From tragedy, hope taking hold

Shortly after Bayler Teal died, his parents, Risha and Rob, and his brother, Bridges, traveled to Omaha to watch South Carolina play in the championship round of the College World Series.

They say it's the most wonderful time of the year, but there are some who might feel otherwise.

It's impossible to pick them out of a crowd. They're shopping at the mall, stopping by neighborhood Christmas parties with their kids, decorating their homes in red, white and blue lights.

But while most of us spend Christmas with our friends and families, they are separated from theirs by oceans, entire continents.

Traci Adams of Mount Pleasant is one of those people. Her husband, Capt. Taylor Adams, is a maintenance officer in the Air Force Reserve, and he left more than a month ago for Iraq. Now she spends her days being both parents, and trying to explain why Daddy isn't home for Christmas.

It'll break your heart to hear his 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Sage, point at the sky and yell, "Airplane!"

Traci Adams decorated for Christmas and put up the tree with her kids, but finally decided to visit her parents for the holidays.

"I couldn't stand the thought of being here on Christmas morning," she said, of the family home. "I thought it would seem weird without him here."

This time of year, the families of military personnel get an extra reminder of the sacrifices of war. For them, family visits might mean little more than a phone call or, if they're lucky, a Web chat that allows them the miracle of seeing their loved one. It is something, but not nearly enough to replace the traditions lost by their absence.

The Evans family of Goose Creek has been hit twice as hard as most families. Sophie Evans' husband and father-in-law are both in Afghanistan. Joshua Evans and his father, Donald, were deployed as part of their Army National Guard units.

"My father-in-law is always the one to cut the turkey or ham, and my husband always plays Santa Claus," Sophie Evans said. "Those are some of the things we lose out on."

It might be hardest on the children. Adams' 4-year-old son, Sarver, asks about his father all the time, always has something he's made that he wants to show him. But he can't.

Becky Fenton of Goose Creek goes through the same thing. Fenton's husband, Brian, is in the National Guard Reserves. He has been gone since May and won't return until next May. He hasn't gotten an R&R stint, meaning he's been gone for nearly eight months straight. Their 4-year-old daughter, Ciera, can't understand why she can't see her daddy.

"It's every night now," Becky

Fenton said. "There are times I run out of answers to give her, simply because I do not know the answers."

But Fenton is not changing their holiday traditions. She is trying to do everything they've always done, in hopes that the normal routine will make it better for her daughter.

These people share the holidays with extended family, get by as best they can. They talk to their loved ones often, write letters every day, ship Christmas cookies to undisclosed locations.

Dani Pacheco of North Charleston shops at Northwoods Mall and stops to take a picture of the decorations with her phone. Then she sends it halfway around the world to share with her fiance, Staff Sgt. Christopher Shea in the Air Force Reserve.

Pacheco understands the situation, she's a reservist herself, but that doesn't make it any easier. She shops with her mom, talks with her friends on the phone, and tries, with little success, to plan her upcoming March wedding.

"I feel like nothing's really getting done because I want him to be part of these decisions," Pacheco said. "It's lonely. I talk to people to keep busy. I had a $300 cell phone bill. It'll be nice to finally talk to him without having a phone constantly cutting out on you."

So they go through the motions, try not to think about the fact that they can't watch "It's a Wonderful Life" together for the 10th time, that they can't ride around town and enjoy the lights together, that they can't listen together when "I'll Be Home for Christmas" comes on the radio.

They will get through the holidays as best they can, these people who understand better than most what it really means to wish for peace on earth.