in Wallingford. They'd been neighbors, with common friends, for some time before they finally met.

“We were together 20 years,” Dan says.

He gets sad sometimes, but that's only because he doesn't have time to get sad more often. “These kids keep me busy,” he says. “When I have a moment to myself, I usually fall asleep in my bed. I don't have much time to grieve.”

And maybe that's a good thing, who knows. When a song comes on the radio that was one of “their” songs, he starts to remember and grieve, but then life and demands pull him back to the present. There's always a feud of some sort in the living room to mediate, he says with a laugh.

“These kids keep me to where I'm always busy,” he says with a smile.

There's a sign on the living room wall that says something like, “If it's too hard to stand, then kneel,” and Dan says he put the words on the wall, but it was Michelle's idea.

So she's still here, in a way.

But as to the challenges of everyday life with four young children, that's on Dan.

He's handling it, and now working on smoothing the morning schedule: Making sure breakfast is ready and Katelyn has all her soccer gear before she goes to school. He hopes to go back to work after the holidays.

Friends have organized the fund-raiser to help keep him home until then. The cost is $20 for adults, $10 for teens and $5 for children age 12 and under. The fee includes food, entertainment and children's activities.

Organizers are still looking for raffle items, gift cards, people to sell tickets, and donations of any kind.

For information call 203-283-9026 or email