John & Daria Miller
The Millers of Sunnyside lost their son, BJ, five years ago in a car accident just three days shy of his 19th birthday.
They have continued some holiday traditions, stopped others and simply changed a few.
They still cook a big country breakfast of pancakes, eggs and bacon for Daria’s parents and siblings on Christmas morning because it was one of BJ’s favorite moments.
They serve it with tortillas and salsas. BJ called it a “white man’s breakfast with a Mexican twist,” recalled John, an insurance manager.
But they don’t hang lights outside anymore, one of BJ’s highlights.
Instead of the 8-foot fresh fir he favored, the Millers have settled on a 3-foot tree adorned only with his old ornaments. Each year, they decorate it with mixed emotions.
“There are tears all day but a lot of laughter all day,” John said. “A lot of sorrow but a lot of joy.”
The Millers also advocate for organ donation after BJ’s liver allowed a 40-year-old Lake Tahoe, Calif., mother to resume a normal life. She calls John and Daria often.
In 2008, the Millers and other families participated with an organ donation group using flowers and plant materials to make portraits of their loved ones for a float in the annual Pasadena Rose Parade. They kept BJ’s picture, made from corn kernels and coffee grounds, and hung it on the wall of their living room.
Martinez, 56, of Sunnyside finds comfort in tradition.
Her husband, Antonio Martinez, died in July 2009 after an 11-month battle with cancer. She described him as a hard worker who insisted she deserved better than field work. They operated a vending business and eventually purchased a restaurant.
She is a full-time homemaker now.
Margarita advised people facing grief for the first year to think about good memories and seek out distractions, such as shopping, cooking and classes. She found solace in cooking and English classes at Nuestra Casa, as well as a class about grief, also at Nuestra Casa.
Urlacher, 64, of Yakima sought changes after her husband, Dale, died in May 2012 from lung cancer, which he battled for 8 months.
Urlacher said she expects and welcomes sad feelings on holidays and makes it a point to talk about Dale with her family. They find comfort in joking about the way Dale meticulously carved turkeys, wrestled with grandchildren on the floor and dispensed sage advice that never seemed to run out.
“We don’t want to forget him,” said Laura, his 42-year-old daughter.
Petersen, 51, will celebrate her second Christmas without her husband, Steve, who died the day before Thanksgiving a year ago from cancer.
She and her twin 19-year-old children plan to put up a big tree and lights because that’s what the family did when he was there. In fact, they did the same thing only days after his funeral.
“The biggest tree we could fit in our house, Steve had to have it,” said Petersen, the CEO of PMH Medical Center in Prosser.
The family struggled through the ups and downs of cancer by constantly planning for the next event, Petersen said.
“Our mantra was, ‘What do we do next?’” Petersen said. “We approached death pretty much the same way.”
It’s worked so far.
“Maybe one of these days I’ll have a massive meltdown,” she said.
Sandifer’s husband, Harlan, died in October this year of lung cancer.
After breaking tradition at Thanksgiving, the family will resume the usual schedule of gathering at a daughter’s house in Grandview on Christmas Eve and at her house on Christmas Day.
“We’re not going to do anything different than we did” before Harlan died, she said.
Pam and the family of her daughter, Holly Ohler, attended an informal memorial service Dec.4 at Lower Valley Hospice, which cared for her husband in his final days. They received a luminary with his name and a lit a candle in his honor during a time of sharing.
— Ross Courtney