Monday, October 27, 2014

One week and one day to go

Next Tuesday, Nov. 4, is Steve's birthday and 46 Acts of Kindness!

You can read more about it here.


If you'd like to leave behind a note with your gift or act of kindness, you can click here for a copy to print. 

And if you're comfortable sharing your act of kindness, please plan to communicate with me on Tuesday. (I'll be teaching during the day, so blogging will begin in the late afternoon.)

You can:
Email me at tyradamm@gmail.com
Text me at 972-489-4344
Post on our Facebook page

We can't wait for the big day!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Save the date: Nov. 4

Mark your calendars for one of the best days of the year: Tuesday, Nov. 4!

For the fourth year in a row, we will be celebrating Steve's birthday by sharing acts of kindness. Because Steve was born 46 years ago, we're working toward 46 acts of kindness, but we know from past experience that this number will multiply throughout the day. Our stretch goal is 460 acts of kindness in one day in memory of Steve!

What have kind folks done in previous years? This list is extensive. Here are a few ideas:


Cooper, Katie and I are hatching our own plans, and we can't wait to share in the joy of the day with you all!




Thursday, October 2, 2014

Inheritance

At dinner last night, Katie and I were telling Cooper about mohair goats. Did you know that half of the world's mohair supply comes from goats in and around the Texas Hill Country? (Katie and I learned this together earlier in the day, during social studies instruction. Six weeks in, and I have to say I love having Katie in my class. Even when she's a little too chatty.)

All three of us wanted to see what a mohair goat looks like. So I searched online and found the most adorable photos. 

So fuzzy!
We decided that we want -- no, we need -- a mohair goat.

Then we wondered what one might look like after shorn.

That's when Cooper exhibited the most Steve Damm-like laugh I've seen since Steve Damm last laughed.

Coop rocked back and forth. Very little sound came from his body. His face turned bright red. He could barely breathe. He was totally tickled. It was completely contagious.

***

Katie on Saturday at Frisco City Hall

Katie performs "The Magic Porridge Pot."

Last weekend was the big Lone Star Storytelling Festival. For the second year in a row, Katie was one of the student tellers. Over the past few months, she has practiced at the library under the direction of storytelling coaches and performed at community events. 

On Friday, she performed her tale, "The Magic Porridge Pot," in front of 500 people at our school's morning assembly. And on Saturday, she told her story again, this time at Frisco City Hall, as part of an opening act before master storyteller Willy Claflin.

There's no way I would be comfortable in front of all those people, acting dramatically, using various voices. Do you know who would have been? Steve Damm. He could charm small groups and large crowds with ease. He loved to entertain. 

***

Cooper and Katie are blessed to have inherited so many fine qualities from their daddy. I'm especially thankful this week for their shared sense of humor, their ability to laugh at themselves, their courageous spirits and their willingness to stretch comfort zones. What fine riches to fuel joyful lives!

Katie and Cooper at Steve's bench, Sept. 21, 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

Life and death go on

For a while after Steve passed away, I sort of felt like nothing bad could happen ever again to anyone we know and love. As if somehow Steve's illness, suffering and death would fulfill some unspoken quota.

It's not logical or theologically sound, I realize. And certainly reality hit soon after.

Every few months in the past five years, someone we know, someone we love has been diagnosed with a grave illness or died unexpectedly or suffered severe trauma or experienced an enormous loss (of a loved one or a job or a relationship).

Life and death go on.

Jason Dugger, a former colleague at the Dallas Morning News, died unexpectedly last week, leaving behind his wife and two young sons.

Alex Podeszwa, teenage son of one of Steve's fraternity brothers, passed away last week, after living with neuroblastoma for nine years. (Alex's dad, Dave, introduced Cooper and Katie to the fine art of hospital bed rides way back in 2007, when Steve was first hospitalized. The Podeszwas were instrumental in helping us navigate the cancer world.)

Maureen McClendon, mom of three children including my high school friend Angela, died last week, four months after first showing signs of what would be identified as a glioblastoma. She was 76 and still working full time as senior research analyst at the time of her diagnosis.

On Saturday, Sept. 6, my dear friend Melissa and I spent an evening with Maureen and her children.

Maureen and I held hands, and she asked me questions about Steve. She wanted to know about his course of treatment, how long he lived after diagnosis. They were difficult questions to answer, not because I have trouble talking about Steve but because I wanted to protect Maureen, whose health was so quickly demolished by one of the very worst tumors.

I shared some of his experience. I listened as she talked about her recent travels to Europe and Hawaii, about her role in a national insurance organization, about photos and cards on the kitchen table.

Later in the evening, she looked at me and told me she was sorry for my loss. All my strength dissipated. We held each other and sobbed. I cried for Steve and Maureen and for everyone in between who has suffered brain cancer, neuroblastoma, aneurism, stroke. This list is too long.

