Saturday, October 31, 2009


Friday morning Katie and I were spending special time together before her gymnastics class.

We were reading a Disney version of Tarzan when she placed her hand on my arm and said, "Mommy, I need to cuddle with you because I'm sad that Daddy died, and you have lots of Daddy's love in you."

Katie as Tinkerbell and Cooper as Davy Crockett -- both filled with lots of Daddy love

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Steve's birthday: New time

Steve's 41st birthday is next Wednesday, Nov. 4.

We're remembering the awesome Superman Steve with a balloon release at our neighborhood park and hope you can join us.

Here's the problem. Last week I told you we'd gather at 6 p.m. But sunset will be about 5:30 p.m. because of the end of Daylight Savings Time.

So, we need to gather at 5:15 p.m. instead. I'm really sorry if this excludes folks who are driving to Frisco after work.

We'll have note cards available at the park, in case you want to write a note to attach to your balloon. And we hope to have one balloon per person. This will be more easily achieved if I have an idea of who is coming.

If you think you'll be able to attend the little celebration in honor of Steve, please e-mail me at
  • 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4
  • Playground/park at the corner of Hunters Creek and Hidden Creek, Frisco

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grief bursts

Valerie, the hospice grief counselor who visits in our home every other week, often talks about grief bursts -- moments that overwhelm us.

The past week was filled with grief bursts around here.


I've learned that seemingly "easy" Steve-related tasks are best performed with a loved one nearby. A couple of weeks ago I was alone when I picked up copies of death certificates from the county office.

I was not prepared for how difficult it would be to see the cause of death, time, date, location, etc., in print. After I picked up the 20 copies, I hurried out of the office, sat in the minivan and sobbed, taking care to not get the official documents damp -- I don't want to make a return visit unless absolutely necessary.

Since then I've asked for help. Tuesday, for example, I filed for Social Security survivor benefits at the McKinney field office. Melane was able to meet me there, providing great comfort as I answered straightforward yet still-emotional facts about Steve's life and death.

Monday morning I'll have Liz and Zena by my side as I answer questions before a judge during a brief probate hearing at the Denton County Courthouse.


Just after I got home from the Social Security outing Tuesday, my laptop computer completely failed -- at the same time I was expected to log in to the Dallas Morning News system to begin an editing-from-home shift.

I tried all my old tricks, and nothing worked.

My usual backup plan is to use Steve's laptop. His was a work-issued computer, though, and is no longer here.

My next backup is our aging desktop computer. It no longer connects to our wireless network, though -- something that Steve was expert at fixing.

When I called Nicole to tell her that I would be unable to work, I burst into tears. Steve would have been able to help me find a solution, and without him I felt overwhelmed.

(In truth, I have Uncle Jim via telephone and many friends nearby available to help. But it's not the same as having my own resident IT expert. And I irrationally want absolutely nothing to change -- no electronics purchases, no changes to Windows 7 -- in Steve's absence.)


A few months ago I received an e-mail from Angie, a woman about my age who is caring for her dad. He is fighting a brain tumor, and his name is Steve. We've since corresponded frequently.

Angie's dad isn't doing well this week -- he's requiring more frequent doses of morphine and other comfort drugs -- and her family is never far from my thoughts.

I think that their situation has triggered more frequent recollections about Steve's final hours. I remember so many details from that Sunday and early Monday morning. But I couldn't remember if I had told Steve that I love him while he was still conscious -- and if so, had he heard me? Had he responded?

I spoke on the phone with Gretchen and later Melane. They reminded me that I had held his face in my hands as I told him, "I love you." And he definitely heard me.


Katie has been struggling the past couple of weeks. She's had more outbursts, more extreme 4-year-old behavior.

Her bursts are completely understandable. She's had no control over the past two years of her life -- half of her life. And now it's painfully obvious that her Daddy isn't coming back.

I'm offering her choices whenever possible and employing all of my dealing-with-a-preschooler tricks with varied success. And I'm continuing to give both Cooper and Katie multiple opportunities to express their feelings. We talk a lot about not keeping things bottled inside -- I think she's actually listening.


Our hospice grief session was Tuesday afternoon. After Lisa and Valerie leave, there is always a Cooper meltdown of some sort. It's as if he needs a "reset" -- a big breakdown followed by a couple of days of less anxiety.

He was sobbing about how life is unfair. And that if God had really cared about Daddy, God would have cured him of cancer.


Cooper talked more about Steve this weekend than he usually does without prompting.

