Sunday, December 27, 2009

No cards this year

We didn't send Christmas cards this year. I wrote about why for one of my Briefing columns this week. You can read it here or here:

Christmas cards aren't all we're missing right now

This Christmas I followed the advice of countless women's magazine articles. In the middle of the busiest, most wonderful time of the year, I let something go.

I didn't send Christmas cards.

This is a big deal. I started my Christmas card tradition more than two decades ago, while still in high school.

I used to pride myself on having them mailed the day after Thanksgiving, eager to spread Christmas cheer as early as was socially acceptable.

I have an entire drawer in my craft closet devoted to Christmas cards – leftovers from previous years and potential future cards.

For the past few years, I've staged multiple photo sessions in front of our Christmas tree, seeking the one image that communicates the joy of Christmas and reflects the genuine happiness of our family.

I loved pulling all the pieces together and sending holiday greetings to the best friends I see every day, to distant relatives, to the couple I haven't seen since we met on a cruise in 2000.

But all that good cheer takes time.

This season, my first Christmas season as a widow and single mom, I've worked diligently to hold together tradition and create new memories. When I went through a mental checklist of everything that must be done, could be done and could be let go, Christmas cards kept falling to the bottom.

And though time is the biggest factor, not sending a card this year also solves other problems.

For one, I haven't even finished sending acknowledgement cards after Steve's memorial service in September. I'm relying on the grace of friends and family members, who surely understand that thank-you notes, while important and polite, haven't been my top priority.

Still, it feels strange to send Christmas cards before I've finished a three-month-old task.

Plus, I can't imagine a photo that could adequately communicate our condition. Cooper and Katie have exponentially more moments of joy every day than moments of sadness. But there's no denying that the grief of losing their beloved daddy affects us every day.

It seems almost dishonest – or incomplete – to send out more than a hundred copies of a cheery photo.

And, truthfully, it delays by a little the sad act of signing just three names.

When we started receiving sympathy cards in September, I struggled with looking at the envelopes. Those that were addressed to "The Damm Family" were much easier to take than those with "Tyra, Cooper and Katie."

The lack of a "Steve" triggered tears almost every time.

Every time this month that I considered squeezing in time for cards, the idea of excluding his name at the bottom triggered the same kind of tears.

I have thought of the message I would write. It would go something like this:

Dear friends and family,

We started 2009 praying for a miracle for Steve. We're ending the year without him.

Cooper, Katie and I are thankful beyond words for the support, love and prayers you showered us with the past two years – first as Steve battled brain cancer and then as we learned how to move forward as a family without his physical presence.

Steve truly believed that every day was a gift. He woke up thanking God for the new day, and then he lived each day with concern for others over himself, with a contagious laugh and with a cheerful spirit that lives on in his children.

We wish you and your loved ones peace and joy in 2010.

Love, Tyra, Cooper and Katie


Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. E-mail her at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

This is our house, in the middle of the Christmas Eve snowstorm. (I know. "Snowstorm" is relative. But by North Texas standards, the day's weather and at least two inches of snow was remarkable.)

When Cooper first saw the snow falling, he told Uncle Jim that "Daddy was having a snowball fight in heaven."

Before we left for Christmas Eve services tonight, Katie was talking about Christmas in heaven.

"The best Christmas is with God, right?" our 4-year-old said. "Well, Daddy is with God, so he is going to have the BEST Christmas!"

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Abby's gift


Do you remember Abby? In July she and Asher organized a lemonade stand to raise money for Steve's health care expenses.

On Tuesday darling Abby turned 8. As part of her celebration, she asked her friends to join her for Christmas caroling at our house.

Abby, her friends and her friends' parents crowded on our front porch and steps to sing beautiful music. They were led by Broadway star David Gaschen (and Frisco dad), best known for his 1,300-plus performances as the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera.

David sang to Cooper, Katie and me a gorgeous rendition of "Grown-up Christmas List." He also helped Cooper lead the group in "The Little Drummer Boy" -- Cooper's favorite Christmas song.

We all finished by singing "Silent Night."

I love Abby and her sweet soul. I love that we're surrounded by so many supportive families. I love that our children are growing up in a community that sincerely cares for one another. I love the reminder that the best gifts are the gifts of time and heart and spirit.

