After cancer fight, Karen Tryggestad ‘safe in the arms of Jesus’
Our friend and colleague Erik Tryggestad, the Chronicle’s international writer, page design genius, photographer extraordinaire and assistant managing editor, lost his mother Jan. 17.
We shed tears with Erik, his sister, Amy Bowman, and his father, Tom Tryggestad.
Karen Tryggestad, 64, was a faithful member of the Heritage Church of Christ in Franklin, Tenn. Before her retirement, she had worked as a school secretary. She adored her church family and taught Bible classes for infants and children for many years.
“Karen Tryggestad, the best mom we could have asked for, is safe in the arms of Jesus,” Erik wrote on his mom’s CaringBridge page the night of her death.
On Aug. 28 last year, Karen was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer after going to the emergency room with abdominal pain and weakness. At that stage, the cancer has spread to distant organs, and the prognosis for survival is grim, according to the American Cancer Society.
As her daughter Amy noted, that date — 8/28 — matched one of Karen’s favorite Bible verses. Romans 8:28 reads: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
“Mom’s spirit is strong,” Amy, an administrative assistant for the Brentwood Hills Church of Christ in Nashville, assured family and friends on the day after Karen’s diagnosis. “She has shared with her many, many visitors the peace she feels and the faith she has that ‘It’s going to be all right.’”
I did not know Karen well, but I crossed paths with her a few times when she and Tom visited Erik at the Chronicle office in Oklahoma City. I know she was proud of her son, who has dedicated his life to Christian journalism and traveled to 45 nations on reporting assignments for this newspaper.
During Karen’s five-month cancer battle, Erik made a number of trips to Tennessee to spend time with her.
On one such trip in late November, he talked about how blessed the Tryggestads were by the massive amounts of food provided by the Heritage church. “I’ve enjoyed easily the best chicken noodle soup I’ve ever had and absolutely divine potato soup,” Erik said.
Erik drove his mom to an appointment at the Vanderbilt Pain Management Center and said he was struck by how absolutely tiny she looked in the facility’s massive wheelchairs. But rather than cry out to God in anger, he counted his blessings.
“This is going to sound weird, but lately all I can think of is how blessed we are to have this time with mom, however long it lasts,” Erik wrote on CaringBridge. “It’s terrible to watch her suffer, and we pray for relief from the pain and nausea. At the same time, I think about people who have lost family members to sudden heart attacks, accidents, etc. Having the time to say goodbye is a blessing I’m learning to appreciate.”
Christmas proved extremely bittersweet for the family.
For the first time, the children — Erik and his wife, Jeanie; Amy and her husband, Lamar — were in charge of the holiday meal. They somehow put the turkey in the oven upside down, but it turned out fine. Tom helped by making cornbread dressing. Erik’s daughter, Maggie, and Amy’s son, Luke, amused themselves by playing the Disney Hedbanz game.
“This has been the hardest Christmas, but I’ve never felt more love for family and friends,” Amy wrote. “Each act of kindness (yummy meals, hugs, texts, phone calls, e-mails) warms our hearts.”
“We said several prayers as a family during this trip — all six of the adults,” Erik said. “That was the real highlight.”
Karen is the second close family member of a Chronicle staff member to die from cancer in the last year.
Rebecca Stafford, 20, daughter of Chronicle administrative assistant Tonda Stafford and her husband, Barry, lost her three-year battle with Ewing’s sarcoma on March 10, 2012.
Rebecca often babysat Maggie, now 5, and Erik’s daughter loved her. Maggie, of course, does not fully comprehend death, but she misses her friend. And now she’s lost her paternal grandmother, too.
“I’m getting tired of all these people getting sick and going to heaven,” Maggie told her father.
So are we, Maggie. So are we.