Love & Loss

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

When Lee Ann Ivy's husband was killed in Iraq, she arranged his funeral while tending to their three young children -- and pregnant with their fourth. When Donna Noble's son took his last breath, it was at 2:55 on a Friday -- a day that each week pains her still. And when Karen Davis' mother died of cancer, she was a teen -- and days away from graduating high school.

Like most, these women know the hurt of heartache. And they know it's something everyone must face.

"An emotional loss can feel so overwhelming that you think it can kill you, but it doesn't," Davis said. "Everyone has lost. Everyone has terribly trying emotional times. But you just keep going."

Though loss is suffered year-round, it's sometimes amplified around the holidays, when the laughter of certain loved ones no longer echoes at family gatherings. It's an especially difficult time for people in their first year of grieving, said Alinde Moore, a professor of psychology at Ashland University. But regardless of time of year, all loss is painful, she said.

"It does all hurt," said Moore, who has studied grief and also learned about it firsthand when her husband of nearly 35 years died. And each individual, she noted, deals with grief in a different way. "Some people seem to get back to some semblance of normal life and being comfortable with life in a different amount of time than other people."

The women profiled in these pages understand how difficult death can be. But they're proof that life moves on, and happiness can again be found.

Lee Ann Ivy was pregnant with her fourth child when her husband was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Years later, she has found love again.

Sometimes, she would stand surrounded by piles of dirty laundry -- a young mother overwhelmed by her four children -- and look upward, talking to the husband who was no longer alive. You owe me so big , she would say. Other times, she would tuck the little ones into bed, walk downstairs, play old CDs that reminded her of her longtime love, clean the kitchen and cry.

At 28, Lee Ann Ivy's vibrant, athletic husband, Staff Sgt. Kendall Ivy II, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, leaving behind his high school sweetheart, three young children and a baby on the way. The pain was, at first, immeasurable. But quitting on her children was not an option for the sweet small-town girl.

"This is the path I've been given," Ivy told herself. "It's going to stink, and I don't want to be on it. But I have to."

For a while, she went it alone, convinced that single parenthood was her destiny. Much to her surprise, however, she fell in love again, this time with a childhood friend who had vied with Kendall for her affection in high school.

Now, Ivy, 31, and Chad Early, 32, are engaged -- and have added a fifth child to their brood. Together in the Galion home Ivy built after her husband's death, they are raising Caleb, 11; Harrison, 9; Reagan, 5; Gabe, 4; and Kale, 11 months.

Ivy has returned to work as a full-time nurse, and Early, a landscaper, is attending college to become a middle school teacher. They are waiting to get married until after he finishes his degree.

Yes, Ivy admits, the fact that she didn't choose to end her first marriage has been an issue that she and Early have had to work through. "He knows it's not going to go away," she said. "And I've told him, it's not a competition of who I love more."

Ivy's two oldest boys talk about their daddy often. And while Reagan and Gabe, who have no memories of their father, both call Ivy's fianc "Dad," they do know who their birth father is, Ivy said. "I had promised Kendall if anything ever happened to him, that his kids would know who he was," she said. "And they do."

When Ivy first built her home, she constructed a room dedicated to her husband, displaying his uniform and many awards. Now, however, it's been reconfigured into a TV room for the kids. "It was simply because it got to the point where nobody went in there," Ivy explained. And while photos of Kendall once decorated the house, Caleb and Harrison now keep them in their bedrooms.

But Ivy is quick to say she still misses her husband. His birthday, their anniversary -- those days are hard. But so is each time she hears the National Anthem.

Last year, while watching the Indianapolis 500 over Memorial Day weekend with Early, taps began playing -- and Ivy immediately burst into tears. "I was a sobbing mess," she said. "And Chad was really great about it. He was like, 'It's OK.' "

With time, the pain has at least eased. Plus, she says, her faith tells her she'll see Kendall again.

As for Kendall's take on her current situation, Ivy thinks he would laugh about her having a fifth child. "Kendall used to say he could get me pregnant through ski pants," she joked.

Looking back, Ivy remembers thinking it seemed impossible to move on, or that life would ever improve. "But it does," she said. "You'll always have bad days. But the bad days get less and less, until you only have good memories."

And, for her, she has someone with whom she can share new memories while honoring the old.

At first, Ivy said, it was difficult for her fianc to understand why she wanted to visit Kendall's grave on special days. But this year, on Mother's Day, Early surprised her with a heartfelt gift: He used his skillful landscaping techniques to decorate Kendall's gravesite with a beautiful array of red, white and blue flowers.

"It finally clicked, and he got it," Ivy said. "And I was happy."

Losing a Child

Donna Noble

Kyle Noble died at 8, leaving his parents with unfathomable grief. He cannot be replaced. But after wondering whether they could open their hearts again, the couple has begun fostering children.

His birth mother was HIV positive, and he possibly was, too. Even couples desperate for a child are scared of babies like that.

But educators and Ohio State University graduates Donna and Richard Noble, who were unable to conceive biological children and wanted to expand their family beyond one adopted daughter, decided they would make that baby their son.

As it turned out, Kyle did not have HIV. But he suffered a slew of other medical problems, and by age 6 had lost both legs, both thumbs and his fingertips.

Nonetheless, the ornery Grove City kid who lived for baseball and superheroes maintained an inspiring attitude: "Somebody's life," he always said, "sucks worse than yours."

