When Britteny Ivers graduates from Moffat County High School today, an important figure in her life sadly won’t be there.
Steve Ivers, Britteny’s father and a respected community member, died of lung cancer in May 2008 at the age of 37.
“It’s sad because I want him to be there,” Britteny said. “But, you can’t think like that.”
Britteny’s statement — “can’t think like that” — contains a secret, the secret to finding strength in the face of profound loss.
Britteny was nearing the end of her freshman year at MCHS when her father, who was heavily involved in youth and adult sports in the community, died after a two-year struggle with the disease.
In situations of family tragedy, grief has the potential to become all-consuming. It can derail ambition. It can provide an easy excuse to stick to the sidelines.
Britteny said those weren’t options for her.
Instead, she focused on two things.
“I just decided I needed to be strong for my mom and my brother,” she said. “The other thing I thought was, ‘What would Dad want me to do?’
“He wouldn’t want me to slack or be upset all the time. He would want me to keep doing everything and do my best at everything. I just thought, ‘I should do the best I can.’”
In January, Britteny entered her final semester at MCHS with a 4.0 grade point average.
This fall, she will attend Montana State University-Bozeman, where she will major in psychology.
Although Britteny is doing well academically now, school wasn’t always easy.
Steve was diagnosed with cancer in June 2006, just after Britteny finished seventh grade at Craig Middle School. She maintained her grades through eighth grade and entered MCHS with a 4.0.
But, during her freshman year, Steve’s condition began to deteriorate, and schoolwork often took a backseat to hospital visits and care.
“I didn’t come to classes that much because I went down twice a week,” she said of trips to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. “My grades dropped a little bit. Not too much, they were still Bs.
… But, it was harder to catch up on work and stuff because I was thinking about my dad.”
Britteny’s mother, Holly Ivers, said her daughter and son, Bubba, were involved in her father’s care.
“(Brittney) went to chemo treatments with him and doctor’s appointments,” she said. “We never kept them in the dark as to what was going on.
“Even as his disease progressed, we told the kids. Things weren’t hidden.”
For two years, Britteny said she watched her father face the disease with steely determination. Steve continued working at the coal mine and stayed involved in sports.
“When he first got sick, he still did everything normally,” she said. “And then (the doctors) told him he couldn’t play contact sports because the cancer had gotten into the bones in his back.
“So, he took up golfing.”
Later, Steve’s condition required a constant flow of bottled oxygen.
“That frustrated him a little bit because he didn’t like having to have that,” Britteny said. “He was very much an ‘I can do it myself’ kind of person.”
A few months after Steve died, Britteny began a new school year as a sophomore. But, she wasn’t dialed in.
”I was kind of slacking a little bit,” she said. “I was in a weird phase of my life. I just didn’t care about too much except for sports or hanging out with my friends. They just kept me happy.”
She acknowledged that she may have been depressed during that time.
“Maybe a little bit,” she said. “I just missed my dad, because he was a really big part of my life.
“I went to him for everything, and he always knew the right things to say.”
Around that time, Britteny got involved in Bear River Young Life. Holly said the group provided an outlet for her daughter.
“It helped her talk through her feelings and her emotions, and she was able to share that rather than keep it bottled up,” Holly said. “And, she was able to relate to people her own age. That helped her immensely.”
Britteny said some of her peers at school were hesitant to talk about her father, but she tried to encourage it. So many students knew Steve through youth sports, and they needed the same outlet.
“When my friends would mention his name, they would kind of stop. And I’d say, ‘It’s OK. It doesn’t bother me,’” Britteny said. “I told them they shouldn’t pretend he wasn’t here because he was pretty much in everyone’s life in this school.
“I didn’t mind talking about it.”
Holly said she’s impressed by her daughter’s resilience, and will be proud to see her walk the stage today.
“I think it’s amazing,” she said. “I’m happy for her. I think she’ll do a wonderful job as a college student and going out on her own.
“I think she’s prepared to take on the world.”
Holly said she, too, will miss Steve’s presence at today’s graduation.
“It does hurt me that she won’t have her father there, but she has plenty of family and friends who are supporting her, and we’ll do everything we can to make it a joyous day,” she said.
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