EDITOR'S NOTE: The News and Tribune is once again partnering with New Hope Services to feature Wish Book profiles of local families in need of assistance this Christmas. This year, we're featuring three families, one a day beginning today and on Friday and Saturday. Included with each feature will be an info box detailing how to help and the wish lists of each family.

NEW ALBANY – Sheila Rowan talks to her adult children every day. When Iesha Smith didn’t answer, she knew something was wrong.

She drove just a few minutes and arrived at Iesha’s home to find her on the couch, unable to move, and two of her three young children walking around, eating a loaf of bread.

A trip to the first doctor said it was bronchitis. A follow-up to a different doctor revealed something much worse.

It was leukemia and it had spread to her bones.

Iesha passed away at 27 years old in July 2018. Her three young children, who have two fathers among them, were left not only without a mother, but their fathers also didn’t come by any more than they had in the past.

Sheila, who had raised 6 of her own children, had to start over again, raising Avante, Aviyonna and Averielle, who are now 4, 3 and 2.

A total of 27 years since she had a baby of her own, Sheila was back to changing diapers, fixing bottles and rocking babies to sleep – raising her deceased daughter’s children.

That was in addition to her day job at Clark Rehab, where she has worked for two years.

“It’s been 27 years since I raised a baby and I was ready to move on, but God had another plan,” Sheila said. “It’s hard. It’s really hard. I do what I got to do. He won’t put more on me than I can bear.”

In addition to the three children now in her custody, Sheila, now 56, also watches her oldest grandchild, La’Kyra Johnson, who is 13, during the week. La’Kyra’s mother can’t drive her to the out-of-district school La’Kyra wants to attend during the week due to her work schedule, so Sheila helps out.

Sheila said organizations meant to help struggling families say she makes too much money to qualify. However, she said she finds it tough to make ends meet and buy anything but the essentials. Something that has been on her wish list for a while is a van, so that three car seats plus La’Kyra can all fit comfortably.

She said she utilizes the help of New Hope Services for food and other benefits.

As hard as it is, Sheila refuses to give up. She keeps on as she has to for her grandchildren, but said she’ll never be the same.

“That was my baby out of the six,” Sheila said of Iesha. “Oh! It took something out of me that I haven’t found it yet, but I still see her on a regular basis through our kids.”

The oldest of the three, now 4, still remembers his mom and talks of her regularly.

“He talks about her all the time,” Sheila said, with tears in her eyes, watching S.J. play with toys. “He asks, ‘Mom, did you see us play?’ He talks to her every day. It’s sad.”

They visit the gravesite regularly, saying they’re going to see mommy, and decorate it for the season and holidays. This year, the children have requested that mom get a small Christmas tree for her headstone.

“We be pulling up and and they say, ‘We see mommy from here!’ or when we leave they say ‘Bye mommy! We’ll see you later!” Sheila said.

As she watched her young grandchildren play, she said a perfect Christmas would be one where she could make them happy. The oldest loves all things Paw Patrol and PJ Mask. The baby loves to play mom and would be thrilled with baby dolls and accessories. The middle one happily colored during the entire meeting.

Being chosen to be featured in the News and Tribune and a Wish Book families made Sheila cry tears of happiness.

“I need this,” she said. “I get no assistance … and I just want my grandbabies to have a good Christmas.”

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