Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The journey is different than expected, but I'm thankful

From my Briefing column last Saturday:

I am mom to two children, but I claim an additional 146. Those extra represent three years’ worth of teaching, which isn’t exactly the same as parenting but includes similar guiding and worrying, nurturing and redirecting.
I can’t imagine my life without those 146 and the families, stories, challenges and success stories they represent.
It’s the same with a group of volunteers I’ve become attached to over the years. They coordinate the North Texas Head for the Cure 5K, an annual event that raises money for brain cancer research.
I teach because I am passionate about literacy and quality education, because my heart swells every time I read a story aloud or conference with a young writer. I also teach because I need a job that affords a schedule that allows me to care for my own two children as a single mom.
I participate in Head for the Cure because I look forward to a day when a brain cancer diagnosis doesn’t include the words “inoperable” or “incurable.” It’s too late to save my Steve — and a whole host of angels, like Melinda and Maureen and Madison. But there’s a whole army of folks out there — my volunteer-turned-friends included — who haven’t given up hope for future patients and their families.
Early in the grieving process for Steve, while he was still alive and undergoing brutal treatment, I learned to let go of “what if” scenarios, the fantasy world in which cancer hadn’t invaded our lives. No amount of hoping, crying or pleading would change his diagnosis.
Instead, he and I learned to celebrate silver linings. We would have traded almost anything to get rid of that tumor, but that wasn’t an option. So we relished easier- than-expected appointments. We embraced new relationships. We marveled at help received from friends and strangers.
All that was good training for life without a husband and dad at home — a life I never wanted but happened anyway. I’m constantly reminded that our reactions and attitudes define us more than our circumstances.
Last weekend, more than 2,000 people gathered at a park in Plano to walk or run for Head for the Cure. My family has participated the past six years, and it’s a privilege to stand beside volunteers like Shari and Leslie and Gerryl. They are women who make my life richer by modeling selflessness and purpose, and our paths may have not crossed without a shared, albeit tragic, connection.
I prefer to focus on the blessings of our friendships.
It’s the same with those 146 children.
The path that led me to the classroom was bumpy. It’s not the route I asked for or would wish on anyone else, but I’m thankful for the destination.
I have stories about each of those 146 — sometimes dozens of stories about just one child. I’ve listened to tales from the football field and volleyball court. I’ve entertained memories from the Galapagos, from Hawaii, from multiple Disney getaways.
I’ve watched some children endure separation or divorce and others welcome new siblings or kittens.
These children have taught me how to be more patient, how to listen better, how to pay closer attention to details. They have gathered on the carpet to listen to some of my favorite stories, and together we have discovered new favorites.
The past three years have been layered with hugs and high-fives, tearful confessions and jubilant celebrations. I never expected to be here, to be counting 146 kids and looking forward to a few dozen more come August.
This isn’t exactly the journey I anticipated, but I am thankful for every gift — and every single relationship — along the way.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Taking flight

Our Easter celebration started early today.

Cooper, Katie and Tyra on Steve's bench at Holy Covenant UMC, after the sunrise service
Cooper played the part of Jesus in our youth-led sunrise service in Carrollton. We shared a potluck breakfast at church. We rested at home for about an hour. Then we drove to North Dallas to celebrate with Jim and Betty.

It was a bittersweet Easter service at Schreiber Memorial United Methodist Church. Easter is the most joyous of Sundays for Christians. The very day and the belief in the Resurrection define our faith. And yet this Sunday was the final worship service for the Schreiber congregation. After years of declining membership, the church was forced to make the difficult decision to close.

Highland Park UMC is taking over the campus and will eventually reopen the church as a satellite ministry.

Schreiber Memorial is the church that Jim, Betty, Jimmy and Steve attended during the 1980s. When Jim and Betty returned to the Dallas area in the early '90s (after a few years in Miami), they rejoined the church.

Steve and I were married in the sanctuary there in July 1994.

It was tough to say goodbye today.

At the end of the service, congregants were invited to join the choir to sing the Hallelujah Chorus. Cooper left the pew and sang next to Grandma -- a bass and soprano, side by side.