Maureen sent me home with a gift. A pair of bedazzled eyeglasses, slightly broken but fixable, in case I wanted to switch out her lenses for my own.

For now, her frames sit on my dresser, a small reminder of our fragility and our connectedness, of the importance of holding hands and sharing stories while we can.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A heart still broken, yet blessedly full

My column from today's Briefing:

I love you. Thank you.
Those were the final words from my beloved husband.
He couldn’t speak them — his body was shutting down — but he desperately wanted to. My sister hastily wrote the alphabet. After Z was scribbled, he began pointing to letters to form those final phrases.
I’ve carried those simple, powerful words in my heart for five years — somehow, at once, the most excruciatingly slow and exceedingly brisk years possible.
Five years a widow. Five years a single parent to two children who understand their loss in ever-evolving fashion. Five years without Steve.
My heart is somehow still frightfully broken yet blessedly full.
My grief is more contained, less obvious. More controlled, less needling. Grief is no longer my constant companion, though I can’t imagine life without it.
I have to guard against too much “life without” thinking — life for Cooper and Katie without their daddy, life without the man I married 20 years ago, life without a second adult in the house to help with chores, bill-paying and parenting.
Instead, we try to embrace the life we’ve got.
I sometimes joke about my expertise, reluctantly earned over the past few, unexpected years.
Before cancer disrupted our lives, I was a reliable source of facts and opinions on car seats, accredited daycare centers, homemade baby food, the best picture books for toddlers and hidden family adventures in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Now I can answer questions about brain cancer, patient advocacy, hospice care, second opinions, how to prepare children for a death and multilayered approaches to handling grief.
Good gracious, I preferred the former.
We don’t get a choice, though. So I’ve tried to recognize the silver linings, wherever they’re found, and to share what our family learned through Steve’s illness and death.
We honor Steve’s memory as often as we can. His photos are still in our home.
We tell Steve stories — how he would randomly break out his German accent at dinner, how he liked to dance to Jane’s Addiction while washing dishes, how he would hide the kids’ blankets in his shirt at bedtime and pretend he couldn’t find them. (That stunt earned sleepy giggles every single time.)
Almost every Sunday morning, we park on the north side of our church, as near as possible to the stone bench installed in Steve’s memory, marked with his name and favorite Scripture. Cooper and Katie sit on the bench, and I take photos.
We look forward to his birthday, a day that we’ve turned into a worldwide celebration. We invite friends — who invite their friends — to perform acts of kindness in Steve’s memory. Thanks to all those folks and the power of social media, thousands of people all over the globe have received special surprises on the fourth day of November.
I’m giddy just thinking about it.
Five years ago I couldn’t imagine that I would ever feel giddy again. Yet in that time we’ve moved forward — and with growth comes joy.
We’ve forged new relationships. (In 2009, I couldn’t imagine making new friends. Who would want to be friends with such a messy mess? And how would they ever understand me if they didn’t know Steve?)
Cooper and Katie continue to mature, to tackle new challenges, to express themselves with clarity and eloquence. (In 2009, I wonder if Steve could have envisioned his son as a clarinetist and his daughter as a violinist. Could he know how witty Cooper would become? How poetic Katie would become?)
Together the three of us have traveled, gotten lost and found our way back. We’ve attacked home repair projects and experimented with new recipes. We’ve read classic novels together. We’ve danced in the kitchen while washing dishes. (Though never exactly re-creating Steve’s smooth moves.)
Each of us understands the value of the life we get to live. And we try, as often as we can, to repeat those most simple, significant words.
Thank you. I love you.


Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Honest advice

A friend's mom was diagnosed earlier this year with brain cancer. She recently completed chemotherapy and radiation, and the family was feeling hopeful.

And then this week, they learned that the tumor has spread. It's aggressive. It's GBM -- the same kind of tumor that Steve had.

My friend texted today to ask for advice on what to tell her two young children.

Sometimes the truth is too difficult to bear, even when you know it must be told. But I knew that she asked because she expected me to be honest.

I wrote: "Tell them that her cancer is difficult to cure. That you will be praying for a cure at the same time that you are praying for her to feel no pain and for her complete healing. If they ask you if she's going to die, you tell them that people often die within a few months. And you are praying for more time if it's without pain."

This is a friend who took excellent care of our family while Steve was ill and for months after. She was in our home during rough trials. She prayed steadfastly for us. I would love to protect her and her children from the trauma of losing a very special mom and grandmother.

Yet we don't get to shelter people -- even the people we love -- from tragedy, from illness, from death.

Instead, we are charged with standing with people as they experience pain. We have been created to love one another, to support one another, to hold hands, to answer phone calls, to listen and to offer advice when asked.

It is that kind of love that has sustained our family for so many years now. I thank God every day for Katie and Cooper. I thank God every day for Steve. And I thank God every day for the people who have made our journey smoother.


