Friday, June 19, 2009

Response is all that matters

My Briefing column from today:

It's a fact of life: We can't shield our kids forever
Ever since my husband, Steve, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, I've been upset about countless issues.

There are so many problems on the list, it's impossible to put them in any order. Toward the top of the pile, though, has been the lack of control.

Before Steve became ill, a huge part of our parenting philosophy had been to make childhood as carefree as possible. We wanted to shield Cooper and Katie from unnecessary stress. We wanted them to grow up in a safe place, surrounded by people who love them, protected from adult worries.

In those first few months after Steve's biopsy, when I would cry, it was often because our kids' security had been stolen. The adversity-free life that we had tried so hard to create was suddenly filled with challenges I could have never imagined.

Well-meaning friends and family tried to comfort me with words that I heard but haven't fully felt until recently.

There is no perfect life. There is the life you have. And how you respond to the challenges matters more than the challenges themselves.

That's a tough lesson for a planner and worrier like me.

Two years ago, before we knew about some rogue cells multiplying in Steve's brain stem, the four of us were on a fabulous summer vacation. We flew to Milwaukee, drove to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, spent a few days in my grandfather's hometown, drove to Mackinaw City, took a ferry to Mackinac Island, stayed there for a few days, drove to Milwaukee for some sightseeing and then flew home.

It was a dream come true. Not only were we discovering new places together – I had spent six months planning every step of the trip.

When we left for the north, I carried a three-ring binder with details on restaurants, hotels, routes, attractions. I had specific bags packed for each major leg of the trip. Everything was just right.

Until we were in a car accident just a few yards from the ferry docks.

No one was seriously injured, but the rented minivan was totaled, we were all rattled, and some of my plans crumbled.

I was seriously grumpy for the first few hours after the wreck. Then I realized that I was going to ruin the rest of the vacation for me and my family if I didn't change my attitude.

I had a serious internal discussion with myself. Yes, our plans were altered. But if I let the accident define our remaining vacation days, I wouldn't enjoy a single moment. I chose to shake off the incident, adjust details and move on with a cheerful spirit.

That was a pivotal moment in my life. The lesson I learned from that accident has played an essential role in how I've been caring for Steve, Cooper and Katie in our life with cancer.

I didn't plan for cancer to invade our lives. But it has. So our response is really all that matters.

Steve is less of a planner than I am. He's more spontaneous – and probably more fun.

Living with one of the deadliest forms of cancer has sharpened his focus as a father (and he was already a pretty sharp dad). He takes breaks from work to play Monopoly with Cooper. He reads piles of books aloud. He sits at the kitchen table to color elaborate scenes with Katie.

Those special moments don't erase Steve's condition. He can't walk without assistance, wasn't able to attend a single soccer game last season, hasn't been able to bathe his children or tuck them in for months.

And even though I pray every day for a cure or a miracle, this Father's Day may be one of the last that the four of us celebrate together.

We can't forever shield our two precious children from those cold facts of life. But we can buffer reality and our lack of control with all our love.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. E-mail her at


Andy said...

Thank you Tyra.

"There is no perfect life. There is the life you have. And how you respond to the challenges matters more than the challenges themselves."

...powerful words.

Kelly said...

Oh, thank you for this post..sometimes I think everyone needs to be reminded that we can't chose how our lives will work out, but that we need to bend the way that they are given to us. Very eloquently put....
Thank you

Marci said...

Tyra, that was beautifully written and full of wisdom. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your life with us so openly, Tyra. You are one of the best and most eloquent writers I know.

As a caregiver for my beautiful daughter who had cancer and continues to live by the Grace of God – you are so right – there is no perfect life. We dream about a story book life and it doesn’t always happen.

My grandmother always told me to live each day fully as the last day you have on earth. Steve and you are demonstrating this so fully. Your description of your life is helping many other people to get through their trials in life with optimism and compassion.

The kind prayers, amazing deeds and words of your circle of friends are very inspiring as well as your family.

My prayer for you and your sweet family is that you have many, many more days sharing the love you have together.

Thanks you, Steve, for always being so sweet to me and my family.

Blessings this Father’s Day to you!


Anonymous said...

Great post. I meet so many people who believe there is a "perfect" life out there. In the meantime, they're missing out on the only life there is--the one you have.