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown-up Christmas list
(lyrics by Linda Thompson-Jenner)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Catching up

I'm so proud of everyone who ran White Rock in memory of Steve. I still need to post results and photos. I've been especially busy with Christmas activities and work. And, after last year's glorious race day, it's difficult to recap this year's day in Steve's absence. I appreciate your patience and hope to complete the post soon!


***
Betty, Katie and Cooper on Monday

Cooper, Katie, Betty and I went to the flagship Neiman Marcus today to let Cooper and Katie crawl through this year's Christmas window display. (It's a whimsical, interactive tunnel designed for children 4 through 10. If you're in Dallas and have time this week, you should go!)

On the drive downtown, Katie said to Betty, "Grandma, I wish one of your kids didn't die."

I'm proud of Katie for thinking beyond her own loss and for considering how Steve's death affects others.

Katie and Tyra before church Sunday

***

Cooper has been talking a lot lately about everything he would trade to have Daddy back. All of his Legos. Everything in his room. All the money in the world.

Cooper and Katie on Sunday


***

Every day I discover something else I miss about Steve. It's a blessing, really, that it comes in drips and not one big flood all at once. I would be washed away if my heart fully realized everything at one time.

This weekend, when I caught a glimpse of the Kansas-Michigan game, I realized how much I missed and will miss watching Michigan basketball games with Steve.

I miss how he would say "very nice," kind of like Elvis.

I miss how he made me feel confident.

I miss how he would send me a one-word e-mail out of the blue. The word: Blub. (It was our silly code word for "I love you, and I'm thinking of you, and you make me happy, and thank you.")

I miss how he would make us all laugh at dinner with funny voices -- especially his exaggerated German accent.

***

Tonight Betty and I attended a holiday memorial service offered by our hospice agency.

We each lit a candle in remembrance of a loved one and spoke the name aloud.

In that moment, I felt not drips of grief but an entire flood.

But then the storm subsided. It always does.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
(Hebrews 11:1)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cooper sings

The music therapist who works with Cooper and Katie every other week encouraged Cooper to write and sing a song about Steve.

Before her visit this week, Cooper made a list of words that remind him of Daddy. Lisa helped him transform those words into a fun song. He gave me permission to share with a caveat: He asks that no one laugh at the first few seconds of his performance. (He didn't realize that "the camera was rolling.")

video

I love it! My two favorite moments are the fingers used for counting -- especially for six -- and the use of the word "scrumptious."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

White Rock: Quick version

Part of the team gathered early Sunday morning: (top row, from left) Clay, Sharon, Allison, Jim, Will, Sally, Paul; (bottom row, from left) Carlin, Tyra, Liz and Holly.

The Run for Steve runners rocked the Rock today!

Our group covered all the races -- full, half and relay. This year's Run for Steve shirt (inspired by Fletch, conceived by Will, designed by Layne and printed by the Lovells) was all over the course and on the sidelines.

I ran faster than usual, partly because there were friendly faces along my six-mile route and mostly because I was thinking of sweet Stevie D. The simple phrase "Run for Steve" has so much meaning -- because he can't any more but we can, because we are healthy and able, because his short life was joyful and filled with contagious love.

Thanks to everyone who ran, who supported the runners and who prayed for us. And special thanks to Liz, who for the second year organized our group and took care of countless details.

This week I'll post more photos and link to results. (Fellow runners -- please e-mail me photos from the day. I'd love to have a more complete set to share.)

Betty, Jim, Jim, Cooper, Tyra and Katie

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pre-race dinner

Jim and Betty hosted a lovely pre-race pasta party for the Run for Steve racers and friends tonight.

We were sad to miss a few folks because of conflicts and illness but look forward to seeing everyone out on the course early Sunday morning.

Follow this link for more photos from my camera.

Layne's photos are here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Two years

I really don't like Dec. 11.

Two years ago today, Steve and I stood in a dark room at a nearby hospital, staring in horror at a scan of his brain. There was a glaring white spot in the pons of his brain stem.

The doctor reading the scans was somber and looked at us with a downcast expression we would see again and again over the next few weeks -- sorrow and dread.

So much of our lives changed in those moments.

I had trouble going to sleep last night, knowing that I'd wake up on Dec. 11 without Steve. Today is a world away from last year, when we celebrated a full year since learning of the lesion that later became known as the Damm Spot.

I think that I subconsciously filled the day with even more activity than normal.

Katie and I took Cooper and friend Kyla to school, then we drove to Liz's. Liz's parents are in town and were able to watch Katie and Noe while Liz and I ran four miles -- our last run before the race Sunday.

