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.”

Play Video placeholderTyana Simmons: Every Month There's Something

It wasn’t until after the fire that I realized that every month really has a holiday, and it made it a little more difficult for me to get through some of those holidays because it’s like, I don’t have my baby to celebrate with. So then we had Easter. I would do Easter egg hunts. And then right after was Mother’s Day. And then that’s a whole day that I just don’t deal with. And then we have Father’s Day, and it was rough the first couple Father’s Days. Um, for his dad, mainly. Like I felt for his dad, because he actually lost his dad, I think, the year before or maybe a year and a half before. And then he hadn’t had any more children yet. So, it was a, a hard space for him. And then we had my birthday. And then we had Steven’s birthday. And then sch- the first day of school. That was, oh gosh. That was a whole day that I just... I didn’t even think that I would feel anything that day. But, of course, I did, because he was moving on to the big school and there was just a lot. And then October comes and we have, um, Halloween parties. And he was like the king every year. He didn’t want to just find something. No. He wanted the whole blown costume with all the parts and pieces. (laughs). Um, and then you have Thanksgiving and since we didn’t no longer have our family home, Thanksgiving’s been split. Christmas has been split. New Year’s comes. I brought it in with my babies every year, and now I just want to be sleep. I don’t want to scream Happy New Year, I just want to go to sleep. It’s not that happy anymore for me.

Play Video placeholderTyana Simmons: Holding out Hope

I tried to keep it together for just the possibility, maybe, possibly, like, maybe they left the- closed themselves in the bathroom, or got in the closet, and the flames just didn’t reach there. They’ll- the firefighters would bring them out, they’ll have smoke inhalation, maybe a couple burns here or there, but that they would be okay. But it wasn’t the case. People were holding me, telling me I couldn’t see, they didn’t want me to see. When the fire was out, and there was no ambulance. And then the firefighters start coming out, but nobody’s- has anybody, nobody’s carrying anybody. My baby, he just- he was a slim person. Like, you could have carried him in your arms. Nobody asked them, which means that they had to stay put until they come to pack them up.

Play Video placeholderTyana Simmons: I’m Not OK

Everybody in your face trying to make sure you’re okay. I mean, thank you, but you know that I’m not okay. I’m- 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- began feeling like a half a mom. My mom was all I had, and I lost her too. So now, I just have me.

Play Video placeholderTyana Simmons: Support Fades Over Time

If they don’t see you, they may not worry about you. I had a couple of old friends, and I took one and that became like, my new home. My new mom. I looked up to her. She was an older cousin. I looked up to her. She caught me in plenty of my middle of the day breakdowns. Um, if I got sick, she made sure Steven Michael was taken care of. If my mind - which was every day - but when my mind was at its worst and I just needed to be by myself, she understood that. But everyone else pretty much went about their days. I mean, I wouldn’t expect them to do anything more.

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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