Family tries to pick up pieces, move on
THE STORY SO FAR: CeeCee Lyles’ family broke apart after she died on 9/11. She had been the center of the family, the one who brought everybody together.
By MEG LAUGHLIN
Published September 10, 2006
When CeeCee Lyles was born on Thanksgiving 1967, she had two mothers: her birth mother, Shirley Adderly, who was 17, and her adopted mother, Shirley’s older sister, Carrie Ross, who was 28.
“We raised her together,” says Ross. “She was the most wonderful thing two people could have.”
They call CeeCee the “center of our fun.” They say when she grew up, she always got the family together — had them over for dinner, arranged family card games, picnics and dinners out.
She’d show up at their homes unexpectedly with a fresh pan of lasagna and a salad, then call the rest of the family to join them. She’d drive all day to surprise her brother Tony Ross in Nashville, just to hang out with him for a night.
“Our CeeCee was our glue,” says Ross.
Since her death, the family has become scattered, casting about for ways to fill the abyss created by her death.
“For each of us it has been different,” says Ross.
As the family matriarchs, Ross and Adderly talk about how CeeCee’s husband and two kids are doing five years after her death. Her husband, Lorne, 36, is doing much better, they think, after starting back to work as a police officer.
“He seems to know he has some purpose now,” says Ross.
“Like the rest of the family, Lorne still has his hard times, but he is reaching out,” says Adderly.
There are still days, Lorne says, that he wants to draw the blinds and sit in the dark, he misses his wife so much. But he makes himself get out and keep going.
CeeCee’s youngest son, Jevon, 11, is doing well, they say. He just went to New York with his grandmother Shirley to see Tarzan, Lion King and Stomp.
“He seems fully engaged with life,” says his grandmother.
Jevon will go with his father and stepmother to the fifth anniversary service for his mother in Fort Pierce.
“Everyone knows everyone by name and it’s very reassuring to be part of such a large family,” Jevon says.
The “mothers” worry, though, about Jerome, CeeCee’s 21-year-old son . They worry that he’ll spend the 9/11 anniversary alone in Tampa and wish he would be with them. They talk about going to see him.
“I identify with Jerome,” says Ross. “I have grief bottled up inside of me that I can’t get out.”
Sometimes, she says, she wants to “scream at the top of my voice” to get away from the pain of missing CeeCee.
“I understand the desperate need Jerome feels for some relief,” she says.
Her sister Shirley gently counsels her: “Many of the living have died over 9/11. We owe it to one another not to become part of the living dead.”
Ross and Adderly are encouraged that a few weeks ago Jerome did something Lorne has kept asking him to do: He started seeing a psychotherapist.
“Something — anything — to break the cycle of isolation,” said Lorne.
“Maybe it’s a first step out of the darkness,” said Jerome.
Ross says that for her, revisiting happy memories of CeeCee is a way out of the darkness.
She sometimes gets out a stack of computer messages that CeeCee sent her right before she died. She reads each one, running her fingers softly over each page.
The family — CeeCee, Lorne and the boys — had just returned from a vacation in Indianapolis. CeeCee wrote that they had a “grand time” and were back home in Fort Myers. It was Sept. 9, 2001.
“I’m cooking dinner and wish you could drive over and eat with us,” she wrote her aunt.
The next day, she said, she was flying to Newark to go back to work.
But their favorite time to remember CeeCee Lyles, say her two mothers, is on her birthday at Thanksgiving. For the past few years, they’ve made a feast and told funny stories about her. And they speak with awe about how an unimaginable national tragedy took their “beloved girl” from them, and put her in the story of America.
“We celebrate her life and remind each other that she’s part of this country’s history now,” says her mother, “and we reassure each other that, despite the bad times, we’ll go on.”
Adderly and Ross usually go away on Sept. 11 every year, away from the sympathetic calls and letters. Away from the painful reminders. But this year, they plan to go to Pennsylvania to the memorial and stand with Lorne and his boys and any other family members who decide to go.
“We’re a strong, loving family,” says Ross, “and we can do this, now.”
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Meg Laughlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.