Katie and I came home just in time for Teresa to install new shades in the master bathroom -- a project we started this summer to help reduce the glare in the bedroom. (The light was hurting Steve's eyes.)

Then we hurried off to the gym for Katie's weekly tumbling class.

After tumbling, Katie and I were back in the minivan (which is dressed as Rudolph with antlers and a red nose, thanks to Liz), headed out for lunch and errands.

I turned on the radio just in time to hear a song that made me laugh and cry at the same time -- "The Song That Goes Like This" from the musical Spamalot.

A few weeks before Dec. 11, 2007, Steve and friend Jennifer sang "The Song That Goes Like This" for our church choir's annual fundraiser. Steve sang with his trademark enthusiasm and sense of humor.

I love that even on Dec. 11, just three months after Steve passed away, there is so much joy. Friends who cheer us up, family members who call just to say hi, silly Christmas disguises for cars, songs that evoke special memories.

Enjoy the song performed by Steve and Jennifer in autumn 2007!

video

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Steve on TV

The local NBC affiliate interviewed me, Cooper and Katie yesterday about Steve and the team running in his memory this Sunday.

Different versions of the story ran throughout the evening on different newscasts. If you were watching Channel 5, you probably noticed that the reporter called our children "Katie and Connor." And you may have been one of dozens of people who yelled at the television, "It's Cooper!"

Cooper was disappointed that his name was wrong, but he was a good sport.

Here's the version that's available online. Or you can go here.

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcdfw.com/video.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

If you're in the Dallas area ...

... you can watch the Damm family on Channel 5 this afternoon.

In advance of the White Rock Marathon this weekend, Cooper, Katie and I were interviewed today about Steve. A short version of the story is slated for the 4 p.m. broadcast; a longer story will be on at 5 p.m.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Guest blogger Liz: Cheer for the Run for Steve runners!

The White Rock Marathon is just days away!

The Run for Steve runners have been getting ready for the big race Sunday, but even if you aren't running you can still be involved. As many runners will tell you, seeing a smiling face and hearing cheers can do wonders.

Check this link at dallasnews.com for a great map of the course. It will help you find a location for cheering on the team.

Two very special runners, Tyra and Steve's brother Jim, will be among the many runners on a Run for Steve relay team this year. For anyone interested, Tyra will be running the first segment (miles 1 through 6) and Jim will be running the last (miles 20-26). Check the map for the relay point locations.

Please come out and help us show our support for our dearly missed, good friend Steve!

-- Liz

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Missing Steve

Cooper told me recently that his only request from Santa this year is one more opportunity to talk with Daddy.

We talked about how Cooper can talk to Daddy whenever he wants. But I know what he means -- he wants a real conversation.

The hospice music therapist and grief counselor visited this week and proposed that Cooper write a song for Steve. So we're keeping track of special words to help write the lyrics, and when the hospice team returns in two weeks, they'll work on recording the song.

Cooper says that he wants to hold on to the resulting CD for the rest of his life and then will deliver it to heaven.

***

Katie woke from a nap this week very upset. She was sobbing and said that she was sad about Daddy. "When Daddy died, it felt like God died, too," she said.

I held her for a long time, and we talked about how much Daddy's death hurts. We also talked about how Steve's love never dies and God never dies, even when we feel so very sad.

***

I was recently asked to write an essay about dealing with loss during the holidays for a Fort Worth Star-Telegram publication. You can read my contribution here.

Or here:

For the first Christmas ever, my 8-year-old son has absolutely no chance of getting what he wants.

Cooper is asking Santa for one last opportunity to talk with his daddy.

His daddy — and 4-year-old Katie’s daddy and my husband — passed away at home in early September. For 20 months, Steve had fought an inoperable brain tumor. With the help of radiation, bio-agents, three kinds of chemotherapy, prayers from around the world and heroic tenacity, he outlived statistical predictions.

He reached his goal of living until his 40th birthday, but he didn’t make it to 41.

And he didn’t make it to Christmas. So now I’m ushering our young children through an unpredictable grief process while trying to create a Christmas season that reflects as much joy and warmth as possible — all while tending to my own sorrow.

Part of me would like to fast-forward through the rest of this year, speed past the aching sadness of a holiday season without my one true love. The rational, realistic part of me, though, acknowledges that our little family has to trudge through. Living through the pain of our loss is part of the slow healing process.

