Faced with tragedies, these three families came together to make the best of their situations and find hope in dark times

By Joelle Goldstein
August 14, 2020 11:00 AM
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In challenging times, it's easy to shut down and feel hopeless, especially when the circumstances are out of your control. But not all are dissuaded from turning the bad into something beautiful.

Faced with tragedies of their own, these three families found a way to come together and make the best of their situations, whether it was adopting a pair of siblings with an open heart, welcoming a child into the world and defying the odds amid a health crisis or honoring a dying wish and uniting a family.

Read on to see how the families in this week's issue of PEOPLE managed to find the light in dark times.

Edward and Andrew Senn

senn family
Edward and Andrew Senn with Anthony and Arabella
| Credit: Julia Xanthos Liddy

Three years ago, Edward and Andrew began fostering 9-day-old premature twins, Anthony and Arabella, after their parents lost custody due to opioid addiction.

Per the suggestion of their social worker, the Philadelphia-based Senns maintained relationships with the children's blood relatives.

But even after Edward, 31, and Andrew, 41, legally adopted the twins in July 2019, the pair has continued to stick to their word.

Today, Anthony and Arabella have regular visits with their biological paternal grandmother and occasionally visit their biological maternal grandmother.

The Senns have also managed to stay connected to the twins' biological father, who is currently serving a 9½ to 20-year prison sentence, through calls, letters and prison visits.

"It's not something everyone would be comfortable with, but in our case, everyone in the family just loves them so much," Edward shares. "The more love, the better."

For more on these inspiring families, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

Shahnewaz and Tasnim Shaheen

Shaheen family
Tasnim Shaheen with husband Shahnewaz and baby Reeda
| Credit: Kholood Eid

Tasnim was 24 weeks pregnant in mid-March, when she developed symptoms of COVID-19, including a fever and cough.

As her condition worsened, the expectant mother, 42, was rushed to the hospital and put on a ventilator. Eventually, her organs began to fail and Tasnim went into septic shock.

Back at home in Brooklyn, her husband Shahnewaz had his plate full, concerned about his ill wife and caring for his sons, Ayman, 19, and Shadman, 14 — both of whom were also battling the coronavirus.

As Shahnewaz was preparing for the worst and telephoning funeral homes for Tasnim, doctors asked him if they could "take the baby out," believing that it would improve Tasnim's chance for survival.

"It was the hardest decision of my life. Do I save my wife or my baby?" Shahnewaz recalls to PEOPLE, noting that he ultimately decided to let doctors proceed with the delivery.

On April 22, baby Reeda made her arrival into the world via C-section, weighing just 2 lbs. Soon after, Tasnim started to show signs of recovery and by April 24, was breathing on her own and allowed to meet her daughter. After 32 days on a ventilator and an additional 17 days in the hospital following her initial recovery, Tasnim returned home on June 26 with her little bundle of joy.

"Reeda is a real fighter," Tasnim says of her daughter. "She saved my life."

Corey Gilliland and Natalie Martinez

gililand and martinez family
Corey Gilliland and Natalie Martinez with Jennah, Cody, Jordan, Liam, Isaac and Elijah
| Credit: Annie Tritt

From the time Corey and Natalie began dating last year, he was always clear about the fact that he would be responsible for caring for his younger siblings if anything ever happened to his mother, Sue.

Unfortunately, that day came much sooner than the couple thought when Sue died following a battle with lung cancer on July 8 — just days after Natalie gave birth to her and Corey's son Elijah.

Though they only learned of Sue's diagnosis in her final months, Corey and Natalie, 30, didn't hesitate when it came to taking in his three siblings — Jennah, 7, Cody, 8, and Jordan, 11 — all whom were facing a possibility of being split up in foster care.

"I helped my mom take care of my siblings since they were born," says Corey, 27, who works as a farmworker. "I’ve always been close to them."

In addition to newborn Elijah, Corey's younger siblings joined Natalie's two children from previous relationships, Liam, 9, and Isaac, 2.

With six children under the age of 11 living in their two-bedroom apartment in Cambridge, New York, Corey and Natalie began to face a number of challenges. But those stresses were soon alleviated by their community, who set up a GoFundMe campaign and donated clothes, food, toys and money, among other items, to survive.

"My mother worried so much about what was going to happen with the kids when she passed," Corey says. "She would be thrilled to see how everyone’s stepped up to help."

  • Reporting by RACHEL DESANTIS and DIANE HERBST

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