Cooper, Tyra and Katie, this week, off Ocean Drive, Kennebunkport, Maine


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

20 years

Tomorrow is our 20th wedding anniversary.

For couples who are alive, it's a fairly big milestone worthy of celebration. For a widow who hasn't celebrated an anniversary with her husband in five years, it's, well, kind of sad.

In general I no longer live daily thinking, "If Steve were still alive, we would (fill in the blank)" -- unlike life in the first couple of years. Such as, "If Steve were still alive, we would be watching 24 together" or "If Steve were still alive, we would be cooking dinner together."

So much time has passed, and I've settled in to a different sort of normal.

Yet I can't help but wonder what we would do to celebrate our 20th, in that alternate universe in which there is no glioblastoma in the brain stem. The dreamy world in which our family blissfully and unconsciously takes a totally different path in early 2007, one that doesn't lead to chemotherapy and radiation and blood clots and irreversible weakness.

Would we go to dinner alone? With Cooper and Katie? Host a small dinner party for close friends, during which Steve would laugh his trademark can't-breathe laugh? Would we go on a little trip? Or a big vacation to one of our dream destinations? Would we buy each other extravagant gifts? Or would we agree to buy each other nothing then secretly second-guess that decision and buy something small but meaningful?

I know that we would talk about our sweet ceremony, which began at noon on a warm Saturday, just after an unusual July rainstorm. Steve would tell me that he was a wreck before the ceremony, and I would tell him that I had a sense of peace unlike any other in my 22 years.

We would marvel over our lean years -- the years in Lubbock when we worked jobs with low pay and Steve was earning his MBA, when we made dear friends, when we learned to live independently, when we started attending church together.

We would talk about our move to Dallas and those three long years he worked for Arthur Andersen, out of town almost every week, flying to and from Los Angeles and later St. Louis. We would reminisce about my rough months on the sports desk at the Star-Telegram and my dream-come-true jobs at the Morning News.

We would remember buying our first home. Our travels to Colorado, Florida, California, Michigan, Europe, the Caribbean, New Orleans and D.C.

We would talk about deciding to have children, attending Holy Covenant, discovering the joy of being parents to Cooper, moving to Frisco, changing jobs, forming friendships, becoming godparents, welcoming baby Katie, traveling more.

In that alternate no-cancer universe, who knows what more we'd add to the list as we celebrated two decades of marriage.

Instead, we got 15 years of marriage -- with phantom years that follow.

There have been many moments in these phantom years when I second-guess myself. Can I do this by myself? Am I strong enough for this? Am I good enough for this? Can I handle this? ("This" means any number of things, big and small, depending on the occasion.)

In those moments, I eventually come around with the help of two thoughts.

First, Steve chose me -- me! -- for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish. Steve -- a strong, funny, brilliant, kind, generous soul -- had faith in me.

Second, I have faith in God and strength from Christ. My go-to verse these days is simple: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)

There won't be a fancy dinner tomorrow. No fancy gifts. There will be fun, though. Katie and I are meeting friends for lunch and a day at the pool. (Cooper is in Oklahoma for a week of Boy Scout camp -- his ultimate idea of fun.)

And I'm certain that more than once, I'll recite Psalm 46:1 as I think of dear Steve and the promises we joyfully made on July 2, 1994.

Tyra and Steve, post-reception, July 2, 1994

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Hiding out

I'm thankful my children don't see much of social media. All weekend long, all over Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, folks are paying homage to their dads and to the dads of their children.

As it should be.

But it's still too much for almost-9-year-old Katie.

I gave her and Cooper a choice about how to spend today. They agreed that they wanted to skip church -- too big of a potential trigger for tears. And, while we certainly embrace our emotions around here, we've learned when it's best to just avoid the scene altogether.

I'll read some Harry Potter out loud. Cooper has a Boy Scout meeting. We plan to grocery shop and prepare ratatouille together. (We watched the Pixar film Ratatouille again last night.) We might go to the neighborhood pool. (Though we've logged a lot of hours there already this week -- we'll be OK taking a break.)

One day, when they're much older, I'll share with them this letter, the one I wrote last Father's Day.

For now, though, we're hiding out. I know denial isn't healthy in general, but one day a year, it's exactly what my children need.

Steve, Katie and Cooper at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, May 2006

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Plans change

It's going to be a rough week around here.

Let me back up to my elementary school career:

  • Kinder: Walnut Hill Elementary (Dallas)
  • 1st grade: Walnut Hill 
  • 2nd grade (one half): Cabell Elementary (Dallas)
  • 3rd grade (one half): Leon Heights Elementary (Belton)
  • 4th grade: Burnet Elementary (Dallas)
  • 5th grade (one half): Burnet
  • 5th grade (one quarter): Gullett Elementary (Austin)
  • 5th grade (one quarter): Belton Middle School (Belton)

That's six schools in all. With a whole bunch of turmoil that precipitated each move. And all kinds of angst in the middle.

