For the Watson family, adjustments continue to be needed 

  • Bill Watson with his new wife, Traci Davis, and his children, Anabelle Watson, now 19, and Greg, a senior at Bishop Brady High School. Courtesy of Bill Watson

Monitor columnist
Published: 8/6/2022 1:40:57 PM
Modified: 8/6/2022 1:37:40 PM

Bill Watson didn’t sugarcoat his behavior following the death of his wife, Miriam Watson, six years ago.

He had tried to soften the pain on his own, develop a stronger sense of mental toughness, set the right example for their two children, Anabelle Watson, now 19, and 17-year-old Greg, a senior at Bishop Brady High School.

They were 13 and 11 when Miriam died from cancer in 2016. She had home-schooled them, becoming the central figure in their lives, while Bill worked as an engineer at the Department of Transportation.

Suddenly, he was a single dad, unsure what to say to his two children, how to soothe their hurt while his own wound remained open like a downtown pothole.

“If I had to be honest, I wasn’t sleeping, I was eating too much, drinking too much,” Bill said during an interview at his office at the DOT. “We were surviving, the kids were grieving. They always excelled in academics and music kept them going, but internally, I didn’t know what the hell they were doing. I didn’t know how to help them.”

The dynamics here are tricky. Bill remarried in 2020, after meeting a woman, Traci Davis, a widow from Colorado, who had joined the same online self-help group as he had. They texted. They face timed. They fell in love.

He flew to see her three times before they got married, at the local courthouse in Traci’s hometown. Bill is planning to fly to Colorado this Tuesday, and then, after the two-year, long-distance relationship, drive home to Concord with his bride.

Sound like a fairytale? In one sense it is. A kind and patient man – 47 years old and a leader, along with Miriam, in the fight against homelessness – had been given a second chance at love after the tragic death of his wife.

And sure, Anabelle and Greg were happy their dad was smiling again. There were problems, though, an adjustment period that continues to this very day.

Traci has three children. The two oldest are autistic. One is epileptic. They need looking after.

Bedrooms in the Watsons’s modest Concord home have been restructured in anticipation of the family’s four new additions. Anabelle has returned to the Illinois Institute of Technology, on the South side of Chicago, where she’s studying architecture. That’s where her comfort zone lies.

There was no sugar coating here, either.

“I was not happy,” Anabelle said by phone from school. “But at this point, it’s no longer that they got married that bothers me. The number of times I met my stepmother can be counted on one hand. When you get married, it’s not just your life that is affected. The entire family is affected.”

Anabelle tempered her opinions throughout the conversation, making sure she showed support for her father.

“She’s very nice, we’ve gotten along and I’m genuinely happy for both,” Anabelle said. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to see her as a mother figure to me, partially because I did not meet her until I was older, and also after what happened to my mother.”

Bill knew the kids were surprised about the marriage, but he had hoped the two families would come together.

“Beyond their initial surprise, I thought the relationship had gone well since then,” he said.

The Watsons were best known for their volunteer work with the homeless, and Miriam was never shy about expressing her thoughts on the problem, convinced that the city could do more to help.

She was diagnosed with cancer in 2005 and beat it two years later, declared cancer free after losing her hair, but never her hope. In 2010, however, a different form of breast cancer surfaced, yet Watson continued her work directing the homeless shelters in the years that followed.

“She greeted everyone with a smile, the warmth of her smile,” said Carlos Jauhola-Straight, the assistant pastor at South Congregational Church at the time. “She had a sense of love and appreciation for every human being she encountered.”

Watson’s condition worsened by 2014. She barely got off the couch during the family’s annual trip to Lake Winnipesaukee. At home, she began sleeping on the couch, too weak to move upstairs to the bedroom.

She died on Sept. 18, 2016. She had a gentle nature that belied her inner strength, friends said at the time.

In a sense, her death left Bill and their two children alone. They’d lost the glue that had held the family together.

Bill didn’t always cope in healthy ways. Anabelle remembered seeing a half-empty bottle of whiskey downstairs, sometimes in the kitchen, other times in the living room.

“For a while, it was not good,” Anabelle said. “He turned to alcohol after her death. He has since gotten better, he’s no longer relying on it, but seeing half empty bottles of whiskey when you know it was full the night before is not easy to see at 13.”

Bill was also overweight. His doctor warned him to change his lifestyle before it was too late.

“You have to freaking do something or you’re going to die,” the doctor said, according to Bill. “Miriam did not work her ass off for so many years for you to go and (screw) it up. Do something about it.”

“It stung,” Bill said, “but I knew (the doctor) was right. I had enough stuff on the line. My stubbornness would get in the way and I’d go from zero to angry very quickly. I learned to be much calmer and not to look at my own perspective as the only one that is there.”

He remains overweight but says he’s lost a few pounds, and his eating habits are better. He says he’s gone from drinking a bottle of whiskey per week to a drink or two per month.

Later this week, Bill will be tested again, searching for a way to bring his children closer to his new wife.

“I know it’s not going to go perfectly,” Bill said. “I know it will be new and a challenge for everyone. I’m nervous about it, but I’m not worried.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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