Lorraine Yaslowitz: 'I know, in the end, we'll all be together again someday'

ST. PETERSBURG

Lorraine Yaslowitz remembers the ashen administrator who pulled her out of her kindergarten class. The grim police officers who rushed her to the hospital. The surgeon who asked her to sit down.

"I just didn't want to be there," she said. "I knew what was going to happen and I didn't want to be there."

The doctor said he had done all he could to save her husband.

"I asked if I could see him," she said. They led her to a room.

St. Petersburg K-9 Officer Jeffrey Adam Yaslowitz lay on a hospital bed. He wore his fatigues. A towel was wrapped around his head to hide his wounds from her sight.

He was her husband of nearly 18 years. The father of their three children. Her spiritual partner. The good friend who courted her for a month and then proposed.

He was dead at age 39, killed in the line of duty.

"I knew when I saw him, that's when it was going to be real," she said. "Real, real, real."

He was wounded on the left. She rested her head on his right shoulder. He was still warm.

She kissed his face, again and again. And she said goodbye.

For now.

"I knew he was up there and I'll be there soon," she said. "But not soon enough."

• • •

The day was Jan. 24, one of the worst days St. Petersburg has ever seen. Hours earlier, Officer Yaslowitz and Sgt. Thomas J. Baitinger were killed and Deputy U.S. Marshal Scott Ley was wounded in a violent struggle with a wanted fugitive.

Lorraine Yaslowitz the wife had said goodbye to her husband.

Now the 40-year-old mother needed to tend to her children.

A friend picked up Caleb, 12, Haylie, 8, and Calen, 5, from school and took them home.

They waited for their mother with a crowd of their father's police friends and their wives.

The television was kept off.

Caleb, the oldest, called his mother on his cell phone.

"What's going on with dad?" he asked.

I'll be home soon, she said. We'll talk then.

He knew something was wrong. A friend saw him hang up, go outside and cry.

When she arrived home, she gathered the children in her bedroom.

Calen, the youngest, was too young to understand then. Soon, in his own way, he would.

Haylie's eyes welled up as she looked to her older brother.

"She wanted to look at him to see what he would do," the mother said. "She wanted to look for a sign that this was actually happening."

Now Caleb knew for sure.

"No, no, no," he said. "That can't be. That can't be."

"I said 'It is, and you know where he is now and now we have a job,' " she told them.

The children share their parents' strong faith. In the days and years to come, the mother knew, they would need that faith, and each other.

"We have a job to perpetuate God's kingdom and that's why we're here," she recalled telling her children. "They've been to church all their lives. They know this. But now it has to be applied."

• • •

Haylie is the writer. She keeps her thoughts in her journal.

"Some of the things she writes, I don't think even she realizes how profound they are," Lorraine said. Her daughter tells her: "Take a deep breath and say your prayers."

But Haylie has her struggles. They all do.

"I keep thinking I'm going to wake up from this," the girl told her mother. "But now it's becoming more real."

A few days later, Lorraine found Caleb researching his father's killer on the internet. The boy learned he was a convict who used to flip houses.

"I wasn't angry," the mother said. "I think it's very natural. He's in middle school. He's 12. I said 'What does that mean to you? Does it matter?' He said 'No, I just wanted to know.'

"He's a lot like me in that way. I need to know. I need to talk to the marshal. I need that to move on."

She says she might have forgiven her husband's killer, had he lived. But mostly she tries to do what she told her son to do: not think about him at all.

The youngest, Calen, has been angry, less tolerant. The other night she asked him:

"Is this because you miss daddy?" the mother said. "He was just like 'Yes! I want daddy! I miss daddy!' And he knows. As much as a 5 ½-year-old can understand when somebody leaves and you don't see them again for a long time.

"We're trying to explain to him that here on Earth you're not going to see him again, but you will see him again in heaven."

• • •

Her own pain is never far away. She can feel herself falling into the abyss.

Then she remembers their faith.

"If I didn't rely on God I would be mush," she said. "I probably still wouldn't be leaving my house. But I try not to cavort with that, because I'm not there. I don't want to be there. Jeff doesn't want me to be there. God doesn't want me to be there."

She calls her husband's death "part of God's plan." Many have told her his passing led them back to church.

She takes comfort in the outpouring of support her family has received, the thousands of cards and letters, the children's drawings and flowers that fill the Police Department lobby, the 10,000 people who attended the officers' memorial.

As she waited for her daughter to see the dentist this week, she handwrote a two-page letter to thank everyone.

"These past two weeks I have felt extreme grief and joy like I never thought I could," she said Tuesday, reading from the letter. "I am strong because of my family and friends and this community. God has blessed us with so many who truly care."

Her children are back in school. She soon will return to her kindergarten class at Forest Lakes Elementary School in Oldsmar.

Her family is seldom alone.

"I joke that I have 12 or 13 husbands because the whole K-9 unit is with me," she said. They're also retraining Ace, her husband's canine partner, so he can rejoin the family.

She knows that her life, and the lives of her children, will go on. They are still a family.

One day, she said, they'll be whole again.

"I have three beautiful kids and I want them to have a fulfilling life," she said. "I want to see them get married and have kids.

"But I know, in the end, we'll all be together again someday."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Lorraine Yaslowitz: 'I know, in the end, we'll all be together again someday' 02/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 7:49am]

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