Thursday, January 28, 2010

Answered calling

I'm learning that throughout the grief process there are multiple moments of clarity. It would be impossible, thankfully, for our hearts and minds to realize everything at once. Instead, we slowly realize what we miss or how we really feel about specific details.

In the past few weeks I've more fully understood one of the countless losses associated with Steve's death -- the end of what I consider my most important assignment. I wrote about it for today's Briefing. You can read the column here or here.

It can be an uneasy feeling to have answered a calling

Early in my husband's battle against a malignant brain tumor, I realized something that helped propel me through.

I was fulfilling a calling. I had been training my whole life to help Steve. I just didn't know it.

Before Steve and I were a couple, I was mostly independent. I had learned at a young age how to take care of myself – sometimes out of necessity. I didn't always do a great job. In fact, I was often terrible.

I also learned how to take care of others. Again, the results weren't always pretty. I made lots of mistakes.

Still, from the time I was 7, I was learning how to be an advocate. I was learning how to speak up for myself and others.

Less-than-ideal circumstances also taught me to be calm in a crisis.

During one of those crises in my teen years, I had what I later realized was a panic attack.

Through trial and error, I learned that when chaos surrounds you, the best bet is to be calm and tackle tasks one at a time. If you can assign priority to those tasks, even better.

I honed those life skills in newsrooms. My favorite shifts were the most chaotic – election results, Friday night football, unexpected, big news events.

Newsroom work also helped sharpen my ability to research, process and analyze information quickly.

A résumé with some caregiving, advocating, managing crises and researching is OK. But my main qualification was loving and being loved by Steve.

To this day I remember everything about the first moment I saw Steve, the first time months later that we kissed. Throughout our 15-year marriage, we both recognized how special and unique and dear was our love.

When he would thank me for helping him through his cancer journey, I would hold his hand and tell him that it was what I was meant to do. That he had cared for me for so many years, relieving me from the fatigue of taking care of myself. That, if possible, I would do anything to take away the tumor and his pain.

I couldn't take the pain away, and not even the most skilled surgeons could remove the tumor, so instead I applied those skills I'd been gathering for an assignment we never asked for.

When Steve was too polite to complain about less-than-ideal treatment by aides or nurses, I complained. When there were unanswered questions about treatment, I kept asking.

When we were in the middle of crisis – and it often felt like we were never out of crisis mode – I mostly remained calm. There was one moment, after we learned that Steve would require hospice care, that I felt panic creep into my chest, just as it had when I was 14. I recognized the coming attack and talked myself down.

I read medical journals and sifted through Web sites, looking for clues to manage symptoms and verify that we were on the right treatment track.

My love for Steve grew. And his for me.

It's been almost five months since he passed away. My love continues to grow. But my assignment, what I believe was my calling, is over.

That realization is one of my countless struggles in Steve's absence.

There's no doubt that I have other callings. We all do. My most important now is raising Cooper and Katie – guiding them through an unpredictable grief process, showering them with love, correcting them when necessary, fulfilling the dreams that Steve and I shared.

Still, I can't help but wonder if our current path is leading to something as extraordinary as being allowed to care for their father and my husband. I am working on maintaining faith that if we take care of today, we'll be pleased with tomorrow.

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


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Anonymous said...

It's very clear from your posts that your love for Steve only continues to grow. Your article was very beautifully written and almost made me cry during different parts.