Cooper is the tall guy in the front.
As we left the sanctuary, we were given the opportunity to take a small paper package. Inside each package was a monarch butterfly. When we stepped into the sunshine, we were asked to gently open the package and to allow the butterfly to acclimate to the outdoors. Each beautiful insect would spread its wings and take flight.
Katie and her monarch 
Cooper and Betty (in her choir robe) coax their butterflies to freedom.
We all gingerly opened our packages and peeked inside, hoping that our butterflies would still be alive and eager to fly.

My package contained not one but two butterflies.

They each warmed in the sunlight. They each began to flutter their wings. One took flight about two minutes before the other. And I thanked God for transformation and comfort in times of distress and tiny miracles.

Tyra and two butterflies
Later we enjoyed an egg hunt at Jim and Betty's house. We ate a delicious lunch. And Jim allowed Katie to dress him up in her handmade rabbit ears.

Katie and her patient Papa
Happy Easter!

Sunday, March 20, 2016


Cooper in Corral 1 at the Rock n Roll Half Marathon in Dallas this morning
Cooper completed his first half-marathon today. He ran 13.1 miles in 1:50:47, placing ninth in his age group (out of 36 runners).

Watching him cross the finish line this morning was one of the most joyful moments in my 14-plus years as his momma.

It was also bittersweet, as is every milestone around here. What if Steve could have been racing with him? (Though, to be honest, Steve never ran races as fast as his long-legged son.) What if Steve could have been standing on tiptoe on the grassy hill next to me, craning his neck to spy Cooper turning the corner and sprinting toward the end?

The first 5K that Cooper ever ran was the Resolution Run in Addison in January 2009. He was part of a group of friends running in support of Steve, who was there at the finish line despite a host of cancer-related struggles.

Steve, Sharon, Allison, Katie, Holly, Kris, Liz, me and Cooper in January 2009
Stuart welcomes Cooper across the finish line at his first-ever race.
Cooper today, moments after finishing 13.1 miles
I've lost track of the races in the seven years since. 5Ks. Triathlons. Cross country meets. Track meets. He gets a little better each time. He never gives up. He's always smiling when he's done.

This 6-foot-3, 14-year-old son of mine is determined and hard-working, kind and funny. I am incredibly proud of his character and heart and the joy he finds in all circumstances. He, no doubt, has a whole lot of his daddy in him.

Uncle Jim, Katie, me and Cooper, in the very cold hour before the race began
You can always count on Katie to (1) make a sign and (2) shout the loudest of any fan if her brother's competing. 
Uncle Jim came in from D.C. to cheer for his nephew.
I love this gentle giant.

Monday, March 14, 2016

God is here

Katie was reading a novel (Under Wildwood) upstairs yesterday. 

She was sitting next to Steve's trumpet case. She decided to open the case and have a peek. As she was looking, she realized that something smelled good. She investigated a little more.

She discovered an old Tic Tac case, mostly full.

"They're cinnamon!" she exclaimed. "I've never had cinnamon!"

Katie loves Tic Tacs. Her favorite is orange. She discovered her fondness for the tiny mint sometime in elementary school.

Steve loved Tic Tacs. He would carry them in his suit pockets. They were often in his car. And, appearantly, in his trumpet case.

Until yesterday, Steve never shared a Tic Tac with his daughter. He died when she was 4 -- too young for such a treat. 

I like to think of how tickled Steve would be to know that more than six years after his death, he did get to share Tic Tacs with his Katie.

Also in his trumpet case? Sheet music for a song he must have played with our church choir: "God is Here."

Katie, Steve's trumpet, cinnamon Tic Tacs and "God is Here"

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"Why us?"

One of the challenges of grief in children is that, as they mature, they understand loss in new ways.

During church today, Katie experienced a new grief moment.

She began to cry during a prayer. She didn't tell me what was wrong at the time, and she eventually composed herself.

As we walked to the car, she spit out her sadness and frustration.

"You shouldn't be sitting there without Daddy!" she said. "He should be here with you. Why did this happen to us? Why did God let this happen? Why us?"

Oh, sweet child.

It was the first time she's ever asked aloud the "Why us?" question.

I struggled with the same question often, in the early days of Steve's diagnosis. Eventually, though, you realize that there's no answer and that asking the question offers no solutions.

God didn't choose Steve to get cancer. God doesn't hand-select anyone to get cancer or any other disease. God does offer comfort in the midst of crisis -- and angels on earth who make life a little easier.

