Saturday, March 27, 2010
Friday, March 26, 2010
Really, there's no way you can't adore Darla. She is a loyal, cheerful, true friend.
While I have been grieving Steve's death, Darla has been grieving the end of her marriage. In one week, we both became single moms. What's more, we've both been writing about our separate experiences for the same readers. We both write columns for Briefing.
This week I wrote a column about an experience I had while away on spring break -- a woman who told me why it's more difficult to be a divorcee than a widow. After I turned in my column, our editor, Will, asked about a companion piece from Darla. She agreed and wrote a lovely, touching column that ran in today's edition next to mine.
You can read our work here and here. Or below.
Is divorce worse than death of a spouse? It's no contest
By Tyra Damm
When someone dies, people often struggle for the right words to offer those left behind.
Before my husband's death, I was often so timid that I might not say anything at all. I was definitely more comfortable sending a written note, giving myself time to compose what I hoped were comforting phrases.
A few friends have asked me in the past months if anyone has said anything awful or offensive. And I've been able to truthfully answer no.
Even when people are nervous or unsure, they've always found the "right" words. They always have the best intentions. Not a single person has said the "wrong" thing.
Last week, while the kids and I were on vacation, I asked a nearby woman if she'd take our photo. I joked with her about how moms are rarely in photos.
She laughed and said she understood – she had 10 of her own children.
We visited for a while. I learned that she had gone through a divorce years before. I told her that my Steve had passed away in the fall.
Then she told me how being a divorcee is worse than being a widow.
That when you're divorced, you carry a stigma.
That when you're divorced, your ex-husband poisons your children against you.
That when you're divorced, your memories of your marriage are poisoned.
That when you're divorced, your children are more likely to get divorced.
That when you're divorced, your married girlfriends are afraid that you're trying to steal their husbands.
Wow. How do you respond gracefully to that?
I decided that I couldn't. I listened, nodded a little and was silently thankful that sunglasses were shielding my eyes, which no doubt were wide with awe.
I've never understood the competition among tragedies. "Losing a (child, spouse, sibling, parent) is so much worse than losing a (parent, sibling, spouse, child)" or "(Divorce, death) is much worse than (death, divorce)."
Why do folks think it's necessary to apply rational order to the kinds of losses that no one wants? Why can't we let people grieve on their own terms, without layering on someone else's loss or expectations?
Now, there was truth to my one-time photographer's words. I feel no stigma as a widow. My children have precious memories of their amazing daddy. Nothing can spoil my memories, either.
The thought of my friends being fearful of my spouse-stealing abilities makes me laugh.
But Steve and I had absolutely no role in our separation. His brain cancer was a fluke – not the result of a single choice or series of habits or questionable behavior.
We were truly meant to be together "until death do us part." The death part came much, much too soon.
Our children have just the memories – no visitations or shared custody. (As the child of divorced parents, I know how very painful it is to split time between Mom and Dad. I don't want to minimize that agony at all. But at least there was an option.)
How do my bouts of crying or sense of loss or moments of despair compare with someone going through a divorce?
I don't know. But I wouldn't dare minimize her emotions by telling her that mine are more monumental.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is divorce worse than death of a spouse? It's no contest
By Darla Atlas
Last fall, my friend Tyra lost her husband to an inoperable brain tumor. A few days later, my husband announced he was leaving me.
After many years of marriage for both of us, she and I became single moms in the same week.
It's a coincidence we've talked about several times. I remember one phone call in particular; each of us kept saying, "No, but how are you doing?"
It was hard for us to fathom what the other was really going through.
Yes, we were both suddenly left without spouses, but due to extremely different circumstances.
So which circumstance is harder? Well-meaning people have told me they think divorce is worse, because you're facing both the death of a marriage and flat-out rejection by the one person who vowed to always be there.
