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A daughter's sudden death leaves her in charge, and worrying what her grandkids' future will look like

Palm Beach Post - 12/2/2019

By Bill DiPaolo

Autism elbowed into Maryann Jackrel's life last year when her daughter, Stephanie, 37, died of an intracranial brain hemorrhage.

Suddenly, the rapid-fire-talking retired legal assistant and discount shoe business owner from Brooklyn was the caregiver of her four grandchildren: Adryanna, 14; Alyssa, 8; Anthony, 7; and Alyjah, 5.

No assistance comes from their fathers. The children have ADD, dyslexia and other learning disabilities. The family gets by on about $2,200 monthly in Social Security and disability.

"They say it takes two parents to handle one special-needs child. Well, I'm just me," says the red-haired Maryann, 70, seated at her kitchen table surrounded by toys, slippers, boxes of cereal, folded clothes and more stuff. Last year's Christmas tree, still decorated, stands in the corner.

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No matter. The Jackrel living room was a jolly place on a recent rainy Saturday morning.

Alyssa colored on the couch. Spot, a white American pit bull terrier with black spots, chewed a stuffed animal. Alyjah sang songs as he sprinted around the kitchen. Adryanna, visiting family in Boston, called to say hello. Anthony showed off his dinosaur collection.

"Brontosaurus," the second-grader shouted, pointing to a sticker on the wall of the bedroom he shares with his brother. "Triceratops," he said, smiling to the beast on the shower curtain. "Wow, I love dinosaurs."

Even with juggling finances monthly, home repairs are a luxury

Home now is Maryann's sister's former house off Jog Road. When she was diagnosed with cancer, Maryann's sister added Maryann to the deed. Maryann and the four children moved in after her sister died in February.

With a mortgage of about $1,300, Maryann does some financial juggling every month. Water and electricity have been shut off a few times. The busted microwave, stove and toilet in the master bedroom stay busted.

If only those were the only problems.

Alyssa steps into Adryanna's bedroom and shows the pipes that burst five months ago.

"Water flooded the whole house. Neighbors helped us. They put in a new floor," she says. The floor and trim remain unfinished.

The bedroom shower door is off the hinges. Window blinds don't go up and down. Furniture is battered. Mold is in the ceiling. Closet doorknobs are gone. The brown lamination peels on the kitchen cabinets.

Tires and brakes are going on a car that takes her to rehab centers

Then there's the black, 2006 Ford Expedition that Maryann drives. Daily gas costs about $25 to and from rehab centers in Miami, Weston, Aventura, Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens.

Maryann also drives weekdays to and from Mountaineer's School of Autism in West Palm Beach, where the children attend class.

The brakes are going. So are the tires. The front driver and passenger windows are stuck closed. The interior is tattered.

If these household and car problems can be fixed, Maryann can concentrate on what's important -- her grandchildren reaching their potential.

She wants her grandchildren to have a shot at a better future

Maybe Anthony's passion for dinosaurs will blossom into a career in paleontology. Alyssa loves coloring and doing makeup. Alyjah fires a mean fastball.

"Maybe he'll be the next Sandy Koufax," says Maryann, referring to the former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher.

Adryanna does mentoring for children at Mountaineer's. She hopes to be a teacher.

"I have an understanding of children with disabilities. I like helping them," she says.

But those dreams don't have a chance unless the family's basic housing and transportation problems -- and legal issues -- are fixed. Maryann wants a lawyer to make sure her grandchildren keep their benefits when she can't care for them.

Maryann is 70. The time to get things in order is now.

"What happens when I'm not here?" Maryann asked.


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