So, in addition to growing up with the goal of NEVER being a single mom, I grew up with the goal of NEVER moving my children from one school to another.

It's NEVER easy when you miss your goals.

Of course, I have met a whole bunch of my goals. For example, in early 2008, I decided that I would become a classroom teacher. I started coursework in 2012, was hired to teach fifth grade in 2013 and received full certification in mid-May.



Not only did I receive a job, I received a job at the very best elementary school -- the one down the street from us. The school that we watched being built. The school that has been an integral part of our lives for almost as long as we've been in Frisco.

When Cooper was 3 and Steve would drive him home from day care, they would take the "long" way to drive by Bledsoe Elementary in its early stages. Steve would say, "Cooper, there's the school of the future!" And Cooper would reply, "The future of the school!"

Cooper (the tall one with the adorable haircut), kinder Valentine party, February 2007
It's the only elementary school my children have known. It's where they learned to read and jump rope and multiply. It's where Cooper would have normal days while Steve was receiving radiation and chemotherapy. It's where I have made some of my dearest friends.

Katie, kinder Field Day, May 2011
I was hired at the very last minute as the sixth fifth-grade teacher in August 2013, when enrollment was exploding because of rapid development all around our neighborhood. The growth was so quick and unexpected, that the school district in the fall made the decision to build a new elementary nearby to relieve Bledsoe's increasingly crowded classrooms.

With that new school opening in August, Bledsoe needs only five fifth-grade teachers next year. Not six.

So that means it's time for me to go.

I am super fortunate to have secured a position at the new school, where I will teach fourth-grade language arts and social studies. I am excited to help open a new campus, to teach the subjects I love (with a big emphasis on writing), to work with families who live nearby.

But I'm a bit of an emotional mess as I prepare to say goodbye to Bledsoe -- not just as a teacher but as a mom.

Katie, after more than two months of deliberation, has decided to join me. She could stay at Bledsoe, of course -- it's our neighborhood school. It's where she's comfortable. It's where she's grown up.

But our mornings and afternoons would be logistically challenging and therefore stress-inducing. I would rarely, if ever, get to attend her school functions -- morning assemblies, class parties, field trips. These are factors that weigh heavily on my single-mom heart and mind.

As I offered guidance for Katie -- oh, gracious, were there many discussions -- I couldn't help but think of Steve. Things like:

  • If Steve were alive, we wouldn't even be having these conversations.
  • Steve and I often talked about the importance of stability. 
  • I'm guessing that he imagined Cooper and Katie would always attend Bledsoe -- until they moved on to middle school.
  • Yet Steve was a risk-taker. He didn't often stay in his comfort zone.
  • Steve trusted me 100 percent, especially when making decisions about our children.
  • One of the many reasons I NEVER wanted to be a single mom is that being solely responsible for the big decisions is intimidating.

I have started to feel peace about Katie's decision to move with me, though it erodes slightly when she gets weepy about saying goodbye this week. Or when I start counting the hours we have left. Or when I imagine closing my portable classroom door for the final time and driving away with a crying Katie, all while I'm likely crying, too.

So, like I said at the beginning, it's going to be a rough week around here.

I am trusting it's short-term pain with the promise of unimagined joy to come. And I'm trusting that Steve would be proud of all three of us, constantly adjusting as the plans change.

Mrs. Damm, fifth-grade Field Day, May 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Family ties

My closet is a mess. Really. It has been for years, and it's way up high on my list of projects to tackle this summer, when I'm not in professional development courses or soaking up free time with Cooper and Katie.

It's an emotional minefield in there, partly because the closet still contains much of Steve's wardrobe. (I have donated some items.) And partly because the closet still contains clothes -- way in the back -- that I wore from when Steve and I were first married, items he bought me, items that recall special memories.

(I know that this admission must make crazy my most organized friends, my friends who sort through and toss out items every six months. I'm sorry.)

The closet includes Steve's colorful tie collection.

Now that Cooper is just about 6 feet tall, he needs adult ties. The child ones are too short. Instead of shopping, we can forage through Steve's stuff.

Cooper tonight performed in the Pioneer Heritage band concert. His band's final number was a jazzy tune, "Blast from the Past," and his director requested that musicians wear snazzy hats and sunglasses. And boys were allowed to wear fun ties, instead of the usual dress black.

Doesn't he look smashing in his daddy's tie?


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Head for the Cure 2014

Uncle Jim, Uncle Greg, Papa and Coop

Bledsoe fifth-grader Riley (supporting Team Stevie, in memory of Stevie Patrick) and Tyra 
Tyra and Cooper

This year's event was extraordinary for many reasons.