In a way, I get that. There's a club I belong to now, which I've discovered has many more members than most of us realize. It's the "My Spouse Walked In One Day And Said He/She Didn't Love Me Anymore" club. We members share a special brand of hurt that is hard to describe.
One night, not long after my husband left, I sat on my front porch talking on the phone to my parents. (Front porch phone calls have become the norm since last fall; there are many things my kids don't need to hear.)
After I told my dad what my husband had said that day – basically detailing when his love had died (awhile back, as it turns out), my dad paused and said, "I don't think he can make you happy, Darla."
Not that I had any say in the matter; it's not like he was begging me to let him make me happy. The guy was gone and he wasn't coming back.
But that comment from my sweet and smart dad helped me look past the rejection and toward what I might actually want.
Still, the bitter end to a marriage is a tough reality in which to live. But does it mean the death of a spouse is "easier"? No way. It's simply different pain.
If I'm being honest, I now know I wasn't married to the true love of my life. I didn't lose my soul mate. I can't know what that feels like, and it scares me to even imagine that pain.
But some people who are divorced would say they did lose who they believed was their soul mate, so maybe they believe their situation is the most painful of all.
I don't know. All I know is perhaps we shouldn't try to answer that question because it's impossible. Besides, if people tell me divorce is worse than the death of a spouse, what does that mean? I "win"? It's laughable. There's no winning here.
But at this point, I can see the light peeking out from this tunnel I've ended up in. On good days,
I even feel like I've been freed from jail. That's not a feeling you get after the death of a loved one.
But what I do hope that Tyra and I share, after enduring our separate pain for six months now, is hope for the future.
It all takes time. I remember driving to Steve's funeral last fall, glancing in the mirror at my red, puffy eyes. I cried every day that week, for myself and for my friend. The kids and I sat in the balcony of a church filled to capacity with people who loved Steve. Tyra was at the front of the church, composed and brave.
She and I were going through very different ordeals (and we still are), but I'm guessing we shared the same feeling that day, deep down inside. It was a persistent, stabbing sadness, an ache that seemed to grow stronger with every breath.
Because a broken heart is a broken heart.
Darla Atlas is a Briefing columnist. E-mail her at email@example.com.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
When we had the house built in 2002, we put a lot of thought into which trees to have planted. Our old house had a Bradford pear and cypress in the front yard. For the new house we wanted hardy, long-lasting Texas natives.
This time every year, we'd stand together in the front yard so that Steve could stare at the bur oak and the red oak on either side of our sidewalk. He'd look them up and down, walk around each one. And he'd say, "Tyra, this will be the year for our trees."
I would laugh with him and tell him that he says that every year. He would retort that this time he really feels it. This time he just knows the branches are going to take off and reach higher into the sky.
We'd talk about how much they'd grown since we first moved in and how many more years we'd stand together and stare at our trees.
As I've watched the limbs change from bare to barely budding this year, I think of Steve. I hear him say, "Tyra, this will be the year for our trees." And I so wish that I could reach out and hold his hand and tell him that he always says that and that he'd laugh along with me.
Steve and one of his trees on his 40th birthday, November 2008
Monday, March 22, 2010
For our 15th wedding anniversary last year, I asked my super-talented sister Melane to create something special for Steve. I wanted art that incorporated our special word "blub" with meaningful images from our marriage. (The banana is for Katie because she and Steve were the only banana eaters in the house. She loved sharing this with her Daddy. The soccer ball is for Cooper.)
Aunt Ami gave us this picture frame for that same anniversary. The photo I have in the frame now is from a friend's wedding in Washington, D.C., circa 2003.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Cooper and Katie on the zoo carousel
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Today I laughed out loud at one of those Steve moments.
First, some background.
1. Steve cracked himself up. He would get so tickled with his own jokes.
2. He was very tolerant being around journalists -- handy when you're married to a journalist with a bunch of journalist friends.