That's the simplest answer I could offer Katie in the middle of her 10-year-old wonderings. Truly, I don't think she really wanted an answer at all. She just wanted to ask the question.

Cooper and Katie, before church this morning

Thursday, January 28, 2016

"Plans for your welfare"

The work of a teacher requires an amalgamation of skills, including but not limited to:

Deep breath-taking

In the middle of all the (fill-in-the-blank from above), there are multiple moments each day when I help children with perspective. One of my go-to phrases:

Is this a big problem or a little problem?

What most children want to know, whether they've left an overdue library book at home or broken a pencil or missed a few questions on an assessment is this:

Am I going to be OK?

Of course, those aren't the exact words they use. Some get weepy. Some wring their hands. Some speak with an angry tone. Some wilt. Some mentally check out for the rest of the day.

What most seem to be seeking is reassurance that everything is going to be OK. And, of course, it is. Problems are rarely as horrible as we imagine them, though we often don't understand or acknowledge that until long after the problem is solved.

Turn the library books in tomorrow. Borrow a pencil. Learn from your mistakes and try again next time.

After a tiny little bitty "crisis" at school today, after I had assured a student that everything would be OK, I thought of how much I miss Steve during my own tiny little bitty "crises." Even though it's been more than six years since we could speak to each other, I still have moments when I want to spill out my troubles, talk through solutions and hear, "Everything is going to be OK."

And then, Jeremiah 29:11 popped into my head. (Not word for word, as written below. More of a paraphrasing.)

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

One of the countless lessons from this reluctant widowhood is the importance of relying on strength from a source greater than myself, greater than could possibly come from any human. No doubt, it's comforting -- and often necessary -- to have another person, especially a person you trust and love, tell you that the crisis will pass. 

For me, it's even more critical to rely on God's promises of a future with hope. That's the kind of comfort that propels me through the day -- with my own two children or the 61 fourth-graders I lovingly call "mine" this year.
Cooper and Katie, before church Sunday morning, on Steve's bench

Thursday, January 21, 2016

There are moments when

There are moments when,
after I've worked 10 hours
and rushed to the vet to pick up
our sweet aging dog
and I'm driving home
with Katie in the backseat
chatting about her day,
and I'm eager to see Cooper,
who still needs to tell me about his,
that my throat tightens
and my eyes water
and I wonder

Did I think that life was tough before Steve was ill?
What would today be like if Steve had lived?
Who is going to take care of me when I'm old and gray?

Then I reach the top of the hill,
Spy glimpses of the setting sun,
Allow silent tears to fall,
Take a breath,
Whisper, "Thank you" for this day,
Reel my worries in,
Turn my attention to
Dinner and dishes,
Homework and laundry,
Goodnight hugs and kisses,
And the joy found in reveling in right now.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Heaven on earth

Katie lights the Steve candle before Christmas Day lunch.
Christmas means to me:
  • God's gift to humanity
  • The promise of heaven right here on earth
  • Memories of Steve, who made Christmases magical for me
  • The anniversary of our engagement in 1993
  • Sharing love, peace, hope and joy
  • Creating memories with Cooper and Katie
  • Reminder that light overcomes the darkness, that joy is possible even in the most difficult circumstances, that love is the greatest gift
Glory to God in the highest!

Katie, Cooper, Tyra, Betty, Jim and Uncle Jim on Christmas Eve

Friday, December 11, 2015

MRI day

Today my calendar is marked simply as "MRI Day."

It's been eight years since Steve and I stood in a darkened radiology room and stared, dumbfounded, at an image of Steve's brain marked by a mysterious spot. It would take weeks before we knew that the spot was an inoperable, incurable grade IV glioblastoma -- but in that moment, as we tried to process what we saw and what doctors were telling us, as we held hands and thought of our 6-year-old and 2-year-old at home, we knew that life had totally and completely changed.

I leave MRI Day on my calendar because I don't want to forget that our journeys can change suddenly, without warning, without our consent. 

I don't want to forget that we don't always have time to wait -- to say "I love you" or "I'm sorry," to travel, to discover, to experience, to explore.