1. Katie ran/walked the entire 5K. Before she had only run the 100-yard dash.
2. Cooper completed the race in 24:11, beating last year's by more than three minutes. He came in sixth in his age group, but first among all 12-year-old boys.
3. Katie was joyful the entire event. In previous years, she was understandably emotional and at times despondent.
4. Our team was the most visible, thanks to the super-fun T-shirts designed by our dear friend Jenny Morgan.
5. Our team raised $1,610 for brain cancer research!

Big thanks to our donors!

Alexia Isaak
Amy Forbus
Anonymous
Christina Johnson
Crystal Morris
Gina George
In memory of Steve Damm
James and Betty Damm
Jenny Morgan
Joy Lasley
Julianne Amezcua
Kelli Snyder
Liz Smith
Lucy and Rosella
McKenna Davenport and family
Mrs. Cindy Hons
Mrs. Jan Pepper
Ms. Karen M Jackson
Nickel Family
Patricia Stewart
Randy Lasley
Rusty & Jill Yull
Sarah Masters
Shannon Rosenfeld
The Lefflers
The Sweckard Family
The Warhoftigs
Tonia Waller
Tyra Damm
Vicki Davis

And a big thank you to the Run for Steve Damm team!

  • Joy Lasley
  • Randy Lasley
  • Tyra DammCAPTAIN
  • Cooper Damm
  • Jana Shilson
  • Katie Damm
  • Katrina Watland
  • Jay Woody
  • Jakob Woody
  • Eva Woody
  • Jennifer Baumgardner
  • Alyssa Ross
  • Julianne Amezcua
  • Ally Amezcua
  • Maddie Amezcua
  • Mia Amezcua
  • Lisa Tanner
  • Laura Tanner
  • Rick Davis
  • Vicki Davis
  • Julie Spears
  • Adam Spears
  • Brenda Buck
  • Melane Woodbury
  • Gregory Woodbury
  • Brooke Woodbury
  • Molli Woodbury
  • Jenny Morgan
  • Luke Morgan
  • MIke Morgan
  • Miller Spessard
  • Julie Spessard
  • Kelli Snyder
  • Kanya Deering
  • Logan Deering
  • Liz Smith
  • Sally Sims
  • Noe Smith
  • Vahn Phollurxa
  • Teresa Oostenbrug
  • James Damm
  • Melody Ruddell

This list represents family members, best of friends, friends from church, friends from Bledsoe Elementary, longtime neighbors, friends of friends, one of my Dallas Business Journal colleagues from 1992-93. This list is a small peek into the kind people who continue to surround our family and who remind us of what love looks like.

Here are a few photos of the joy from the day.

Cooper, Katie and I arrived by 6:30 to set up our table in Team Village and greet team members.

Noe and Katie, best friends since birth

Most of the Run for Steve Damm team

Even more members represented here

Gracie D. and Katie

Vahn, Logan and Kanya

Noe, Katie and Mia
Go, team, go! 
Adam, after some hard running

Speedy Bledsoe runners Brenda and Kelli

Adorable cousins Molli and Katie, with Aunt Mel and Uncle Greg behind

Coop, Uncle Jim and track-star cousin Brooke

Jordan and Katy O

Jenny and Katrina

Tyra, Lizzy and Julianne

Holy Covenant people

Laura and Lisa 
Cooper and birthday girl Betty

Friday, May 9, 2014

Toothbrushes

My bathroom, which used to be our bathroom, has two sinks. One is "mine." The other is "Steve's."

In life without Steve, I have taken over both sinks. My sink is the hair and makeup sink. Steve's sink is the dental care and hand-washing sink. Some jewelry has migrated over there.

For four and a half years, I've kept Steve's final toothbrush in the toothbrush holder at his sink. I've kept the toothbrush I last used while he was alive. Plus I've rotated in many, many new-then-old toothbrushes for me.

I didn't keep the vintage 2009 toothbrushes for any specific reason. I wasn't trying to trick myself into believing in a way of life long gone. I simply found comfort in an everyday Steve object.

Tuesday night, as I was cleaning Steve's sink, I paused and looked at the assemblage of toothbrushes. I took a mental picture. Then I plucked up the old brushes and placed them gingerly in the trash can.

Now it's just new brushes -- one for my adult teeth and one for the three miniature baby teeth that refuse to budge from my middle-age mouth.


I'm not going to lie. Those two empty spaces are difficult. I briefly considered rummaging through the trash Wednesday morning to retrieve the old brushes.

Steve, of course, can't be found in an old toothbrush or an old sweater (though I still have plenty of those). Yet I catch glimpses of him all over. When Katie leaps out of her chair in the middle of a dignified tea party to lip-sync songs from Frozen. When Cooper runs with impossibly long legs. When we hear Aaron Copland or ZZ Top.