Just before bedtime, he told me he was so sad about D-A-D-D-Y. "Bad things happen in this world. You don't always see it coming," our little philosopher said.

Then during his nighttime prayer he said, "God, please tell Daddy hi from me and save a good spot in heaven for me, Mommy and Katie."


Katie and Cooper, before church this morning

Despite these bursts, we are continuing to function and most of the time live joyfully.

Every day is a victory. We get out of bed every day. We eat (though admittedly I need to do a more consistent job of this myself), Cooper and Katie get to school on time, I get my work done. We socialize. We share our joys and sorrows at the end of the day. We make plans for the future. We are doing our best to honor Steve.

Katie, Saturday morning after she scored her first-ever soccer goal (photo by Layne Smith)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Save the date

Steve's 41st birthday is Nov. 4.

Our family is celebrating and remembering Steve with a balloon release that evening, and we welcome loved ones and friends to join us.

I'll have more details next week, but for now:
  • 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4
  • Playground/park at the corner of Hunters Creek and Hidden Creek, Frisco

Monday, October 19, 2009

Old haunts

Steve loved art. His favorite was modern, though he appreciated all kinds. He also loved sculpture and dreamed of creating his own bronze works.

He especially loved the Nasher Sculpture Center, a beautiful oasis in downtown Dallas. When the two of us would go alone, we would linger around each piece, and Steve would study angles, imagine technique, admire the surrounding trees and grass.

When we attended as a family, we would walk (or run) more quickly, spending more time with the whimsical pieces and exploring the grounds themselves -- ponds, bamboo, fountain. We'd also sit in the James Turrell skyscape and talk about the sky.

On one trip we even met Raymond Nasher himself. (He passed away in 2007.)

Cooper, Katie and Melissa

Yesterday, the three of us plus Melissa (who was in town to visit and help all weekend) returned.

The arts district now features two gorgeous additions -- the Winspear Opera House and Wyly Theater. We spent a couple of hours at the celebratory open house, watching a few performances (including a pianist in the opera house), snacking and walking through the Nasher.

I always feel Steve with me, but his presence was even stronger while I walked those familiar garden pathways. I loved that Cooper and Katie admired one of Steve's favorites -- a Henry Moore piece -- before I even had a chance to tell them what it meant to Daddy.

And just look at the joy in these two faces.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Three times Steve and I had planned to take Cooper and Katie to Legoland -- spring break 2008 (California), June 2009 (England) and July 2009 (California).

All three trips were canceled. We didn't dwell on the missed opportunities -- Cooper and Katie didn't even know about one of them.

About a month ago I decided that we would try one more time. After Steve passed away, I felt strongly that the three of us needed a change of scenery and routine (though we don't yet know what our new routine is exactly). Legoland seemed the ideal choice.

Even though we'd be going without Steve, I knew he would approve.

We left Saturday (just as I was recovering from H1N1 flu) and returned late Tuesday. We had a wonderful vacation together.

(The trip wasn't without trouble. I left my wallet at home and required a heroic rescue from Layne, who delivered my driver's license and credit card just in enough time for us to make the flight. The rental car's GPS device didn't work. Nothing like a little drama to make you appreciate everything that goes well!)

We spent two full days at Legoland -- roller coasters, playgrounds, shows, exhibits built entirely of Legos, an aquarium. We also spent some time at the beach, watching the sun set over the Pacific and chasing waves. (You can see more photos here and here.)

The folks at the Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa treated us very well. I had worked with them earlier this year, making sure that they could accommodate Steve's special needs. They were gracious when we had to cancel at the last minute and so welcoming when I contacted them again after Steve passed away. When we arrived the first night, they had milk and cookies waiting for us plus stuffed animals for Cooper and Katie and park passes for the three of us.

We spoiled ourselves with a few room service meals. In fact, when we ate breakfast downstairs one day, Cooper was exasperated. "Why do we have to leave our room to eat?!" I explained that most people leave their rooms to eat and that room service is a wonderful luxury.

It was nice to be so spoiled for a couple of days.

Leaving town didn't mean that we left behind our sadness over Steve's death. We talked about him frequently. I thought of him just about every moment -- how much he would have loved riding Coastersaurus or watching Katie dance or watching Cooper build a car of Legos or just resting in the hotel room after a full day at the park.

On the drive from the airport to the hotel, I felt a slight moment of panic. I was in a faraway city with our children, driving in the dark -- without Steve. He wasn't there to drive or navigate from the passenger seat. He wasn't there to help take bags out of the car or admire the view from our balcony.