He proved his will to live life to its fullest in many ways, but none perhaps more vividly than on a trip to Florida, when the elementary-aged turtle lover yearned to see sea turtles on a submarine ride. The boat's captain forbade Kyle's parents from carrying him on board, because safety rules required that each passenger be capable of boarding the submarine himself. Even seeing the turtles, the family was told, was rare. But Kyle didn't care. "I'm going to see those darn sea turtles," he announced. So he crawled from his wheelchair, and while his mother carried his oxygen and IV bag behind him, Kyle worked his stubs across 100 yards of gravel and boarded the submarine a bloody mess. A sea turtle followed the boat for much of the ride.

When he died a few months later at age 8, it left his family reeling, even though they had known his life would likely be short. "There are no words," said his mother, now 42. "It just feels like a part of you is ripped out."

Grieving, she said, was complicated. When people said she looked bad, she wondered if she wasn't handling the situation well. When people told her she looked good, she wondered if she wasn't grieving enough. "You're thinking, 'Am I doing it wrong that I'm putting one foot in front of the other and moving on?' "

She learned quickly that when people asked how she was doing, most didn't really want to know. "They don't want you to cry," she said. "I'd hate it when people didn't want to talk about Kyle."

She even remembers the first time she laughed after Kyle passed, while trying on bras. But almost immediately, she said, she felt guilty. "Is that disrespectful," she wondered, "that I can laugh?"

Three years later, Fridays at 2:55 -- the day and time Kyle died -- are still a struggle. So are the holidays, as it's the time of year when Kyle died. Instead of staying home, Noble, her husband and daughter Kelsey, 15, go on vacation. They celebrate Kyle's "angelversary" by eating cake and releasing balloons.

They also honor Kyle by counseling families at Nationwide Children's Hospital, where they spent so many difficult days. And they have developed a scholarship fund in their son's name that helps children on tube feeds or IV nutrition.

"I'll be honest," Noble said, "you think you'll never love anybody again."

But the couple eventually decided to foster children, and learned they were indeed able to open their hearts. They have thus far fostered nine kids and are hoping to adopt two of them -- a brother and sister.

Perhaps a plaque on their kitchen wall best describes the family's scenario. "Faith makes things possible," it says, "not easy."

Noble carries with her not just memories of joy, but also lessons from her little boy. So as she moves through life without him, she thinks of moments like him boarding that submarine.

"He got dealt a crappy hand in life, and that's what he taught us," she said. "You just always put one foot in front of the other."

Losing Parents

Karen Davis

Karen Davis lost her mother to cancer at 17. Then, her father unexpectedly passed away when she was 36. Now, she thrives on warm memories.

Davis, the 38-year-old director of communications for Nationwide Arena and the Columbus Blue Jackets, lost Mom at 17 and Dad at 36. But the friendly professional with her mother's sense of humor and her father's loyalty doesn't want or expect pity, nor does she feel her story is more special than anyone else's. She does, however, understand grief-and getting through it.

Mary Davis was a sports fan who gave up her nursing career to raise her children in suburban Detroit. The nurturing mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer during her daughter's senior year of high school, and died a week before Karen's graduation.

"It's obviously devastating," Davis said. "But I think that instead of allowing myself to feel sorry for myself, I thought of what I needed to do to keep the family going."

So the teen girl took up laundry and cooking, and even when she left for college, her main concerns were her father, Jim-a local radio personality-and her younger brother, Jimmy. She confused her roommate one day when she called her dad. "You and Jimmy are going to need haircuts," she said. "Do you want me to call and make an appointment?" And as Davis watched her girlfriends' mothers evolve into friends, she could only wonder how her own mother-daughter bond might have progressed.

Meanwhile, she nurtured her friendship with her father. Though she hoped he would find his next love, he never did, instead moving to Florida to be near his own dad.

But after years of enjoying the warm locale, and seemingly in good health, Jim Davis passed away in his bed at 66. "It was devastating, because it was so unexpected," Davis said. "But I found myself clicking to 'do' mode again."

As time has passed, she has learned that an enormous sense of family history is lost once both parents are gone. "I don't have anyone to ask, 'Oh, do you remember when I did that in fourth grade?' "

And the losses have brought more than just mourning. Davis' father, for example, was an only child. That meant caring for her 93-year-old grandfather was a responsibility that Davis and her brother shouldered from afar.

This July, just as Davis was moving into her first house, her grandfather fell. When she arrived in Florida, the doctor told her that he needed to enter a skilled-care facility the next day. In an unfamiliar city, without an understanding of what "skilled care" even meant, and knowing she needed to be back in Columbus shortly, the situation became a whirlwind of stress. The typically unflappable Davis cracked in her car. "Why did this fall to me?" she thought. "This should have been something Dad should have done!" In the end, though, she was glad to help. Her grandfather passed away this fall.

For Davis, the holidays actually bring good memories, and therefore comfort. She loves retelling stories about her parents with family.

When Davis purchased her home this summer, her parents were not there to celebrate. Should she ever walk down an aisle in a white gown, it won't be on her father's arm. And if she bears a child, her mother will never kiss its little lips.

But she is confident that her mother and father helped make her the woman she is, as did weathering their losses. For that, she is thankful.

In four years, when Davis turns the age her mother was when she died, she plans to do something to celebrate. "I think as an adult, you try to appreciate what you still have rather than dwelling on what you don't," Davis said. She asks not for sympathy, but rather encourages others to value their loved ones.

"I hope you treasure that," she said. "I hope you know what you have is a gift."