Saturday, December 5, 2009

Missing Steve

Cooper told me recently that his only request from Santa this year is one more opportunity to talk with Daddy.

We talked about how Cooper can talk to Daddy whenever he wants. But I know what he means -- he wants a real conversation.

The hospice music therapist and grief counselor visited this week and proposed that Cooper write a song for Steve. So we're keeping track of special words to help write the lyrics, and when the hospice team returns in two weeks, they'll work on recording the song.

Cooper says that he wants to hold on to the resulting CD for the rest of his life and then will deliver it to heaven.


Katie woke from a nap this week very upset. She was sobbing and said that she was sad about Daddy. "When Daddy died, it felt like God died, too," she said.

I held her for a long time, and we talked about how much Daddy's death hurts. We also talked about how Steve's love never dies and God never dies, even when we feel so very sad.


I was recently asked to write an essay about dealing with loss during the holidays for a Fort Worth Star-Telegram publication. You can read my contribution here.

Or here:

For the first Christmas ever, my 8-year-old son has absolutely no chance of getting what he wants.

Cooper is asking Santa for one last opportunity to talk with his daddy.

His daddy — and 4-year-old Katie’s daddy and my husband — passed away at home in early September. For 20 months, Steve had fought an inoperable brain tumor. With the help of radiation, bio-agents, three kinds of chemotherapy, prayers from around the world and heroic tenacity, he outlived statistical predictions.

He reached his goal of living until his 40th birthday, but he didn’t make it to 41.

And he didn’t make it to Christmas. So now I’m ushering our young children through an unpredictable grief process while trying to create a Christmas season that reflects as much joy and warmth as possible — all while tending to my own sorrow.

Part of me would like to fast-forward through the rest of this year, speed past the aching sadness of a holiday season without my one true love. The rational, realistic part of me, though, acknowledges that our little family has to trudge through. Living through the pain of our loss is part of the slow healing process.

The truth is that I’ve been dreading the Christmas season ever since Steve took his final breath. We were always a Christmas family. Steve and I were engaged Christmas morning 1993. Our tree has always been covered with ornaments that denote deep meaning. Almost every vacation we took together is represented by trinkets like the Eiffel Tower, the Manhattan skyline and an Amish horse-drawn buggy. Every Christmas Eve we attend candlelight services at our cozy church. Then we give our children matching pajamas. We all wake up Christmas Day to find signs that Santa visited.

Until Steve’s diagnosis two years ago, we fully expected to continue those traditions for four or five decades, welcoming grandchildren to the scene.

As Cooper declares multiple times a week, it’s not fair.

It’s not fair that Steve’s life didn’t last long enough. It’s not fair that we’ll wake up Christmas morning with three people in the house instead of four. It’s not fair that Cooper and Katie’s Christmas memories of their daddy at parades, pageants and parties are blunted at such a young age.

More than one well-meaning friend has told me how important this first Christmas without Steve is. The implication: Mess this one up, and your children will remember it forever. I’ve learned that children — especially mine, who have spent two years living with uncertainty — are flexible and forgiving, but I still want to craft a season that evokes more mirth than melancholy.

So, in addition to sticking with tradition, we’ve adopted new habits. Margie the dog is wearing a Christmas sweater (which makes the children much happier than Margie). There are animatronic, lighted reindeer in the front yard. We’ve welcomed an Elf on the Shelf into our home. We have tickets to a performance of The Nutcracker.

I’m no expert in grief recovery, but I remind myself daily that there is no correct way to grieve, and I’m applying that concept to Christmas. There is no correct way to conduct Christmas without Steve.

My prayer is that as the three of us struggle through this first December after Steve’s death, we will cry when we need to and laugh when we can. And we will create our own new memories that don’t ignore Steve but instead honor him.

The tree is up, though this year I couldn’t bear to hang the ornaments myself. My sister and her family took care of decorating, saving me from hours of sobbing. The Santa photos are up, too, though this year I couldn’t bear to take down the photos of Steve. Our shelves are more crowded but more beautiful.

We’ll sit among dear friends at Christmas Eve services, but Steve won’t be in the choir loft, singing Silent Night with fellow tenors. Cooper and Katie will receive their traditional pajamas, but this year I selected the print myself.

And, yes, Santa will visit. But there’s no way he can deliver the two-way conversation that Cooper desperately wants. And he can’t fulfill my totally irrational wish to bring Steve back.


Chitnis and Chahal said...

Tyra, you have never messed anything up since this journey started and I know you will not mess up this xmas. It will be rough but you and the children will get through this and Steve will be watching over you guys. I am praying that this holiday season goes off peacefully for you all. I am also praying that God and Steve will figure out a way to find true love for you and the children that will enrich the rest of your lives.

Bruny Papp said...

Tyra, you have the gift of communication and words. Your notes/comments inspire me as I too go thru my grieving process. This will be the first X-mas with Steve spirit, first X-mas where he is no longer hurting, first X-mas where he will from above celebrate and be a constant guiding angel to you, Cooper, and Katie thru not only this but many holidays to come. The pictures around the house should remain for as long as you deem necesary; that is A OK! I continue to keep you in my thoughts and prayers. God Bless you and your wonderful children.

Harriet Mellow said...


You are awesome in how you think and communicate to all of us and to your children. I think making new traditions and memories and still keeping the old ones is a good plan. I admire you so much for the struggle you go through daily to keep things as happy and normal as you can for the children, which in turn I'm sure helps you too. You must have a lot of strength to think and plan always for what is the right thing to do. I do believe there is no right way to handle this - but your way for your family. God bless all of you.

Harriet Mellow