The truth is that I’ve been dreading the Christmas season ever since Steve took his final breath. We were always a Christmas family. Steve and I were engaged Christmas morning 1993. Our tree has always been covered with ornaments that denote deep meaning. Almost every vacation we took together is represented by trinkets like the Eiffel Tower, the Manhattan skyline and an Amish horse-drawn buggy. Every Christmas Eve we attend candlelight services at our cozy church. Then we give our children matching pajamas. We all wake up Christmas Day to find signs that Santa visited.

Until Steve’s diagnosis two years ago, we fully expected to continue those traditions for four or five decades, welcoming grandchildren to the scene.

As Cooper declares multiple times a week, it’s not fair.

It’s not fair that Steve’s life didn’t last long enough. It’s not fair that we’ll wake up Christmas morning with three people in the house instead of four. It’s not fair that Cooper and Katie’s Christmas memories of their daddy at parades, pageants and parties are blunted at such a young age.

More than one well-meaning friend has told me how important this first Christmas without Steve is. The implication: Mess this one up, and your children will remember it forever. I’ve learned that children — especially mine, who have spent two years living with uncertainty — are flexible and forgiving, but I still want to craft a season that evokes more mirth than melancholy.

So, in addition to sticking with tradition, we’ve adopted new habits. Margie the dog is wearing a Christmas sweater (which makes the children much happier than Margie). There are animatronic, lighted reindeer in the front yard. We’ve welcomed an Elf on the Shelf into our home. We have tickets to a performance of The Nutcracker.

I’m no expert in grief recovery, but I remind myself daily that there is no correct way to grieve, and I’m applying that concept to Christmas. There is no correct way to conduct Christmas without Steve.

My prayer is that as the three of us struggle through this first December after Steve’s death, we will cry when we need to and laugh when we can. And we will create our own new memories that don’t ignore Steve but instead honor him.

The tree is up, though this year I couldn’t bear to hang the ornaments myself. My sister and her family took care of decorating, saving me from hours of sobbing. The Santa photos are up, too, though this year I couldn’t bear to take down the photos of Steve. Our shelves are more crowded but more beautiful.

We’ll sit among dear friends at Christmas Eve services, but Steve won’t be in the choir loft, singing Silent Night with fellow tenors. Cooper and Katie will receive their traditional pajamas, but this year I selected the print myself.

And, yes, Santa will visit. But there’s no way he can deliver the two-way conversation that Cooper desperately wants. And he can’t fulfill my totally irrational wish to bring Steve back.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Missing

Tonight I attended the first in a series of grief workshops at church. We've hired a trained grief expert to lead a six-week class for folks who have suffered a loss.

I learned a lot during the 90 minutes. What struck me most was this visual that Marilyn, our leader, provided.
Imagine that the circle on the left represents the person who's still alive. The circle on the right represents the person who has died. The gray area, the overlap, is what those two people shared.
When the person on the right is gone, the person on the left has a gaping, jagged hole.

It's an analogy that makes great sense to me. But during the class, I drew a different version.

Steve and I shared so much -- interests, values, ideas, experiences, dreams, love for each other, our children and others. The overlap is giant.And, of course, that means the hole is giant, too.

This illustration helps me put into perspective my great sense of loss and offers another example of why this grieving process is lengthy and painful.

I am thankful for so many kind souls who understand that this is a journey, that I'm not going to wake up one day soon and say, "OK! Everything is back to normal!"

The illustration is also a welcome reminder that Steve's circle overlapped with hundreds of other circles. There are lots of circles out there with gaping Steve holes.

Thanksgiving week, Part 2

Katie, Molli, Brooke and Cooper

Tara, who is taking her fourth year of ceramics


Cooper and Uncle Jim

Katie and Uncle Rich
Melane and Aunt Ami
Uncle Greg, official turkey carver

Cousins just before their annual toast (Cooper raised his cup and said heartily, "to Steve Damm!")

Jim and Betty
Ami, Tyra and Betty

After our quick San Antonio trip, the children and I drove back to Austin to stay with Aunt Ami and Uncle Rich.

We spent much of the time preparing for Thanksgiving dinner. Cooper, Katie, Brooke and Molli also played a lot, scattered wildflower seeds in the back lot and generally enjoyed having time together. We also visited cousin Tara at Westlake High School, where she's a senior. The ceramics studio and fine arts facilities are impressive for any level, especially high school.

