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Crossing Borders

Here and Now

Growing through grief, Teresa Rodríguez and her two young sons found a new way of defining family.

And though her heart was shattered, she took the boys on vacations she and Tony had planned: a trip to New York to see the Rockettes for Christmas, another to Italy.

Her real worry was her sons. After a therapy session in which Victor confided that he wasn't sure how to be the "man of the house," Rodríguez assured her eldest, "I will always need your support, but I'm the one in charge." Her goal? "I wanted to make sure they knew I was the man and the woman of the house, that I would be there for them."

Psychologist Ballesteros says that's the right approach and warns against allowing children to take on more than what they should in order to become pseudo-adults or surrogate parents for younger siblings: "They should remain children and not assume adult responsibilities."

In an unexpected but welcome turn, grief brought the Rodríguez family closer as the boys took their cue from the quiet strength of their mother. Victor, now 21, was particularly impressed with the way Rodríguez created a new life for the three of them—while still achieving some of her own goals. "Even with everything, she finished her book," he says. "I'm very proud of her for doing that."

To understand her own emotions, in addition to the therapy sessions, Rodríguez read about grief and dying. "I would repeat to myself, 'I have to be strong. I have to be strong,'" she recalls. "But sometimes to Tony, I'd say, 'How could you leave me like this?' "

Those feelings are perfectly normal, says Ballesteros, who advises grief-stricken people to seek professional counseling as well as help from support groups. "One of the most important things," she says, "is to not close yourself up and to think that you're the only one who's going through this."

"Life is so ephemeral. You have to make the time to do what you want. You have to make the time to be with the people you love."

As her children went through the restructuring of the family, Rodríguez was rebuilding another part of her life too. About three years ago, she met Miguel Brizuela—now her fiancé—through mutual friends. Brizuela, an economist who had lost his wife to cancer, understood why Rodríguez was "very prudent" when they first met.

"She did not invite me to her house until our fifth date," he says. Like those who had known her for years, he was impressed by her dignity and fortitude. "She's very disciplined and very spiritual. She's not the kind of person who goes through difficult times and then sits around the house feeling sorry for herself."

Her husband's death, says Rodríguez, has taught her a powerful, if painful, lesson: "Life is so ephemeral. You have to make the time to do what you want. You have to make time to be with the people you love."

Read an excerpt from The Daughters of Juárez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the Border; get up close and personal with Teresa Rodríguez and her family in our behind-the-scenes video of her cover photo shoot; and read a Q&A with grief specialist Luis Orta, Ph.D.

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