BARTLESVILLE, Okla. — A Bartlesville mom found out just how critical a death certificate can be when she couldn't get one.
Just before dawn on this rolling stretch of Highway 75 south of Bartlesville, on a foggy, dark, and deadly morning last October, Anthony Niko was on his way to work when he lost his life.
Witnesses said a horse was running loose on the highway.
"The horse he hit was black. Never saw it. He never hit his brakes," said Angie Niko, Anthony's wife.
Angie showed 2 Works for You the last family portrait they ever took together. The family took the picture almost a year to the day she lost her husband, and her kids lost their father. Their kids include Erica, 15, Damien, 14, and Ronan, 6. Angie said her family had to adjust to life without Anthony.
"Just having to come to terms with it really and just my kids not having a dad in their life," she said.
The silence Anthony left behind is deafening. Anthony was there for every part of their lives at home and school as a dad. He also served on the baseball and softball field and basketball court as a coach.
Most importantly, he lived in their hearts. While Erica and Damien cope the best they can, it's Ronan who Angie worries about the most. He was five when they lost their dad.
"For my 6 year old, it's kind of like a mixed bag," Angie said. "I don't feel like he feels it as much as the rest of us do. But he'll miss out on having him in his life."
Angie fears Ronan's faint, fragile memories may fade much too soon. Many folks have helped Ronan remember and the rest of the family heal.
"But nothing will ever replace your dad," Angie said as she wiped her tears.
Financially, Angie said they're doing okay for now. While she's been able to get Social Security survivors benefits for the kids, she hasn't been able to settle Anthony's life insurance. Angie needs an official death certificate for that.
More than five months after his death, the state medical examiner still hadn't issued one.
"We're just at the mercy of the medical examiner's office and their timeline, whatever that might be," Angie said.
Angie said five months is just too long for a family trying to mourn, heal and move on. She said it haunts her every day and every night.
"There's always this piece that's hanging over you that is left undone," Angie said. "You just don't know when you're going to be able to accomplish it."
As painful as it is, Angie said she needs to start planning for her family's future without the husband and father who held their hearts in his hands.
Because of the nature of Anthony's accident, Angie said she was prepared for it to take two to four months to get a death certificate, just as the medical examiner's office told her upfront.
Finally, Angie contacted her state senator and rep. She also reached the 2 Works for You Problem Solvers, too. The Problem Solvers contacted the Medical Examiner's Office right away.
Finally, Angie heard some positive news for a broken heart. The death certificate was finally ready.
"It was a huge relief, huge relief," she said. "I am ready to move forward with this process, to be able to move on."
Angie said she wanted to share her story because she knows there must be other families in the same situation who may be in more dire financial need than her.
The Medical Examiner's Office won't talk about specific cases, but generally, the office often files death certificates very quickly. However, a representative told 2 Works for You it could take three to six months if it's not a natural death or an unusual manner of death. The representative said it takes time to obtain records, test results, and other needed information.
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