Simmons Family

Tyana’s son, T.J., and grandmother, Gwendolyn (who raised her), died in a house fire in 2014. She describes how losing her son and the person she would have looked to for support affected her. Her surviving son, Steven Michael, has faced pressure to “be a man” as he grieves his little brother.


TYANA: My mother. My son.

TYANA: I have always been the type to not want to put a ripple into someone's day. If you're happy, be happy. Don't be sad because you see me sad. Because nothing that you can do can make me not sad.

STEVEN MICHAEL: It was just hard to know that these people aren't going to come back. Just thinking, like thing. "I can only see your face in pictures now."

TYANA: Parenting through grief is one of the hardest things in the world. I’m not sure how other moms take it when they lose a child while still having others to worry about, but I just began feeling like a half-a-mom. I tried to keep him as busy as possible. I didn't want him to be like me.

STEVEN MICHAEL: My mom doesn't show it very often, but I know when she's hurting, I know when she's sad. Sometimes I would cry myself, sometimes. Or sometimes, I'll just say, "I'll just let her get it out."

TYANA: I've, over the years, tried to mask it as much as possible. Unfortunately, because it was just the two of us, he's learned that my lights are out, it's 10:00 in the mornin', mom's not having a good day. So he see it. And, then he'll check on me every hour, on the hour. "Are you okay? You need somethin'? Did you eat? I'm gonna make you food." It’s just us against the world.

STEVEN MICHAEL: It changes as just being numb to it. For me, it hasn't gone away in the five years because I've- I loved him so dearly, and it just... poof. I'm not- it's not forgotten, it just stays.

TYANA: I still have a lot of days where I just don't want to be around anyone. On my worst days, I don't want to do anything, I don't want to see anyone, I turn my phone off, I don't want to talk to anyone. I've heard a lot of people say, time. "Oh you'll get over it in due time." Well what time is due time? Like ... and I'm only five years in, and I feel like it was yesterday some days. I feel like the fire was just yesterday. other people told me therapists, and I've tried 12 of those (laughs) in the last five years. And I guess just time, but because I'm still so early on, even though it is five years later, I feel like I'm still early on in the grieving process.

STEVEN MICHAEL: Because it's just going to keep happening over and over and over again. Like you're going to have to like be in that state of mind, "I'm going to have to keep going through this, throughout my whole life now."

Close up of Tyana Simmons standing in front of a brick wall..
Close up of Tyana Simmons standing in front of a brick wall.

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