I don't want to forget that there is so much in life we can't control -- but we can control our reaction. We can invest in relationships. We can turn over our deepest fears to God. We can find silver linings and unexpected blessings in the most dire circumstances.

It's been eight years since a community rallied and blanketed us with love. It still takes my breath away.
November 2015 photo by Janet Wisner

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Acts of Kindness

Thank you, family and friends and even strangers near and far, for helping us celebrate Steve's 47th birthday.

It's difficult to keep track of how many acts of kindness were performed in his memory on Nov. 4. So many of you offer more than one. So many of you prefer anonymity.

Of course, the number doesn't really matter.

What matters is you're sharing joy and love and kindness.

What matters is you're helping create beautiful memories for Cooper and Katie, who read every single blog post about their daddy's birthday. They don't have the benefit of a lifetime of memories with Steve, but they will never forget that the way he lived his life continues to influence a whole community.

What matters is you're celebrating life and exercising faith even when all around us are symptoms of a broken world.

When Steve was first diagnosed and folks swooped in to help us, I worried about how I would repay everyone for their kindness.

Then I realized that there was no way I could.

Then I realized that no one expected me to.

It was a tough journey. Some days, to be honest, it still is. Gifts are not always easy to receive -- even the ones you need the most.

One of the greatest gifts from you all: I look forward to Steve's birthday more than most any other day of the year.

Of course, I wish beyond rational thought that Steve were still here with us to celebrate, that we would take him out to eat every Nov. 4, that he would open a gift or two, that he would tell stories of birthdays past, that he would blow out candles and make a wish for birthdays to come.

Short of that fantasy world, there's no better way to spend his birthday. Thank you, thank you, thank you for joining the party. 

Katie and Cooper this morning before church, on Steve's memorial bench

Thursday, November 5, 2015

47 Acts of Kindness (16)

From Rebecca in Frisco:

I've had long hair most of my life and I've always been interested in donating my hair, but have always been too afraid to cut it. Yesterday has finally given me the final push! Today, in honor of Steve, I took the plunge and got 9 inches cut off my hair to donate to Pantene.


From Josh in Mesquite:

I was at Eastfield community college getting lunch at subway when a lady behind me paid for my meal and gave me a flyer explains why she did the act of kindness and she told me to check out the blog. After my meal I decided to go to Starbucks off of Campbell and payed for a man's coffee in front of me. I gave him the same flyer I had recieved and told him to check out the blog.


From Shantel in McKinney:

I know it's a day late but I bought it yesterday to give out - final act of kindness in honor of Steve Damm: a $50 Starbucks Gift Card to McClure Elementary Front Office Staff!they need to be on their toes to deal with my gal & the other rowdy bunch!! Thanks for all they do daily!!!
As this event comes to a close, Damm Family - thanks for including me in this event. While I know you'd do anything to have Steve back, this is a wonderful way to honor him & I enjoyed partaking in sharing kindness to all! Bless all of you & those who accepted the invitation plus delivered!‪#‎dammkindnessisthebest‬


From Sarah in Plano:

Brought hot chocolate and donuts to the sweet man at Goodwill who is always in the truck accepting donations - cold of winter, heat of summer. Also made a new friend!


From Patty in Frisco:

We delivered goodies to the wonderful ladies at radiation. Thank you Tyra for inspiring others and reminding us to be kind!


From Lisa in Phoenix:

Today instead of yesterday. Hubby and I at a favorite breakfast place. Bought the next 4 cups o coffee and gave staff a $20 tip explaining the event and gbm. They were touched, and it felt good. Your husband and my daughter remembered in a good way today. Thank you for starting this.


From Janet in Plano:

Just finished my last Wisner Fun Act of Kindness. Paid for the Starbucks order behind me and left Steve's note. Wow, my heart is full and I am just giddy. Tyra, I can't imagine how much joy this must bring you on what has the potential of being SUCH a tough day. Your heart is so encouraging to me.


From Raechel in Frisco:

We also made a donation to The Birthday Project in honor of Steve. Happy Birthday Steve!


From Caroline in Frisco:

I gave our custodian coffee from Starbucks!!  Love that you do this!!


