How My Father’s Death Gave Me Purpose 30 Years Later


Mary Murphy and her son Bryan

In 1997, Mary Murphy was a 38-year-old single mother, living in Chester County, Pennsylvania. She was also suffering from terminal cancer. In an effort to prepare her 10-year-old son for life without her, she and her son decided he would continue their tradition of making butter cookies at the holidays. Mary started Mommy’s Light in 1997 to allow young people to be comforted as he or she mourned the death of a mother and somehow feel connected to her through a family tradition.The mission was later rebranded Family Lives On Foundation, to include children who suffered the death of a father.

12 years earlier, in June, 1985, Michael Cicalese went to work on a Monday, and didn’t come home.  He was killed in an explosion at work. He left behind a wife, a 14-year-old son, and me, his 17-year-old daughter. To say that my father’s death was devastating to our family would be an understatement.  Everything changes–forever. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, successes, failures..there is always someone missing. But what was more profound, as a teenager, was that it was as if my dad never existed. Friends didn’t want to mention him or look at a photo.  Neither did family members. Not because they didn’t miss him. Not because they didn’t care. But because they didn’t want to upset me. So I missed him in silence.

Heather and Dad

Dad and me circa 1985

I grew up, had a successful career as an attorney and created a lovely family. However, something was always missing. Last year, I had the opportunity to begin working with Family Lives On Foundation.This Foundation fills the gap that I missed after my dad died.  They provide children with one day a year where they can continue an activity or tradition that they experienced with their deceased parent..and in so doing have happy memories as well as healthy discussion about grief with their friends and family.


Statistics show that there is one child in every classroom in our country who suffers the death of a parent before the age of 16.  

Heather Dad

Michael Cicalese 1985

There are so many terrible things going on in the world. Many problems on social media these days seem insurmountable. However, there are ways within our means in which we can help those around us. There are many wonderful causes. Join one. Volunteer. Attend a Fundraiser. Donate. Little amounts mean a lot. Be a positive change. I would love it if you would consider Family Lives On Foundation when doing so. But if your passion is elsewhere that is fine also. “Charity begins at home, but should not end there.” Thomas Fuller (1608-1661) British clergyman and author.  Family Lives On Foundation  Family Lives On Foundation -Race for Traditions 5K, Saturday, April 29, 2017