DRACUT -- Until three months ago, Scott and Kate Middlemiss' Dracut home was filled with many happy memories, especially those precious moments spent with their gregarious, music-loving son, Joseph.
The 6-year-old boy managed to constantly smile, laugh and love life despite suffering from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle becomes thick.
On Sept. 23, that changed, however. That Monday, in the early-morning hours, any positive recollections Scott and Kate may have previously attached to their kitchen -- of a baby's first steps, birthday parties, or family gatherings -- were replaced by the horrific and scarring image of the couple frantically performing CPR on Joseph's suddenly lifeless body on the kitchen floor, without success.
Attempting to cope with the pain of their beloved son's loss is difficult enough. Trying to do so while continuing to use the same side door, and walking over the same kitchen tiles that are permanent reminders of Joseph's final moments, would be impossible, the couple decided. As a temporary solution, at least, Scott and Kate, along with Joseph's baby brother, Jack -- born only 33 days before Joe's death -- moved out of their Dracut house and into the second floor of Scott's parents' home in Haverhill.
"Right now, everything in the house reminds us of what is missing from our lives, but we do have some hope that these memories will some day bring us comfort," wrote Kate Middlemiss on the family's Facebook page on Nov. 16. "If not for the visions of the last tragic moments that transpired in our home, we would be open to the thought of moving back, trying to embrace the memories, and build more with Jack."
Responding to Kate Middlemiss' plea for a creative way to address the painful memory now tied to their home's most frequently used living space, relatives and friends -- led by Kim Morast, Tyngsboro Elementary School Principal Kerry Cavanaugh, school Special Education Director Mary Jane Caron, and Scott's sister, Jillian Middlemiss -- rallied to raise the funds and labor needed to remodel the home's entire first floor, including the kitchen and front-door entrance area.
In one month since the family's loved ones created the "Bring Home the Middlemiss Family" page in Late November on the fundraising site, GoFundMe, at www.gofund-me.com/5g1fdc, 160 people have pledged $11,955 toward the project's goal of $15,000, Jillian Middlemiss reported on Thursday.
After meeting with the project's lead-volunteer contractors, Dave Dirsa and Fred Daigle Jr. of Dirsa Construction of Brookline, and an architect who offered to draw up a plan for the first-floor makeover at no charge, the price tag for the structural overhaul was estimated to be $15,000 worth of building materials, according to Jillian Middlemiss.
Some preparatory site work was done at the house by volunteers before Christmas.
"We first had to clean out the kitchen and the whole downstairs, and that's been done, and it's good to go," said Jillian Middlemiss.
The group will need to obtain a permit for structural work that needs to be done as part of the remodeling, including knocking down one or more partition walls that will allow the contractors to give the home's first floor and main entrance a whole different appearance, she said. Because the labor for the project is being donated, all money raised can go directly toward purchasing flooring, cabinetry and other materials needed to complete the project.
Work on the house paused for the holidays, as her brother and Kate endured their first Christmas without Joseph, Jillian Middlemiss said.
"It definitely was difficult for them, including the anticipation building up to it, that's bad, too," she said. "Its going to be tough every year at the holidays. It's so tough with the loss of a child. Scott and I lost a brother four years ago; he was 30, he was young and that was tough, but with a child it's at a whole different level."
On Dec. 23, Scott Middlemiss posted on Twitter on the three-month anniversary of his son's death. "3 months ago today, I lost the most beautiful gift ever given to me. Give an extra hug to your child today. Miss & love you, Joseph Middlemiss," he wrote.
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