Flying home was especially difficult, too. We'd escaped reality for just a few days. Going home again would be another reminder of our most tragic loss.

Despite the bittersweet emotions, I am proud of the three of us -- setting out on adventure, solving problems together, making new memories and doing our best to honor Steve.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Not knowing

In February 2007, Steve developed Bell's palsy.

A couple of nights after a scarily high fever, he woke up with the right side of his face feeling "funny." He couldn't drink his morning coffee without dribbling. By early afternoon, the entire right side of his face had fallen and wouldn't move.

We spent a few hours in the emergency room and eventually received the diagnosis of Bell's palsy.

About four weeks later, his symptoms were mostly resolved.

I have no doubt that that episode was the harbinger of the Damm Spot -- a signal from his body that something unusual was taking place in his brain.

Typical standard of care is to order an MRI if symptoms haven't resolved within a month.

For a long while, I lamented that we didn't insist on an MRI back in early 2008. I thought, "If only we had known that a tumor was growing. If only we had had a baseline image."

I've since realized that not knowing was for the best.

I'm not sure that knowing would have changed Steve's prognosis. We were never going to be able to operate on the tumor. More than likely we would have been paralyzed by the fear of the tumor, always on edge, always wondering if it was growing.

I don't think we would have lived life quite so fully had we lived with that fear.

And we had a great time from March to November 2007.

We spent spring break in Florida, spending time with Matthew and Gretchen, going to the beach, taking Cooper and Katie to Animal Kingdom.

We adopted Margie from a Scottie rescue group.

Katie's 2nd birthday party

We celebrated birthdays and holidays with friends and family.

We danced the "chicken dance" at Bavarian Grill.

We spent an adventurous day in Glen Rose.

I traveled to Shanghai with Jackie and Sydney, leaving everyone else behind for a week.

Cooper and Steve on a copper mine tour near Calumet, Mich.

We traveled to Wisconsin and Michigan, never wasting a moment on the Upper Peninsula or Mackinac Island or in Milwaukee.

Steve ran as part of a 12-person team in the Wild West Relay, helping run 195 miles through Colorado.

Steve and Katie, ECDP spirit night

Katie started preschool.

Cooper became a Cub Scout, with the best Scout daddy ever by his side.

Steve and I attended his 20-year high school reunion.

We all ran in the Gary Burns Fun Run.

I wrote a chapter for Fodor's guidebook to Texas, often taking Cooper, Katie and Steve along on adventures all over Dallas and Fort Worth.

Before the parade

We attended the Adolphus Neiman Marcus Christmas parade with dear friends.

We lived joyfully, without fear or an impending sense of doom or constant worry.

Steve and I were incredibly thankful for our shared life during his cancer journey -- partly because we were so incredibly thankful for all we had shared in the years before. And that includes the few months when the tumor was growing, when we didn't even know it was there.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

One month

Cooper, Steve and baby Katie, November 2005

It's been one month since Steve passed away. I miss everything about him.

His smile, his laugh, the way he would mockingly scowl
His hands, his eyebrows
The way he danced
How much he loved washing dishes
His wicked sense of humor
His patience
How he doted on our children
How he unabashedly cried out of joy or sorrow
His eclectic taste in music and literature
How he could perform the entire SNL parody song "Lazy Sunday"
His knowledge of Greek and Norse mythology
How he'd root for Michigan on football Saturdays
His meticulous record-keeping of all his practice runs
How he liked to tell people he wished his name was "Sven"

My list could go on for days.

I know I'm not alone. Feel free to list in the comments what you miss about amazing Steve.

Steve in Miami, a few years before we met

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tasmanian Dolphins

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the team idea for the three of us.

Kevin (a dear friend from church who also designed this blog's charming template) wasted no time in designing a logo for the Tasmanian Dolphins.

He also offered to get shirts made for us. Cooper nixed the idea of T-shirts that we would wear in public but approved the idea of a night shirt.

Mike and Rose (also sweet friends from church) own an EmbroidMe franchise and made the shirts for us. Kevin's fun logo is on the front, and each of us has our name on the back.

Cooper and Katie, early Monday morning before school

Every few nights, the three of us wear our shirts on the same night. They are tangible reminders of our goals and the importance of our work together.

Reminder of our goals, on a dry-erase board near Cooper's and Katie's bedrooms

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Drawing a crowd

We continue to be cared for and supported by an amazing group of family and friends. Take a slice of Saturday, for example.

