Friday, August 31, 2012

Labor Day weekend

How can it be another Labor Day weekend?
"Labor" is an appropriate word for what Steve endured this same weekend in 2009. His breathing was labored. His speech was labored. His body had worked too hard, and his body needed rest.

In 2010, the kids and I escaped to Michigan over Labor Day weekend. We stayed with our dear friends the Healys. We attended a Michigan game in Ann Arbor, courtesy of our friends the Redmonds, and felt right at home thanks to the Dodd family.

In 2011, we escaped to Los Angeles. We stayed with our dear friends Gretchen and Anthony. They were impeccable hosts, showing us Malibu and Hollywood and museums and great restaurants.

In 2012, we're not going far. Michigan is coming to us, actually.

Cowboys Stadium in nearby Arlington is hosting tomorrow a big college football matchup: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 8 Michigan. The Redmonds helped again, this time allowing us an opportunity to buy alumni tickets before the general public sale that never actually happened because tickets sold so quickly.

Jim and Betty have tickets, too; the five us will sit together and root for Michigan together. 


Cooper started middle school this week. 

In one class he was asked to name his hero. He simply said, "My Dad" without explanation.

In another class he was asked to create a paper shield illustrating a little about himself.

In one corner, the teacher asked for an animal. He drew a snake because he was born in the Year of the Snake. 

In another, she asked for an activity from summer. He drew the lighthouse from Peggy's Cove, which we visited on our Canadian cruise.

In another, she asked for what he wanted to be when he grew up. He drew a beaker bubbling over to show that he wants to be a chemist.

And in the last section, she asked for a representative color. Cooper colored the area black.

"I chose black because I have seen death," he wrote.


The date for Labor Day changes annually, of course, so pretty much the whole week is a minefield of memories. This year the experience stretches a full week, from today through next Friday, Sept. 7. 

I try to focus mostly on all the good from this week three years ago. There was so much good, so much love surrounding Steve and us, so many reminders of God's love and provision.

Laughter mixed with tears surrounding Steve during his final hours. Never-ending prayers. Standing with Steve as he took his final Communion. Family members and friends and hospice workers who stepped in to take care of what I couldn't take care of. Steve, unable to speak, pointing to letters to spell "Thank you" and "I love you."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Hi, Daddy!"

One of my favorite Steve-and-Katie moments repeated just about every Sunday when Katie was 1 and 2.

Steve sang in our church choir. I would sit in a middle-of-the-sanctuary pew (connecting chairs, actually) with Cooper and Katie, and Steve would sit in the choir loft. Sometime during the prelude, Katie would spy her Daddy in the choir loft, wildly wave her hands and speak loudly and clearly "Hi, Daddy!"

Our congregation is a friendly and forgiving group. No one seemed to mind the interruption.

In fall 2007, Steve's voice began to subtly change. We didn't know why at the time. By December we knew about the mass in his brain stem, and he reluctantly stepped down from choir.

I immediately missed that special interaction between Steve and Katie. I still do.

Last night I attended a small church meeting. We have a new senior minister, and different families are hosting get-acquainted meetings in their homes so that Pastor Rusty can meet and listen to church members.

We were discussing the importance of young families in the church when Pat, a more senior member of the congregation, spoke up.

"When Tyra's daughter was much younger, and her husband was in the choir, her daughter would see her Daddy in choir and say, 'Hi, Daddy!' I always loved that."

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
(Psalm 118:24)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Three things

In mid-January 2008, Steve and I knew that the tumor in his brain stem would kill him. We prayed for a miracle. We prayed that the chemotherapy and radiation therapy would do what no doctor expected. We fervently prayed and wished for that Damm Spot to disappear forever.

But we also knew that time was limited.

Now, here's the difference (one of the differences) between Steve and me.

Had I received the same devastating diagnosis, I would have gone into crazed list mode. Steve did not.

I would have made short-term and long-term lists and plans related to the house, my care, our children, Steve's future. I would have tried to anticipate every major milestone in Cooper's and Katie's lives and left corresponding suggestions (read: bossy instructions).

I would have tried to assert some semblance of control in a totally out-of-control situation. Steve, of course, did not.

That's one of the many qualities that made us such a great match. Tyra the planner and Steve the one who appreciated plans but lived more freely.

Steve planned his memorial service with Pastor Andy and Pastor Debbie. I didn't know anything of their plans until after Steve died, and for that I am forever thankful. Steve's celebration was absolutely perfect. Truly, I can't think of a thing that should have been changed. And it's because it was what Steve wanted and because clergy who love him carried out his vision.

And he left me with three specific instructions. Three things.

1. Keep Katie dressed in Hanna Andersson as long as possible. He liked that the clothes were colorful and comfortable, matched her personality and were age appropriate.

2. Stand firm and remain confident in my parenting. Our deliberate parenting style was crafted through our shared values and our shared vision for the lives we wanted for our babies.

3. Travel with Cooper and Katie as much as possible. One of our shared passions was travel -- discovering new places and then remembering them together. We never shied from taking our children with us on our adventures.

That's it.

Imagine if the situation were reversed. Poor Steve would have been saddled with notebooks and diagrams and Post-it notes, all well-intentioned but imprisoning suggestions from me on how to continue life.

What a disaster I would have created.

One day, when we're together in heaven, one of the first things I'm going to do is thank Steve for giving me only three demands, only three things.

1. I do splurge on Hanna Andersson for Katie. I try to buy clothing there only on sale, but even then it's a little pricey. We have maybe two years until she grows too big for their sizes. (She's already in 140s, and the biggest is 160.) I'm certain I'll be a sad momma when she outgrows the store altogether.

2. I keep Steve's voice in my head and think of his parenting style often. I try to imagine how he would handle situations that he tragically never was able to experience. I know that my single parenting isn't equal to what our team approach would have been, but I am comforted knowing that Steve trusted me and believed in me.

3. After accounts were settled in 2009, I set aside some of Steve's life insurance policy for our "travel slush fund." I've accessed that money to help pay for Legoland, West Palm Beach, Colorado, Ann Arbor, London, Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula, Los Angeles, Sarasota and, most recently, New York City and a Disney cruise to Canada. The money won't last forever, but I'm stretching it as far as I can. 

Cooper and Katie and I have created incredible memories together at home and while traveling. We have gotten lost and found our way back. (Just ask them about the night driving north from San Diego to Carlsbad.) We have defeated language barriers. (Cooper and I have a great story to tell about a Parisian grandmother.) We have visited places special to Steve and places he only dreamed of visiting. (I cried on the drive in to Ann Arbor, knowing he should have been our guide. And I cried at the top of Hurricane Ridge, wishing desperately that he could have held my hand.)

Almost three years after Steve's death, I am still discovering new reasons to love him. At the top of the list: His list to me was mercifully short.

Cooper, Tyra and Katie (in a Hanna Andersson dress) on the Disney Magic, August 2012

Saturday, August 11, 2012


We've just returned from a wonderful week away -- two days of sight-seeing in Manhattan and five days on the Disney Magic, taking us to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Saint John, New Brunswick.

I'll have more to share in the next few days. For now, here are two photos that I love. As soon as I took the Cooper photo, I was reminded of the Steve photo. (Steve and I were in New York City together twice. We always planned on many more trips. I am thankful for those two trips and the opportunity to explore more with our sweet children.)

Cooper, Times Square, August 2012
Steve, Chinatown, November 2006