We've got so much more of life to experience, despite the holes. So we keep on going.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Steve at 22. Cooper at 12.

Steve, age 22, May 1991; Cooper, age 12, May 2014
Liz Wohl, who graduated the University of Michigan with Steve in 1991, shared this Steve photo with me again today. It's one of my all-time favorite Steve photos and was taken about six months before we first met (in the NT Daily office, when Steve was visiting Will). 

This time when I looked at it, I was instantly reminded of Cooper and this photo, taken last Thursday.

Steve was six-foot-one in this photo. Cooper is five-foot-eleven -- just two inches shy of his daddy's full height. I expect we have a few more years of growing.

(I wonder if Cooper will ever wear as much hair product as his daddy did way back then. For now, Coop is firmly against.)

When I showed Coop the photos side by side, he smiled big, then laughed, then said, "Wow. That is amazing. Simply amazing."

Sunday, March 30, 2014

How to describe ...

Last Sunday, Cooper came home from a weekend of Boy Scout camping and showed symptoms of an awful stomach virus. He was down and out for all of Sunday afternoon and night and was in no condition to go to school Monday.

I emailed his teachers to let them know he'd be out and asked for any work he could do from home, in case he started to feel better.

His Spanish teacher replied with some instructions. I forwarded them to Cooper. He was confused about the directions and emailed her directly.

She replied that he was supposed to start creating a "Who Am I?" poster, using adjectives to describe family members. She suggested mom, dad, sibling, pet and himself.

Cooper didn't want to reply in an email that his dad is dead.

And then, he explains, when he returned to school, he thought it would be awkward to tell her in person.

So, he chose to include Steve in the poster. (This is totally normal for Cooper and Katie -- they usually include Steve in their family descriptions.)

To describe Steve, Cooper wrote: El es tranquillo y callado.

In other words: He is calm and quiet.

Oh, I laughed and laughed and laughed. Of all the adjectives I can think of to describe living Steve, calm and quiet wouldn't be at the top of my list. Witty, outgoing, outspoken, lively, intense, funny, smart, curious, clever. Not often calm and quiet.

Yet there's no arguing that he's calm and quiet now.

Steve would definitely approve. And he'd be tickled that his son shares his quick wit, sarcasm and dry humor.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Head for the Cure 2014

For the fourth year in a row, Cooper, Katie and I are fielding a team of friends and family members for the Head for the Cure 5K North Texas. Our team, Run for Steve Damm, is in memory of our beloved Steve, who lived with a brain tumor for a year and a half before passing away on September 7, 2009.

The Head for the Cure Foundation raises money for brain cancer research. The money goes to the Brain Tumor Trials Collaborative at M.D. Anderson (where Steve was diagnosed) and the Legacy Brain Foundation in North Texas.

Cooper, Katie and I are so thankful for the community that continues to surround us with love and prayers. We would be honored if you could participate! You can:

1. Run or walk in the 5K. (And young children can participate in the Kids Fun Run.)

2. Donate money to Head for the Cure.

3. Pray for our team and for a cure for brain cancer!


Here are details on the race:
  • Saturday, May 10, 2014
  • 8 a.m.
  • Oak Point Park, Plano, Texas
  • Team registration: $23 through April 18; $27 from April 19 to May 7; $30 on race day
  • Kids Fun Run registration: $10 (ages 10 and younger)
For more race details, click here.

To register for the race, click here

When you register, be sure to join our team: Run for Steve Damm.

If you're not able to participate but would like to donate to the Head for the Cure Foundation, please click here

NEW TEAM SHIRTS
Also, whether or not you can join us May 10, you can buy the fun new DAMM TEAM T-shirt! We hope to see lots of tie-dye and bright blue out at the race -- both styles that Steve Damm would have approved.



To order shirts, click here. They'll all be delivered to me, and I'll distribute them before the race.

Please let me know if you have questions! Email me at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Interview

I survived the interview with Pastor Andy at First UMC Lewisville a couple of weeks ago.

Whew.

Actually, I knew I would survive. Andy is a dear friend and would never lead me astray. Plus I have an incredible support team. And in each of the three services, there were friendly faces in the pews.

Kathy and Scott, Kris and Maddie at the first service.

Andy's family at the second service.

Katrina, the whole Amezcua clan, Chelsea and Neil at the third.

During the interview, Andy walked me through 10 questions related to life before cancer, life during and life after. I spoke about (or tried to remember to speak about) our storybook life before that December 2007 MRI, about my fears of becoming a single mom, about the life-sustaining network that supported us, about the people placed in our lives who eased our burdens, about not being angry at God, about hymns and Scripture that provide strength greater than grande soy lattes.

After each service, there were kind folks who stopped by to give me a hug or share their own stories. A few are even fans of my column. (That's always a little odd to me, because in my mind there are about 100 people, all of them my friends, who read my column.)