Brae, Cooper, Angie, Kelly and Jess, after Cooper's game (during which he lost a loose tooth)

Cooper's soccer game drew a big crowd. Aunt Ami (who spoiled the three of us for a full week), Uncle Jim (in town from Houston), Michael (dear friend from college who was visiting from D.C.), Brae (Cooper's teacher), Angie (Cooper's guidance counselor), Jess (a teacher from Cooper's school), Kelly (former assistant principal from Cooper's school), plus Katie and me.

Ami, Jim, Michael, Katie, Liz, Tyra and Noe

Ami, Jim and Michael stayed after Cooper's game for a picnic and to help me keep track of Cooper and Katie while we waited for team photos and Katie's game. As always, Layne and Liz (longtime friends and parents of superstar Noe) help us during Katie's games.

We are incredibly thankful for the continued prayers and support from so many of you. Cooper, Katie and I take great comfort in the physical, spiritual and emotional reminders that we are not alone.

Friday, October 2, 2009


In second grade and again this year, Cooper has been encouraged to make text-to-text and text-to-self connections when reading.

When he works in his reading journal, he'll often write a note about how something in the book he's reading reminds him of something he's read before or something that's happened in his life. (If a story mentions ice cream, without a doubt Cooper will write about our summer 2007 vacation to Mackinac Island. We ate ice cream at least once a day.)

This afternoon Cooper found two worms on the back porch -- one much longer than the other. He called the bigger one the daddy and the smaller one the son.

The bigger one had already died. The smaller one was still alive.

Cooper came into the house for a plastic cup to cover up the daddy.

As he told Aunt Ami and me about the worms and how sad he was, he interrupted himself.

"This is a life-to-self connection."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Faith in the future

I took a three-week break from writing my Briefing column. My first column since Steve passed away was published today.

You can read it here. Or here.

The present may be tough, but I have faith in the future

In one extraordinary moment 25 days ago, everything changed. I became a widow.

Steve and I were holding hands when he took his final breath early Labor Day morning. He had been in a sleep-like state for a few hours, unable to communicate but aware of the people and love surrounding him.

It's almost ridiculous to write that the end came quickly. Steve had lived with a deadly, inoperable brain tumor for almost two years. Though we prayed multiple times a day for a miracle, we also knew that the tiny mass of rogue cells in his brain stem was stealing time from our future together.

Still, the end came quickly.

On Saturday night we were laughing and telling old stories. A few hours later he could barely breathe. A few hours after that, morphine had forced him into a mercifully relaxed state.

Then he stopped breathing altogether, and his spirit was set free from a body that should have lasted longer than 40 years.

With his final breath, I lost the physical presence of my best friend and the father of our two young children.

I have spent every moment since adjusting to life without Steve.

Grocery shopping is different. He and Katie were the only banana eaters in the house. Now there is just Katie, and I have to remind myself to choose the smallest bunch.

Sleeping is different. I am alone in the master bedroom. I no longer need to wake up every couple of hours to check on Steve's temperature or breathing. But my body isn't fully convinced, and I often wake up – and hear only silence.

Watching television is different. We loved to watch The Office and Project Runway together, after Cooper and Katie were asleep. I now watch them alone, after our children are asleep, still somehow expecting to hear Steve's unique laugh or feel his hand on top of mine.

Receiving mail is different. There are just three names on the cards that fill our mailbox.

Shopping for autumn and winter is different. I constantly remind myself that I don't need to look for a new cardigan or wool socks or sweatshirt for Steve.

Processing information is different. Two friends have experienced two different crises in the past few weeks. At least once a day I ask myself why Steve and I haven't discussed either situation. Then I remember – though I can talk to him whenever I want now, I desperately miss our face-to-face, heart-to-heart, real-life talks.

Being a parent is different. I am the lone recipient of our children's good morning hugs and bedtime kisses. When I say "I love you," I now add "Daddy loves you, too," lending a voice to his spirit.

With so many transitions, so many changes, so many adjustments, I am finding immeasurable comfort in what remains the same.

My faith is unshaken.

I believe in the inherent goodness in people – come to life every day in the hugs and phone calls, meals and cards, visits and acts of kindness that continue to sustain our family.

I believe that love never dies. Steve's body is gone, and we can't eat dinner or catch a movie together or dream about our next vacation or retirement together. But the true love that we shared and that was born in our children can't be extinguished.

I believe that extraordinary moments, even when heart-shattering and life-changing, must be remembered and honored. And that eventually, maybe even years later, we'll discover the greater purpose or meaning behind the most tragic events.

Right now, though, I mostly just miss Steve.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. E-mail her at