From Laura in Frisco:

My girls took donuts to the fire station. I'm so happy you had a great turn out! I know Steve is smiling:)


From Stacey in Wilmington, N.C.:

A day late because we were traveling yesterday (and today) but Meg and I donated a PetsMart gift card to the local animal shelter and also donated online to the Autism Society of America. Happy Steve Day!


From Laura in Frisco:

For Will's favorite OT


From Sheri in Frisco:

So I completely forgot my cards so I showed it to the Sonic waiter on my phone and explained what 47 acts of kindness is. He thought it was awesome and loved his $20 tip. Thank you to the Damm family for inspiring us all heart emoticon



From Uncle Jim in Arlington, Va.:

I just saw one of the managers from Chick-Fil-A. The owner saw the cards I had left behind - and he's asked for some of the notes, so that he can match what I did for more random customers.  

47 Acts of Kindness (15)

From Shari in Lucas:

Celebrating Steve Damm today by paying it forward with kindness.‪#‎dammkind‬ ‪#‎47actsofkindness‬

Extra tip money at my birthday lunch today in honor of Steve Damm. #dammkind #47actsofkindness


From Rebecca in Kingsland, Ga.:

Treated my teammates to lunch today! :)

Financially helped a teen (and her family) who is facing a kidney transplant.


From Allison in Frisco:

Brought muffins to staff at work.


From Shannon in Frisco:

‪#‎dammkind‬. Post I saw after a friend received a Starbucks gift card in honor of Steve


From Linda in Dallas:

I pledged to donate $47 in Steve's memory to 29 Pieces, Karen Blessen's art-for-peace organization.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

47 Acts of Kindness (14)

Cooper, Katie and I celebrated Steve all day.

I gave small gifts of granola bars and markers to fellow staff members.

Cooper gave Starbucks gift cards to all of his teachers and band directors.

Katie put together treat bags for every child in her homeroom class.

We gave Starbucks cards to strangers at Tom Thumb.

We bought dinner for a kind couple at Subway.

Katie also chose The Birthday Party Project as our big family project for today. TBPP is a nonprofit based in Dallas that hosts birthday parties for children who live in shelters or care agencies. We've been big fans of the nonprofit since its founding more than four years ago.

On Sunday, Katie had great fun shopping for toys, gift wrap and party goods. The only problem: How to get the gifts to TBPP on Steve's birthday. We couldn't make it to Addison after school.

Julianne to the rescue! She volunteered to deliver the gifts and was fortunate enough to meet Paige, TBPP's founder.

Thank you, all, for joining us in celebrating Steve!

47 Acts of Kindness (13)

From Robin in Richardson:

I was at the Starbucks in Richardson off of Campbell Rd and someone stepped up and paid for my coffee and gave me a piece of paper with info about this blog. He told me someone paid for his meal at Subway earlier in the day and he was just passing along the kindness by paying for my coffee. I’ll be sure to do something nice for someone today or tomorrow. I’m sorry for your loss, but it seems like Steve’s legacy is still going strong.


From Kelly in Frisco:

Paid for admission for several people after me.


From Kathy in Frisco:

A little treat for this kind lady who greets everyone at the dance studio!


From Tim in Plano/Frisco:
Breakfast spread for front office in appreciation for all they do.


From Emily in Frisco:

I posted a few of these around school. (and I gave some compliments away)


From Michele in Frisco:

For the 47 acts of kindness Greyson dropped off 5 cups of Starbucks lattes to the fireman and chief at Fire house 7 and a $25 gift card to Tom Thumb so they can purchase food.


From Mary in Bedford:

I left a couple of Starbucks gift cards (attached to 47 Acts of Kindness fliers) at the Starbucks kiosk at the hospital near our house. I asked the worker there to give them out to whoever she chose. I’m hoping that whoever gets them — whether it’s a hard-working hospital employee or someone spending a long day at the hospital with a loved one — will get a lift from them. 


From Amber in Plano:

Today on my lunch break, I bought a five-pack of Starbucks gift cards, loaded them with $5 each, then walked into the Barnes and Noble next door. For the next 20 minutes, I surreptitiously wandered the store and hid the cards in books that mean something special to me. Each gift card also had the smaller card explaining Steve’s story — my hope is that whomever buys the books (Harry Potter, The Secret, Girl on the Train, Sophie’s World, and Outliers, if you’re curious) decides to pass on an act of kindness, too, no matter the time of year.