(On a side note: The same day we visited Tara, Westlake's dance team director, Chelsee Capezzuti, was undergoing an exceedingly long surgery at UT-Southwestern. Every teacher we walked by was wearing a T-shirt in honor of Chelsee. It was a beautiful show of support.

Dr. Mickey, who was one of the first neurosurgeons Steve and I consulted almost two years ago, was removing a brain stem tumor that Chelsee has named "Betsy."

Her tumor, which isn't a glioblastoma like Steve's, was closer to the skull and therefore eligible for surgery. I checked her online journal throughout the day and was thrilled to see that she came out of the surgery OK. According to Chelsee's site, 75 to 85 percent of Betsy was removed.)

Jim and Betty drove in from Dallas and Uncle Jim drove in from Houston to spend Thanksgiving Day with the rest of the Damms, the Joneses and the Woodburys.

Just before dinner, we all gathered in the kitchen for grace -- as we always do. This year, of course, was very different without Steve's physical presence.


I believe we all felt his spirit among us, but I also wanted a tangible reminder. So before the prayer, Cooper, Katie and I lit a candle in memory of Steve. I plan on doing this for every holiday or special event for, well, forever.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving week, part 1

Cooper, Katie and I left town for Thanksgiving break. After visiting my mom in Temple and taking my sister Melane and nieces Brooke and Molli to Austin, we continued south to San Antonio to spend a couple of days with Melissa and her family.

The list of firsts without Steve continues, and none of them get any easier. This was our first visit to Melissa's since Steve passed away. Our first road trip. Our first visit with my mom.

We are blessed to be surrounded every moment by lots of people who love us and care for us.

Cooper and Katie on the grounds of the Alamo
Cooper, Tyra and Katie at the Alamo
Cooper, Thalia, Melissa and Dylan on a river taxi

Carys and Katie

Cooper relaxing in the Japenese garden at the San Antonio Botanical Garden


Cooper, Katie, Thalia and Carys examining ducks at the Piney Woods pond

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving

Today was good. We're all tired and full. I'll update more later. Until then, here's my Briefing column that ran today.

***

My list of thanks is long this year, but it's overshadowed by my immeasurable sorrow – the death of my dear husband in September.

My list is probably similar to yours – family, friends, freedom, food, shelter. New to my list this year is thanks for tradition.

During our 15-year marriage, Steve and I created, adjusted and cemented traditions for all kinds of special occasions and everyday moments.

When we went to the movies, we had a no-snacks-during-previews tradition. Steve strongly believed that movie snacks were meant for the movie itself – not the marketing spots beforehand. He would playfully swat my hand if he heard me reaching for my box of Junior Mints too early.

When we drove out of town and passed by a Chicken Express restaurant, we would always scream out, "Aaaaaaaa," giving a voice to the cartoon chicken on the sign, hurtling through the air as if to its death just before being fried.

When we prayed – in church, at the dinner table, on the sofa – we always held hands. We did the same during every plane takeoff and landing.

When Cooper was just a few days old, we began the one-button, one-kiss tradition. For every button buttoned or snap snapped on our tiny son's outfits, we would plant a kiss on his fuzzy head or chubby cheeks or fleshy knees.

We did the same for Katie.

And when they're open to kisses from Mommy, I still sneak in kisses after helping with shirts or jackets. I think of Steve every single time.

I think of him every time I eat Junior Mints, see the doomed Chicken Express chicken, pray, take flight.

Sometimes those traditions are painful reminders of a horrific loss. More often, they make me smile or laugh or sigh with gratitude for the solid relationship we built and the love we shared.

For Cooper's first Christmas, we hatched a plan to buy him one special ornament a year – one that would represent something important about the previous year. We wanted to amass a meaningful ornament collection that he could take with him as an adult.

After brainstorming and shopping, we agreed on a small stuffed bear because a favorite nickname for our son was Cooper Bear. As we packed away the Christmas tree at the end of 2001, I wrote a short note about the ornament and tucked it into its box.

Since then we've added treasures like a toy robot and Harry Potter hurtling through the air on a broom. Katie's collection includes Raggedy Ann and Minnie Mouse. Each has a note about its significance.

Of course, Steve and I had no idea eight years ago that this Christmas would be without him. We were still blissfully unaware of the cancer diagnosis and unimaginable struggles to come.

Now I am especially thankful for what those ornaments represent – little glimpses of our lives during a specific moment in time, reminders of childhood, something tangible for Cooper and Katie to hold to remind them of life with both Mommy and Daddy.

