Friday, March 4, 2011

Living with loss offers valuable lessons on life

From today's Briefing:

Seemingly apropos of nothing, Cooper announced this week: “I love life! I love everything about it except death.”

His enthusiasm warms my broken heart.

Cooper speaks with wisdom gained from watching his dad’s body deteriorate from the effects of cancer. From living in the same house where Steve died. From living with arrested reminders of Steve’s vibrant personality.

Cooper’s words remind me of the lessons I’m constantly learning from Steve’s absence.

Every day is worth celebrating. In the year and a half since Steve’s death, I’ve necessarily let a lot of things go (if not the guilt associated with letting things go). One day I’ll be back to my “normal” self of balancing daily survival with long-term projects, but for now daily survival wins.

At the same time, I’ve placed greater importance on celebrating each day.

I routinely keep fresh flowers in the kitchen, family room and my bedroom. I decorate the kitchen table — our main hub of activity — according to the season. This week, the Valentine’s Day placemats and centerpiece were replaced with Easter décor.

We go out for frozen yogurt because it’s a sunny day — or because it’s raining. Or because we have friends over — or we don’t.

We are tiny but still significant. A few weeks ago, when I was on vacation in Belize, I was able to clearly see the band of the Milky Way for the first time. I could see the constellations (though I couldn’t remember all of their names). I was far removed from light pollution; my view of the sky was like it’s supposed to be.

I even saw a shooting star.

After staring into space for a few minutes, I became overwhelmed with the thought of how very small we are — just miniscule specks representing an indiscernible blip in time.

But we’re significant to one another.

This week, a friend’s friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within hours of learning the news, my friend had mobilized a team of women to plot strategy. Meals. Child care. Emotional support.

They are protecting and nurturing another human — there’s nothing insignificant about that.

Nothing is guaranteed. Actually, my daughter reminds me of this frequently. In Katie’s world, it’s natural that a parent would die early — because that’s what happened to her.

So, she’ll talk about her future with certainty and my future with qualification.

Last week during a drive, she said: “Mommy, I hope you’re still alive when my kids are adults. That would be amazing.”

She’s promised that I can live with her when she’s an adult — if I’m still around. I assure her that I’m doing my best to stay healthy and make good choices. That only God knows when I’ll die but that I pray it won’t be for many decades.

She’s not pessimistic — just realistic. Steve was healthy, made good choices. Thousands of people were praying on his behalf.

Katie’s realism protects her heart. And it’s a constant reminder that we can’t afford to waste a lot of time on unnecessary drama. That we should be thankful for every sunrise — not grumbling that it’s time to get up. That we should be enjoying the life we have while we have it, even going so far as to randomly exclaim to anyone who’s listening, “I love life!”

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


Wendy S. Harpham, MD said...


Reading this post felt as if you'd somehow entered my mind and heart, and shared aloud how I feel about life, death, children and celebrations.

My children, too, often qualify where other children assume and express gratitude for things others take for granted.

When two months ago my oldest child vowed "in sickness and in health," she was not just going through the motions. She knew exactly what she was promising to the love of her life.

Some people think it's sad that my children lost their innocence so young because they grew up with a mom with cancer.

I'm glad. Their eyes are open not only to the risks of living, but also to the hopes and joys of an authentic life.

Thank you for sharing yourself on this blog. With respect and hope, Wendy

The Lefflers said...

I love this. I continue to be amazed by your attitude, Tyra. You are an inspiration to me. Thank you for the reminder to be thankful.