From Karen in Carrollton:

My mom was living at Carrollton Atria assisted living.  She passed away two days ago.  My sister and I wanted to thank people that worked there in honor of mom.  We gave a JoAnn's gift card to the activities director to purchases things for arts and crafts activities. We also gave a gift card to the lady that takes care of the bird aviary because mom loved to watch the birds. Happy Birthday Steve!


From Kathy in Carrollton:

It was with much pleasure that the '47 Acts of Kindness' flyer and a Sprouts gift card was given to one Sprouts cashier, a man in line behind me that was being so very patient during a long wait, and a customer walking into the store.  


From Melissa in The Colony:

Bought breakfast for a coworker who was having a rough day!


From Shilpa in Plano:

Sent a lot of personal notes to all the folks I work with her and got some treats. 
Got a gift for my friend, Jaya who helped me through my illness and for a few other friends at work.

47 Acts of Kindness (12)

From Haley in Cassel, France:

Today started out rough - my train to work was delayed two hours and I ended up having to drive! However, doing these acts of kindness reminded me to not sweat the small stuff! I dropped off breakfast in the teacher lounge for my coworkers, taped coins to the coffee machine in the teacher lounge (we have a key to get two free coffees a day, but that's never enough!), and treated my friend Christin to coffee and cake. We love you Steve and the whole Damm family! ‪#‎dammkind‬


From Vicki in Carrollton:

Bought these ladies lunch. They were so appreciative, and seeing the look on their faces made my day.


From Laura in Seneca, S.C.:

We sent out some Clemson goodness (and goodies) to a dear friend and her daughter who are grieving at this time and shared Steve's story. 🐾‪#‎dammkind‬


From Uncle Jim in Arlington, Va.:

Delivered breakfast treats to the office (sorry that I didn't take a picture at the start... This is all that was left)


From Sarah and John in Richardson:

A donation to our richardson pet rescue, in honor of Steve.


From Shubha in Frisco:

Again donating money to the tribal area kids for school education. Thanks for making me a part of this.


From Patty in Frisco:

Maggie stayed after school to help a teacher organize books in the classroom. I'm saving mine for tomorrow. My mom has been receiving radiation treatment for cancer. Thursday is my day to take her to treatment. So I thought what better way to support the movement than to take the hard working ladies in radiation a special treat.


From Aunt Karen in San Antonio:

Always look forward to this day. Bittersweet but mostly sweet because of your inspiration and loving spirit! I always begin the Month of November with this legacy & make sure I commit the number of kind acts for each year of Steve's Birthday (ergo the early beginning). I continue to be amazed at what joy it brings to MY heart. Sooo, I have been busy thus far. Food for 2 families to make their hectic work nights easier. Let people check out in front of me at three different stores (they're always SHOCKED) and when I tell them of Steve & you their hearts just melt. Helped an elderly woman unload her groceries & took her cart for her (Well, that is one of the sweetest things I've ever heard!" she kindly tells me), helped a Mom at Target with her 3 kids as she was juggling to get a few items, let someone else have a "prime" parking spot. LOVE reading what all people are doing to spead the love, joy & incredible tribute to an incredible man!


From Beth:

I dropped off a case of water at the local fire department today. Thanks for sharing this special family and idea with me Emily Schwab Rowland!


From Beth:

Cole and I paid for the person behind us in Drive thru.


From Janet in Plano:

Goo, E, and Buz took cookies to all of their ballet teachers. It's nutcracker season and they are working tirelessly. Buz forgot the sign but Goo told them about Steve.


So. Who knew that red box doesn't do coins anymore? I was so bummed. But BigH said, "no worries! Let's just put the coins there anyway!"


Paid for the two cars behind us at Cane's. So awesome!!!


From the Blackwells in Frisco:

My husband helped an employee work on an issue that is not on one of his programs just because. My son tutored a friend in need of help in a history class, even though he had a test review to do and then rearranged his schedule on his own to bring my daughter home from school today.  My daughter loaned her sweatshirt to a friend who had no warm ups at practice today and was cold.  I sent a card just to say 'I appreciate you' to a friend I have not seen in months.  Thank you for including us in this tradition, I hope your day was blessed by all the kind deeds done in Steve's honor.