Thursday, February 25, 2010


My column for Briefing today is about the unpredictability of grief.

You can read it here or here:

Grief, like life itself, isn't something you can plan

I'm the kind of person who loves a dependable routine. Schedules, calendars, itineraries and agendas make me happy.

My husband's battle with brain cancer taught me better than any other life lesson that plans are a good foundation – but not a blueprint to what will actually happen. The ongoing grief process after his death is yet another reminder that you can't plan for every moment.

Grief gets in the way of routine. Grief is unpredictable, sometimes even sneaky.

Lots of people talk about how the "firsts" are the hardest – the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, the first birthday without the person you love.

And it's true that those milestones are difficult. I've anticipated and been as emotionally prepared as possible for all of those firsts – and I'm not entirely convinced that the "seconds" and "thirds" won't be just as trying.

What folks don't talk about as often are the unexpected moments of grief that sometimes creep, other times pounce.

Cooper's annual Cub Scout banquet was Friday night. He's completing his third year and is on his way to becoming a Webelo.

Steve was unable to attend the first two Scout banquets – the first year he was too weak from radiation and chemotherapy and the second he was just home from a week in the hospital with pneumonia. Because he was absent before, I didn't expect to be emotional at this year's event.

But then I saw all those daddies lining up with all the Scouts, and I remembered for the hundredth time that day that Cooper has no daddy to stand with him or even a daddy to go home to.

Grief pounced. What I really want and can't have is Steve right there, pinning the Bear pin on Cooper's blue shirt pocket.

The following day was the beginning of the outdoor soccer season. Both Cooper and Katie are playing, and their schedules collide for about half of the games.

Katie's field is on the far east end of the sports complex. Cooper's is on the far west end. About a half-mile lies between the two.

I was able to watch the first half of Katie's game, then I threw my giant mom bag on my shoulder and walked, sometimes jogged to make it in time for most of the second half of Cooper's game. The whole time I was worried that the one I wasn't watching would get hurt and need help or score a goal and look for a proud mom on the sidelines.

Grief crept over me throughout the games. What I really want and can't have is Steve at one game and me at another.

Monday, I consulted with a periodontist about a recent root canal that needs more work. The procedure, scheduled for next week, requires mild sedation and a day of recovery – not a big deal, really.

As the doctor described the procedure, grief pounced. What I really want and can't have is Steve driving me to and from the appointment, and Steve holding my hand as I nap off the sedation and painkillers.

What makes these kinds of sneaky grief bursts bearable? I'm never alone.

We weren't at the Scout banquet alone. Steve's parents and brother were with Katie and me to cheer on Cooper's accomplishment, and the room was filled with friends who are also Scout families.

We weren't at the soccer games alone. Uncle Jim watched all of Katie's game, plus she was encouraged by the family of her best friend (and teammate). Cooper is playing his 10th season on the same soccer team, and every other parent hollers his name with the same enthusiasm I do.

I won't be alone during or after my dental procedure. I have amazing friends who take care of me when necessary – often without me asking.

And I can always count on Steve's spirit being with me – just not the way I'd planned.

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

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