I am thankful for so many of our traditions that will help to propel me through this difficult season of firsts without Steve.

We will spend Thanksgiving Day with Aunt Ami's family, where we'll cook and eat too much and play board games and stay up too late. We will cheer for marching bands from the bleachers at the Adolphus Children's Parade. We will attend candlelight Christmas Eve services at our church and wake up the next morning in our home, where we'll look for signs that Santa visited and eat French toast casserole for breakfast.

In the shadow of so much sorrow, I am thankful for the comfort found in doing things the way we always did them – even though I know those traditions will evolve over the years without Steve.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. E-mail her at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Guest blogger Liz: Order your T-shirts!


We're less than one month away from the big run -- the White Rock Marathon!

It's time to talk T-shirts. The logo on the shirts has been inspired by the movie Fletch, one of Steve's favorites. It is an uplifting tribute to our awesome friend. You should order a shirt whether you're running or not!

The short-sleeve shirts will be grey with blue writing and are available in two types. Runners might be interested in getting the special "technical" shirt, made for athletes. Cotton T-shirts are also available.

The prices will depend on how many we order but regardless they will be inexpensive. EmbroidMe of Carrollton has given our Run for Steve team -- and all who support us -- a generous discount.

Now, I need to get a final list of everyone who would like to buy a shirt. Even if you've already e-mailed me your size and preference, please e-mail me again at runforsteve@gmail.com. I want to make sure my list is accurate.

The cotton T-shirt is available in youth sizes small to extra large and adult sizes small to double extra large. All sizes are unisex sizes.

The technical shirts are available in adult unisex small to extra large.

Again, please e-mail me your shirt type and size, even if you've already done so.

Nov. 29 is the absolute last day to get me your shirt and size request.

Thanks! -- Liz

Friday, November 20, 2009

Encouragement

I'm training to run a leg of the relay in next month's White Rock Marathon.

This time last year, Allison and I were running two-hour long runs in preparation for the half. In 2009, though, I haven't had the time or energy to train for 13.1 miles.

In fact, there are many times that I thought I was foolish to sign up for the relay. I'm worn out from so many months of caregiving and grief.

But then I remember this moment, just after I crossed the finish line and was able to hold hands with Steve, who was so proud and so full of joy even though he couldn't join the team running in his honor.


That moment and Steve's spirit are what keep me going.

***

Check the blog again soon for details on ordering this year's Run for Steve shirt. Whether you're running with us, will be cheering from the street or will be with us in spirit, you'll definitely want your own shirt. Layne and Will have created a fun tribute to amazing Steve.

And if you are running and haven't registered, please don't delay! The race is 90 percent full and is expected to sell out within days.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lately

Last Monday, Cooper raced his Tasmanian Dolphin boat (built with assistance from Layne) in his Cub Scout pack's Rain Gutter Regatta. He huffed and puffed and placed third in his den!

And then Friday he was diagnosed with pneumonia. He had been fighting a cold and asthma-like symptoms that got much worse. We were able to treat his pneumonia with two oral antibiotics at home.

Cooper was devastated to miss board game day in his classroom and the annual autumn Scout camping trip. He was cheered by a cookie bouquet from Sharon and her family; a visit from Grandma; and two days with Uncle Jim, who was going to camp with Cooper but instead watched movies, helped make indoor s'mores and camped out upstairs with Cooper.

Cooper returned to school Tuesday in time to see the awesome One for Books display in the library, part of our school's book fair. All the names on the board represent a child or adult who donated money to be used to buy books for Children's Medical Center in memory of Steve.

Katie decided that she wanted to be extra fancy, like Fancy Nancy, this week and wore her sparkliest shoes and one of her prettiest dresses to preschool.

On Wednesday, I joined her class for a Thanksgiving feast. This place mat includes hand prints from all four of us -- Katie, Cooper, me and Steve. Katie's teacher was thoughtful enough to ask in late August that I trace Steve's hand for this project. I've saved his original hand print as a pattern to use for future projects -- and as a sweet reminder.

Katie and her classmates dressed as pumpkins for the lunch. It was the first preschool Thanksgiving feast without Steve -- one of countless painful firsts. Steve loved attending, never hesitating to reschedule a meeting or take a long lunch in order to sit in a crowded gym, admire handmade centerpieces and eat with Cooper or Katie and me.