I met a woman in the restroom who thanked me for sharing my story and then broke down in tears because she had lost her own dear husband last April. We held hands for a few moments.

A young man asked for advice for his mom, who struggles daily with grief and can't seem to "move on."

A woman whose husband is a cancer survivor told me that she could relate to our story, even though their story has a different ending.

I'm not sure when, if ever, I'll listen to the interview, but if you'd like to, you can find it here or download it here. (From the third service, I believe.)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Cooper & Steve

No doubt, Cooper is his own young man. His own big personality, gifts, sense of humor, talents and quirks. But there are moments when it seems as if Steve is whispering in his ear. Sometimes he flashes a facial expression that makes me catch my breath or laugh uncontrollably.

This morning, as we were getting ready to leave for church, I asked Cooper and Katie to check all the doors and to love on Margie a little. Maybe give her a scratch on the head.

A minute later, as we were walking out the door, Cooper reported, "Margie's head has been thoroughly scratched."

Steve's words, inflection and tone -- right out of Cooper's mouth.

About 25 minutes later, I was attempting to take our weekly photo on Steve's bench at church.

Some Sundays I get a good photo in four or five tries. Others, well, it's more like 40 or 50. The sun is too sunny or someone's hair is too ticklish or someone is slouching while the other is twisting.

Today, Cooper's arm was placed around Katie in a way that made her uncomfortable. So I asked Cooper to move his arm behind her but not around her.

All sorts of Steve-style goofiness broke out.


Can you see his awkwardly bent left arm and hand?

How about now?

Pure Steve Damm.


I eventually captured this, the "good" photo, though I'm a big fan of the others, too.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Walking with God Through Hard Times

When Steve was planning his memorial service (unbeknownst to me), he asked that I participate. He wanted me to speak, but he knew me well enough to know that I'm terrified of public speaking and that I'd be too much of a mess to speak at his service.

He, of course, was right.

Instead, I wrote about Steve for the service, and Betty read the words on my behalf. I still don't know how she managed, but I'm so thankful she did.

Since Steve's death, I've spoken publicly just a few times -- sometimes about being a mom, sometimes about Steve, usually about both. My fear of public speaking eases a little every time. My emotions have dropped from terrified to nervous.

And now, of course, I speak in front of a roomful of children five days a week. Teaching never makes me nervous.

Do you think Steve would believe that I've agreed to speak in front of an entire church congregation for three consecutive services?

Well, he probably would -- Steve was my biggest, most ardent fan. 

Our former senior pastor, Andy Lewis, has asked me to join him at First United Methodist Church Lewisville this Sunday morning to talk about "Walking with God Through Hard Times."

We'll talk about life before brain cancer, life during and life after. We'll talk about the people who supported our family, the faith that sustained us, the joy that emerges when you least expect it. We'll talk about God's love and grace and strength.

When: 8:30 a.m., 9:45 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 16
Where: First UMC Lewisville, 907 W. Main St., Lewisville

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Super Bowl Sunday 1994

When Steve and I were engaged Dec. 25, 1993, he was the assistant administrator at a multi-specialty physician clinic in Brenham and I was the food editor at the Bryan-College Station Eagle.

About a week after our engagement, Mel Tittle, managing editor of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal called and, after chatting for a few minutes, asked me to fly to Lubbock to interview for a copy-editing job.

I agreed. As Steve drove me to the Austin airport very early the morning of my interview, I told him I was just going to practice my job-seeking skills. I mean, it was Lubbock. (No offense, Lubbock friends, but I had grown up hearing less-than-flattering descriptions of West Texas from family members who hailed from Midland.)

When Steve picked me back up that night at the Austin airport, I told him that we needed to move. (These were the pre-cellphone days. There was no way to telegraph my excitement about the Lubbock newsroom and, let's be honest, the prospect of making $10 an hour, compared to $7.50 an hour.)

Oh, that Steve Damm was a patient fellow. And totally, completely supportive.

By the end of January, we had moved a few things to Lubbock. On Jan. 30, 1994, after we'd driven to Lubbock, Steve flew back to Austin so that he could return to Brenham for a couple of weeks.

It was Super Bowl night. The Dallas Cowboys were playing the Buffalo Bills. We watched some of the game in the airport bar. Then Steve boarded his flight, missing an hour of the game. When he landed in Austin, he caught the end. Dallas won, 30-13.

What I remember most about that night: A huge sense of melancholy when Steve boarded the plane.

Oh, I cried and cried and cried. Though there was promise of good times to come, I felt so very alone. Alone in a new town that isn't at its prettiest in late January. (I did learn to love Lubbock, though never really for its aesthetic qualities.)

