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)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

20 years

On Dec. 25, 1993, Steve Damm asked me to marry him.

I said yes. Of course.

Twenty years later, nothing is how we expected it to be. Of course. It never is.

Still, two decades after I said yes, I feel treasured, loved and secure. And I pray that Cooper and Katie feel the same. 

One of my favorite quotes on Christmas, outside of Scripture itself, comes from one of my favorite authors, the late Madeleine L'Engle. 

Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for you? 

We, the children of God, are all treasured, loved and secure. I am forever thankful for the mystery and wonder and awe that is the birth of Christ -- and for God's love for us all represented in that tiny baby.  

Merry Christmas!
Christmas cousins: Katie, Cooper, Molli & Brooke
Christmas Eve: Uncle Jim, Tyra, Betty, Katie, Cooper & Jim 
Christmas Day: Betty, Katie and Jim
Christmas Day: Tyra, Cooper and Uncle Jim

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Missing in so many ways

After more than four years of living without Steve, there are still multiple moments that I'm struck by how much we miss him.

For example, just from the past few weeks:

When Cooper, Katie and I sat in the front row at Foundation United Methodist Church in Temple for my mom's memorial service

When we were visiting with the Pry-Beckas and Will asked Cooper a goofy question and Cooper didn't speak -- only replied with a total Steve Damm smirk

When I learned that Katie has dyslexia (though I know she will be fine and that we are fortunate that she already compensates well for her learning disability)

When I rediscovered an old lab report from chemotherapy days

When hilarious/shocking/heartbreaking/uplifting moments happen at school and I want to  tell him

When Katie received awards for a poem and pastel drawing for this year's PTA Reflections contest

When Cooper helped a woman at Tom Thumb, and our cashier praised his kindness until the tips of his ears turned red

When there are overlapping meetings/appointments/practices and we need logistical help

When the seventh-grade science fair project is due

When the Christmas music at church is so powerful that it brings tears to my eyes

When I'm re-watching Anchorman in anticipation of the (quite possibly awful) sequel

When we're hanging Christmas ornaments that tell dozens of stories of the past 20 years

When I remember that 20 years ago this Christmas we were engaged

When Katie tells me she can't remember his voice

When Cooper asks questions about how much treatment Steve had for his cancer because he didn't know at the time and/or doesn't remember

Of course, all of those moments don't crowd out the joy of our days. I simply live with the absence instead of fighting it or ignoring it. And I get to live with the two best reminders of Steve.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

45 Acts of Kindness: The Recap


I don't have an exact count, but based on texts, emails, Facebook posts and conversations, I'm certain we surpassed our family's goal of 450 kind acts in memory of Steve.

All over Frisco, and Texas, and the United States, and even the world, folks were going out of their way to make life brighter for others.

A couple of days after Nov. 4, Katie was reading the blog on her iPod Touch. She would exclaim things like, "This one's from Oklahoma!" and "There was one in Seattle!" and "Did you know they were doing this in Canada?"

Cooper, Katie and I were smiling all week, thrilled with the response and touched by the kind souls who surround us.

An incredible side effect of this big celebration: Cooper and Katie are gaining new appreciation for their Daddy's legacy. Many of their Steve memories are fading. They talk about how they don't remember his voice. They don't recall small, daily details of life with their Daddy.

Truly, that breaks my heart.

But they do know that he was the kind of man who still inspires people today -- to be giving, silly, funny, a little mischievous and a whole bunch of loving.

Truly, that warms my soul.

Thank you, kind family members, friends and friends-we-don't-yet-know, for celebrating with us! We can't wait for 46 Acts of Kindness, Nov. 4, 2014.

Links to the blog posts:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Link to the Facebook page.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

45 Acts of Kindness: Part 24

From Tricia of Frisco:

Emma, Will and I brought a bouquet of flowers to the Plano Presby nurses station and asked that they give them to a patient who'd been there a while without visitors or flowers.


***

From Gina of Plano:

Kent and I made a donation to the American Cancer Society for research in memory of Steve and for 45 Acts of Kindness. We've lost so many loved ones through the years (my uncle just this past April) and have so many friends and family either currently facing this disease themselves or facing it with a loved one. We hope/pray research will one day put a stop to a disease that takes way too many far too soon. Thanks for giving us this opportunity! We so admire what you've done to remember Steve and to help others. You and your kiddos are true inspirations! :)

***

Update from Beatrice:

I was able to deliver the bag of food to the family outside of target... as i was leaving a gentleman pulled up and handed her some cash.... hope they have a good dinner tonight.....

***

From Marilie of Cypress:


Donated a huge bag of candy in honor of Steve to Cypress Cares to send to troops overseas. 

***

From Amy:

I saw my friend walking to work today and picked her up. She bought me a coffee.


***

From Nicole in Vancouver:


Finally! We made it out. I wanted it to be a family thing. Concession at the rink where we bought an instructor her snack then left the sweet concession lady a few dollar tip. Next went to McDonalds where we bought the orders for the 2 cars behind ours. Gave the print out and the brief story...hope it brightened their day In Memory of Your Husband/Daddy's birthday! 



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

45 Acts of Kindness: Part 23

From Toya in Minnesota:

Here's what I did in recognition of 45 Acts of Kindness ... treats for my colleagues on a gloomy Minnesota Monday, drove a friend home from work so she didn't have to take a bus and made a donation to St. Jude's. Thank you for inviting me to participate. Always honored to do so.


***

From Denise in Frisco:

We did two acts yesterday. We paid for a prescription for an hourly employee whom we love and is uninsured. We also gave a 20 dollar tip to a gentleman at Subway who is amazing and so kind! Thanks for letting us honor Steve. It was our honor!


***

Just after Katie and I arrived home from school, one of our dear friends was at the door, carrying homemade chocolate cake. Thank you, Jakob, for the delicious treat! (As Cooper says, "It doesn't even taste like it was made by a fifth-grader.")


***

From Renee:

This year I went through my day looking to extend kindness through my normal interactions. I gave a high school student an $8 tip when he brought my vanilla diet coke at Sonic. I gave someone a box (several packages) of gum because they are always supplying others with gum. I was reminded of the importance of appreciating those God brings my way...every day. I shared Steve's story and people were touched by his life.

***

From Lori:


Left a $50 tip on a $50 ticket for a waitress who works 2 full-time jobs.

***

From DeLois in Frisco:

Last year I gave to my church to help with families in need. This year I gave Starbucks gift cards to our school office staff, our school nurse, and our school custodians.

***

From Uncle Greg in Anna:


We checked up on and spent time with an elderly neighbor who loves company.



***

From Cortney in Minnesota:

Daughter made glitter smiley faces on the back of our 45act cards and handed out cookies to the kids at the park. mom brought coffee for the adults. we had a blast and spread the word about faith love kindness and steve. after having a bad day it was a great way to lift my spirits and i left the park with a smile i just couldn't get off my face. thanks steve.