Third-graders attended a touring company's opera performance this morning. Cooper put together his ensemble, including blue blazer and bow tie. When he came home this afternoon, I asked how he liked the show, "Three Billy Goats Gruff." His only complaint was that 30 minutes was too short.

While Cooper was at the opera, I was helping Albi, the librarian at Children's Medical Center at Legacy, shop for books. Albi let me choose a couple of Steve favorites -- books featuring Skippyjon Jones and Fancy Nancy. I am so thankful for Suzanne and Nicole (not shown), who organized the book fair and donation, and for all the Bledsoe families and neighbors who contributed.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gratitude

My friend Mary Jacobs, an amazing mom, friend, journalist and cancer survivor, writes for the United Methodist Reporter, a national newspaper for the United Methodist Church. For this week's issue, she writes about gratitude. (I'm among the many people she interviewed.)


***

Gratitude is especially timely now, of course, with Thanksgiving a week away. Practicing gratitude isn't seasonal, though -- a lesson that Steve taught me and that I continue to experience daily.

After Steve's diagnosis, he woke up every morning and thanked God for the gift of another day. I'm certain that Steve, in whatever way he's able, continues to give thanks for his eternal life.

My prayers to God throughout the day are most often thanks -- for a new day, for Cooper and Katie, for warm memories of Steve (even when they make me cry), for the kind souls who continue to support us and pray for us, for the ability to work from home, for my health, for more resources than we need, for unexpected moments of joy.

***

Until 2007, my favorite holiday was Thanksgiving. I like that it's relatively simple and calm. There aren't a lot of commercial expectations or over-the-top decorations. It's a day to spend with family.

Now, I struggle with the day because of associated memories.

We always spend Thanksgiving at Aunt Ami and Uncle Rich's home in Austin. Our visit in 2007 was one of our last moments as a family before cancer -- at least before we knew about it.

By then Steve and I were concerned about his symptoms (headache, slightly slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, hiccups). On our drive home from Austin, we agreed that he needed to call his physician first thing Monday. Putting all the symptoms together and saying out loud that we thought there was a problem was emotional at the time -- reflecting on it now is even more difficult.

A year later, we returned to Austin. So much had changed -- multiple MRIs, biopsy, diagnosis, radiation, chemotherapy, complications, hospitalizations. And the tumor that had been stable was starting to grow again. Steve's stability was compromised. His fatigue was greater.

We both prayed desperately that we'd have another year. We both understood that that was unlikely. We never gave up hope, but we constantly tried to balance optimism with realism.

And now it's another year later. We will return to Austin, and we will give thanks for our blessings. We will cook and eat our traditional dinner and play and laugh. And weep.

We'll work our way through a meaningful holiday without Steve. As we struggle, I'll continue to give thanks for his life and love and enduring legacy. Practicing gratitude is what gets me through some of my most grief-stricken moments.


Steve and Cooper, New York City, October 2003

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Katie's song

The three of us have been battling colds and coughs and sinus infections for a few days now. Cooper stayed home from school Monday (his favorite school day) with a painful cough and asthma-like symptoms. Before his doctor's appointment, we had mine.

The physician's assistant was asking all kinds of questions about Steve (medical providers are particularly curious about onset of symptoms) during my appointment. She commented that life must be difficult for Cooper but that maybe my 4-year-old doesn't really know what's going on.

I tried not to laugh out loud. Maybe the PA doesn't have children and doesn't understand what 4-year-olds are like?

How could Katie not understand what's going on? For almost half of her life, her beloved Daddy was fighting cancer and then he died. His absence is heavy on all of us every day. Thankfully, Katie isn't reserved about expressing her emotions.

She frequently talks about his status as an angel and wonders what he's doing RIGHT NOW in heaven. Is he wearing clothes? Who is he playing with? She and Cooper both frequently ask God and Jesus to say hi to Daddy and to give him hugs.

This morning before preschool she sat at the piano and declared that she would sing a song about Daddy. But in this song she would pretend that Daddy hadn't died.

She played random notes and sang softly:

Daddy, I’m happy
That you are still alive.
Daddy, I love you,
I love you so much.
I love whenever Margie licks you.
I love you, Daddy, when the trees have different color leaves.
Daddy, I like it when you brush my teeth.
Daddy, I’m happy you’re not going to die in this song.
Daddy, I love you so much.

Steve and Katie, the morning of her baptism, September 2005