We would have many goodbyes to come. In 1997, after Steve graduated with his MBA from Texas Tech, he accepted a job with Arthur Andersen, working as a consultant. Almost every week for three years, he would board a plane -- first for Los Angeles, then for St. Louis.

Goodbyes were never easy, but they became routine. There was always the promise of a reunion in just a few days.

Some day we'll have a different kind of reunion. Until then, there are many, many good days in store. I am thankful for every single one.

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.
-- Jeremiah 29:11

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Moments

When we all arrived home today, we found a note on the door.

A medical supply company -- a vendor that Steve's hospice agency used -- had stopped by to check on an oxygen compressor.

It took them four and a half years.

I had called the company in September 2009, not long after Steve died, asking that someone pick up the compressor. No one did. And so it has sat in our garage ever since.

I wonder what made them stop by today of all days to check on it.

I called the number left on the card. We've arranged a pickup date so the company can retrieve its compressor.

***

Cooper and a friend at school were talking about their fathers today. The friend's dad died when he was 4.

"He didn't really know what death meant then," Cooper said. "And I was 8 when Daddy died, and I sort of knew what death meant."

The boys have two friends who are suddenly, without warning, mourning the death of their father.

"At 12, you really know what death means."

Cooper and I are both praying that he can offer comfort.

***

All this talk got Katie talking. (Not that that's difficult to do.)

"I remember the day Daddy died," she said. "Aunt Ami gave me a bubble bath. My fingers were like raisins. I didn't totally understand Daddy's death."

***

Two weeks ago, my trusty minivan was hit in a parking lot. The driver of the Hummer was apologetic and quick to take responsibility. There's a big ol' hole on the left side of my car.

Arranging a time for an adjustor to look at the damage is difficult when you have a daytime job. I took a risk and scheduled the first appointment on the books -- today at 4:40 p.m. in Plano, about 15 miles from school. It was risky because we have staff meetings on Wednesdays. Would I get out in time to make the appointment?

Never fear. Betty volunteered to drive from Dallas to Frisco, pick up the van, drive it to Plano and then back to our house in Frisco.

There's no way I could manage this full, busy, joyful life without help. I'm so thankful for the people around us who never fail to amaze me with their wide-open hearts and practical, logistical solutions.

***

This is a big weekend. It's the annual Daddy-Daughter Dance.

You may recall that Katie went with Steve when she was 3. We knew that it was probably the only dance they'd ever attend together.

Since then, she's been escorted by Uncle Greg or Papa. This year she asked Uncle Jim to be her date.

He, of course, said yes, and will fly in from Washington, D.C., to take his 8-year-old niece to the dance.

She will wear sequins. She has agreed to some curls in her hair. She will no doubt have a lovely time.

And yet I'm preparing my heart for the inevitable heartache she feels and expresses after this annual event, where she sees her friends dance with their daddies.

This year we talked about the possibility of staying home or finding another way to spend the day. It would be OK, I told her, to skip in an effort to avoid emotional pain.

She would not even entertain the idea.

If you think about it this Saturday evening, maybe you could pray for her tender heart.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Reminders

Steve loved spicy food of all kind. He especially loved Korean food. He often told me about lunches at Steve's Lunch, a little restaurant in Ann Arbor. His favorite meal there was bibimbap -- rice with veggies, meat and a fried egg on top. When we would eat Korean together, he would almost always choose spicy pork with kimchi.

On Friday, Cooper, Katie and I had a late lunch at a little Korean place in Plano.

Katie ordered a rice bowl with fish. (She's been a practicing pescatarian since August.) I ordered a rice bowl with chicken and kimchi.

Cooper studied the menu for a while then ordered a spicy pork rice bowl with a fried egg and kimchi.

I laughed and laughed. It was totally a Steve Damm kind of order.

Coop at Kor-BQ

***

Also on Friday, we received a letter from Alpha Tau Omega -- Steve's fraternity at Michigan. The organization isn't yet aware of Steve's death and therefore sent him a certificate for 25 years of membership.

I suppose it's time I send ATO a note about Brother Damm, initiated in 1988.


***

One of Cooper's middle school coaches passed away this week. Coach Furnas was, by all accounts, a treasured coach and role model. He was 39.

Cooper wasn't sure that he wanted to attend the memorial service. I told him that I would support him either way. I also gently told him that there are no second chances on weddings and funerals. We talked about why it might be good to be around other students and to say goodbye.

He ultimately decided to attend and says he's glad that he did. It's definitely been a rough, fragile, emotional weekend around here. I've taken a lot of deep breaths and asked for an extra measure of patience.

Tomorrow is the first day of school after winter break. A team of counselors will be on campus to visit with students and staff as needed.

***

In one of our talks this weekend, Cooper and I talked about anger toward God.

I told him that God no doubt can handle all the questions and anger we have. God's love for us never, ever wavers.

O give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.
(Psalm 136:26)