3. A double truck is a term for facing pages in a newspaper or magazine with content spread over both pages.
4. He had what he thought was a surefire way of endearing himself to journalists, especially at parties. "Just mention the word double truck, and you're in," he'd say. This would always make him laugh.
5. There's a relatively new Twitter contributor called FakeAPStylebook. The folks behind the user name post tweets that skewer the real AP Stylebook and other journalism truisms.
One of today's tweets (sorry for the language):
double truck - A big-ass picture of two sweet semis! HONK HONK
Steve would have loved that definition. He would have laughed until he could barely breathe.
Monday, March 8, 2010
David told the crowd a little about Steve and what a wonderful man and father he was. Then he sang an emotional "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables -- because Steve is home.
Katie, Cooper and David
Sunday, March 7, 2010
It was on a Sunday six months ago that he took a drastic turn, suddenly unable to speak well or breathe well. In those whirlwind hours, he took communion elements for the final time from his hospice bed in the middle of our bedroom, surrounded by incredible love and spirit.
Sundays the three of us are embraced by our church family. We know we are loved from the moment we walk in the narthex doors. Because someone exclaims about how tall Cooper is and how lovely Katie's dress is. Because someone always hugs us right away. Because there are familiar smiles at every turn.
Katie and Cooper before church this morning***
When I think about the past six months without Steve, a great flood fills my chest. But I always recover. I take deep breaths, close my eyes, listen to Cooper and Katie's laughter nearby, take solace in the outpouring of love and support that continues daily, think of a funny Steve story, tell a funny Steve story, call a friend, cry, pray, take a walk, write about the loss, eat a square of chocolate, read an encouraging quote, listen for God's voice.
We humans are surrounded by great sorrow, but we are equipped with even greater coping skills. I am thankful for the ability to function and to feel joy and to enjoy life even while grieving.
The wonderful music therapist and grief counselor who have provided excellent care in our home over the past six months visited again this week. Our visits aren't as frequent now, but we all look forward to the 90 minutes we spend making music, creating art projects, talking and playing.
On this visit, Valerie delivered her own projects. She created a quilt for each child. Cooper's includes six photos of Cooper and Daddy; Katie's has six photos of Katie and Daddy.
If you follow me on Twitter or are my Facebook friend, you are familiar with Katie-isms. She is infinitely quotable. Here are some Katie quotes from the past few days.
"Mommy, when I'm an adult, you can teach me how to use the bank machine. If you're not alive, Mrs. Liz or Mr. Layne can teach me."
"Mommy, I just can't go to sleep because I'm thinking about Daddy and how he used to brush my teeth."
"I have at least two brains. One is naughty and the other nice. The nice brain is bigger."
"I want Daddy to be alive again."
Katie after soccer, March 6, 2010 (photo by Layne Smith)
Cooper and I are similar in many ways, but Steve's influence is blessedly great, too.
At lunch today, our dear friend Mary commented on how much Cooper's hands look like Steve's. They share those crazy long legs.
They share a strong gentleness (if that makes sense) and compassion for others.
They also share a flair for the dramatic. Cooper and his friends just finished five months of intense preparation for the Destination Imagination tournament. The team of third-graders did everything -- created and solved a problem within a seven-minute script filled with puns, crafted an elaborate set and costumes, wrote lyrics to a song and much more.
Cooper played the role of Alexander the Date (a foodie version of Alexander the Great). He developed his own accent for the part, which I'm convinced was Cooper channeling Steve, who also loved acting and creating special voices.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
From PFamily's Web site:
Don't miss this opportunity of a lifetime to see the Broadway touring cast of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in concert performing some of their favorite songs and dance numbers from some of your favorite Broadway shows. The audience is invited to come early for the silent auction to bid on selected memorabilia from the show (cast signed posters, cast signed T-shirts, costume pieces and more) as well as meet the cast at the reception after the concert.
Monday, March 8
6 p.m. silent auction
7 p.m. concert
Reception with cast to follow
$30 person (tax deductible)
You can read all the details here.