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Tragedy strikes a blended family after the parents die suddenly

Lives forever changed
Tragedy strikes a blended family after the parents die suddenly
By Cynthia Hubert -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 a.m. PST Saturday, December 7, 2002

"Big Bill" Grieve died more than once last Saturday at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center. 
"They must have resuscitated him six times," said his stepson, Shawn Mileham, who describes Grieve as the only father he has ever known. "He kept dying, and coming back. Dying, and coming back. He fought so hard. He knew how much we needed him. He knew he had to be here for his family." 

Grieve lost his fight that morning, leaving his wife, Pauline, and their large clan to face life without their rock of strength. 

 Less than 24 hours later, as she was shopping for poster board to make a picture collage for her husband's funeral, Pauline Grieve collapsed. She never regained consciousness and died four days later. 

"It's like she died of a broken heart," Mileham said. 

Now, with the suddenness of an earthquake, seven children ranging in age from 12 to 25 are mourning the parents who made so many sacrifices for them. 

"I don't know how we're going to do it," said Mileham, 21, an auto mechanic with a maturity beyond his years. "But I do know that we'll stick together no matter what. We have been through about every hardship imaginable, and we have survived. We are a very strong family." 

It is a complex, blended family, one that has suffered through poverty and illness and broken relationships. But transcending all of the problems has been love. 

Pauline Mileham, a petite redhead who collected Elvis memorabilia, and Bill Grieve, a giant of a man with a scraggly beard and a gift for repairing engines, met through mutual friends 15 years ago. The widowed mom and the divorced father fell for each other and merged their families in 1989. Although Bill made a decent living as a mechanic and later as a trucker, and Pauline as a preschool teacher, their family life was without frills. 

"Bill would go with holey shoes, with holes in his pants, so the kids would have new school clothes," Shawn Mileham recalled. But even though his own family was financially strapped, Grieve dressed up as Santa Claus and donated toys to needy children every year. He was a strong disciplinarian, but never hesitated to show his loved ones how much he cared, the children said. He doted on their cars, counseled them when they were devastated over romances, forgave them when they misbehaved. "He always stressed responsibility," said Shawn Mileham. 

Pauline's priority was making sure her children were properly fed and sheltered, and she pushed the importance of education. It was Pauline Grieve's proudest moment when Mileham earned his high school diploma more than a year after he disappointed her by dropping out. "Mom fought for us until the day she died," Mileham said. 

Pauline, 47, was taking classes at American River College, in addition to working and overseeing the care of her son Robert, 12, who recently underwent surgery for brain cancer, when tragedy struck the family last week. 

On the Friday night after Thanksgiving, Bill, 41, a diabetic in precarious health who in recent years worked hauling fruit, lumber and other goods across the West, collapsed at the family's rented home in North Sacramento. Doctors at Kaiser Permanente Sacramento Medical Center on Morse Avenue pronounced him dead early the next morning. 

"Mom was devastated," Mileham said. "She cried and cried. She barely had the strength to deal with the funeral." 

On Sunday, Pauline and four of the couple's children, Aileen, 25, "Little Bill," 19, Amanda, 14, and Robert decided to go to a discount store to buy things to make a collage of Bill's life, while Shawn, Jeramiah, 19, and Cassandra, 15, stayed home. 

"As we were walking into the store, she said she felt faint," said Aileen. Pauline collapsed in her daughter's arms, and an ambulance took her to Sutter General Hospital and later to Kaiser South Sacramento. She never regained consciousness. On Thursday night, the family elected to discontinue life support. 

"We definitely were not ready for this," Mileham said Friday, fighting tears. "We hardly had a chance to grieve for Bill when this happened." 

On Friday, the children were firming up funeral arrangements and considering the next chapter of their lives. Their immediate plan is to move to San Diego, where Aileen works as a clerk in a health clinic, and try to start over. 

A service has been scheduled for Pauline and Bill Grieve on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Thompson Funeral Home, 3601 Fifth Ave. in Sacramento. The couple's bodies will be sent to Bill's native Indiana. They will be buried, Bill in a suit and his "World's Greatest Dad" shirt and Pauline in her favorite blue skirt and blouse, side by side. 

To donate money
A trust account has been established to benefit the Grieve family. Donations should be made in Shawn Mileham's name in care of the William and Pauline Grieve Fund at any branch of Wells Fargo Bank. The account number is 329-0933-609. 


About the Writer

The Bee's Cynthia Hubert can be reached at (916)321-1082 or chubert@sacbee.com.