This time last year, Tim Webb was praying that God would somehow mysteriously cancel the 2018 holiday season.
After all, facing the first since the overdose death of his daughter, Brooke, was more than he could bear.
“Last year was a nightmare, and Thanksgiving and Christmas were basically days I didn’t want to happen,” he said. “I put on a façade for my granddaughter, Brooke’s daughter, to make sure she was happy and that she got everything she wanted. It was basically a tradition at the house that Brooke and I would decorate the tree, but last year, Bailey (Brooke’s daughter) and I had to decorate the tree without mama.”
Back in July, I detailed Tim’s own recovery — not from addiction, but from the grief, loss, sorrow, anger and darkness brought on by its claim over his daughter’s life. Two years ago this week, Tim’s ex-wife and the mother of his three children, Teresa, died from an overdose. Six months later, his baby girl, Brooke, did the same. She was 25 years old.
That first holiday season without her was gut-wrenching, but in the weeks and months that followed, Tim connected with others in the community who had also lost loved ones. Jan McCoy, a recovery activist who lost her son, Dane, to an overdose in 2014, was instrumental in steering Tim back to the light. The two spoke at length, Tim began attending the Celebrate Recovery Maryville family group that Jan helps guide and with time, he began to find a purpose beyond the bounds of grief. He wrote a book, “See It From My Side,” and is completing work on its follow-up.
But remembering how difficult the holiday season was last year, he and Jan wanted to offer a way for other grieving families to commemorate the loss of loved ones to drugs.
“Jan and I met with (Blount County) Sheriff (James) Berrong about two months ago, and we were talking about some kind of memorial, like memorial bricks or something, and I made the remark, ‘What about putting a tree up for those to remember their loved ones and put it on the Courthouse lawn?’” Tim said. “A couple of weeks ago, he said, ‘Tim, it would be in the public eye a lot more if it was at the Justice Center, in the roundabout.’”
And so, at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, a Memorial Christmas Tree will be dedicated at the Blount County Justice Center, 948 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville. The public is invited to attend, and those who have lost loved ones to overdose are encouraged to bring an ornament to hang on the tree in their memory.
“They can bring an ornament from the house, or if they don’t have one, we’ll have some ornaments, and they can put a name on it and hang it,” Tim said.
His sister is making one in memory of Brooke, and Brooke’s daughter, Tim’s granddaughter Bailey, will hang it, he said. While participants are certainly welcomed to bring treasured or special ornaments, they should keep in mind that they’ll be exposed to the elements during the holiday season.
The dedication will include a short ceremony and prayer, and family members will be given the opportunity, one at a time, to speak the names of the deceased as they hang the ornaments.
“This will hopefully be an annual event, and I hope every year it will be a smaller event because we have fewer and fewer overdoses,” he said. “But that’s a pipe dream. I know that.”
The strength of Tim and Jan (and her husband, Dan) and Sherry Petrowski and Linda and Greg Bond and so many others who have been so public about their losses are sources of inspiration, however. The work they’ve committed to on the other side of grief bring comfort, understanding and empathy to those who find themselves in similar states of loss and pain, and as long as addiction continues to claim lives, that solace is needed just as much as prevention is on the front end.
“My daughter is still gone, but I’ve come to the realization that that which does not kill us, makes us stronger,” Tim said. “This did not kill me, as bad as I wanted to die, but it’s made me strong enough to be (angry) at this problem. I’m doing everything I can to bring attention to this epidemic, to get out in the public’s eye and let people know: It can happen to your child, because it happened to my child, and no child is immune.
“With an event like this, I want people to come out and understand what’s in front of them. Addiction is everywhere, and just because somebody is an addict, doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. It simply means they need help, and what I want to do is anything within my means to help them.”
In the event of inclement weather, the tree dedication will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1.
For more information, contact Tim at 865-978-0792 or Jan at 865-384-7307.