Friday, August 19, 2011

Power of words

Two weeks ago I wrote a column about themes of death and grief in children's literature. (You can read it here.)

It's an idea I've had for more than a year, based on my uncanny knack to choose bedtime books that inevitably have a parent die. Each time we would get to a death scene (or I would infer it was coming), I would get a little angry with myself for exposing Cooper and Katie to yet another tragedy.

I've since realized that (1) it's hard to avoid death in classic children's literature and (2) it's a good thing for us to read together about the hope that comes from desperate situations.

The column ran in Friday's paper. Friday night I received the most vitriolic email from a reader in my 18-year newspaper career. I deleted the email (after forwarding it to my editors) and am still trying to forget some of the worst phrases. In general, the reader -- who refused to sign his/her name -- told me to move on, to stop using my children, to stop acting as if I'm the only one who's ever experienced a loss, to leave my dead husband alone.

Oh, the power of words.

I was shaken for two days. (It didn't help that Cooper and Katie were gone for the weekend, attending of all things a bereavement camp sponsored by a national foundation.)

I've tried to be deliberate over the past three years in separating blog material from column material. This blog started three and a half years ago to keep family and friends current on Steve's complicated diagnosis process. It has evolved into a way to share with those same folks, plus a few more who've joined us along the way, how our family continues to cope with Steve's profound absence.

I was offered the role of a Briefing columnist in the middle of Steve's cancer battle. In that very first, rather benign column (which drew all kinds of anger on a Dallas blog for being a worthless column from a suburban housewife), I made the decision to not even mention Steve's condition; this was not a column about cancer but about family life.

Of course, I eventually wrote about Steve's tumor. My editor, Will, helped me find a direction for that first column, in which I shared the silver linings of our cancer journey. As conditions and themes developed, I shared more.

When he died, I took three weeks off before sharing with newspaper readers. And in the two years since, I've written columns about our grief journey off and on, as conditions and themes develop.

Readers respond more to the topic of grief than any other theme. Almost all of them write to share a little of their own grief story.

And yet I allowed that one hateful email to obliterate the goodwill from dozens of previous notes.

Two nights later, I received an email from a reader in Flower Mound (she actually signed her name). It was a simple compliment. And it was perfectly timed. Her kind words -- words from a stranger who had no idea I was hurting -- were the balm I needed.

Oh, the power of words.


Anonymous said...

I think I told you that my friend, Arlene, who lost three grown children, printed copies of your checkonsteve blog. She passed them on to me and at that time expressed her thanks to you for writing about your life and how it is to cope with life issues that most people never expect or want to occur. This all happened prior to this posting, so I sent this one to her knowing how she would appreciate your perspective. Just keep writing. I feel sorry for those people who find it difficult to accept life as it is. Steve said, "It is what it is." He was so right. You have a remarkable ability to step outside of yourself to see how life really is. That is a gift in itself, but you then are able to go beyond that and put down words in a compelling manner that gives the reader pause and also raises the bar for better understanding.
Love ya,

Maisie said...

Dear Tyra,
I started reading your blog a few months ago. I was so touched by how you are keeping Steve's memory, (and therefore, Steve) alive for Katie & Cooper. I have been dealing with extensive grief for the past year, and just when I thought I was moving on, tragedy struck again. My little sister, who is seven, had a friend named Matthew. His little brother Andrew almost died a few weeks after birth from liver failure. Anyways, long story short, both boys were found to have a genetic disorder called HLH. Both boys died within 8 months of each other. Please check out. to learn about these sweet boys. Then, this July, one of my sister's friends, Macy Tolbert, passed away suddenly from meningitis. This was and still is very hard for my sister. I find strength in these three kids, their families, and the fact that they are living it up in Heaven every day. After all, don't we all strive to be in Heaven when the time comes? Yes, I am sad that these kids and Steve missed out and that their life ended too soon. But I believe that their deaths give us so much more motivation to go to Heaven and to do right by God, so that we can see them again.
I believe that there is a reason for everything, and that God has put you in the position you are in to make you stronger, more faithful, and an all around better person. Don't you ever give up.

Anonymous said...

Please don't let one negative person dissuade you from sharing in your column. It helps more people than you know.

Anonymous said...

I have always been open with my son about death. He has seen several important people pass in the last 15 years. Now we talk to him about how we want to live and die. It is important and is as much a part of parenting as helping them get through any milestone. When I first started reading your column, I admit that I wasn't sure if I would keep reading, after all I live in an urban area, my son attended the dreaded DISD and was past the young age issues. I have kept reading because you put such a real feeling of the issues we face as parents. I am glad that you were sent a good note at the same time you received the bad one.
Frankly, I don't understand why people fear death so much. It is truly the one sure thing in life.
Keep on writing and sharing your journey.

Nancy in Dallas

Anonymous said...


I am a friend of Jim's and I have been reading your blog/columns since you started them. Your tireless devotion to both Steve during and your two children during Steve's illness were an inspiration to me to chersih every day with my beautiful wife and son.

The continued tributes and shared memories of Steve, will be something that your children can look back at some day and see what true love really is. I am certain your columns and blog are inspiration and even theraputic to more people that you will ever know.

Please do not let anyone make you think otherwise. Your family has been in my prayers since I first learned of Steve's illness and will continue to be for years to come.

Chuck Bach
League City, TX