Thursday, November 26, 2009


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

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 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


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


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


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

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Books for Children's

I love how Steve's life continues to affect the lives of others.

Our elementary school's book fair begins this week. During each book fair, students are asked to donate $1 or more to help buy books for children who really need them. It's called the One for Books program.

Our friends Nicole and Suzanne co-chair book fair for the PTA this year. They suggested that, in memory of Steve, One for Books benefit Children's Medical Center, his employer for the last nine years of his life.

So, all the money donated during the book fair will purchase books for the hospital's new campus, Children's Medical Center at Legacy, just a few miles from our home.

I like to close my eyes and imagine how Steve's face would have glowed with joy had he known that books were being donated in his name. He would have placed his right hand over his heart and sighed. There would have been happy tears in his eyes. (Just as there are tears in my eyes right now.)

Guest blogger Liz: T-shirts and runners

1. The White Rock Marathon is now 80 percent full. If you plan on running the half or full, please register. Online registration will close on Nov. 29, and the race has sold out in the past.

2. We have two full relay teams and a third that needs a few more runners. If you are interested in running a few miles as part of a team, please let me know by this Thursday, Nov. 12. E-mail me at

3. We are still working on the new T-shirts. If you would like to purchase a Run for Steve shirt -- whether you're running or not -- please e-mail me at with your size.

Thanks! -- Liz

Friday, November 6, 2009


Wednesday's celebration of Steve's birthday was perfect -- the weather, the mood, the people gathered. (Though we missed many of you who just couldn't make it to Frisco so early in the evening.)

Steve's spirit was definitely among us. No doubt he was smiling and laughing, enjoying the company of family and dear friends.

Layne captured beautiful images. I am so thankful that we'll be able to reminisce over the photos in the years to come.

I am also thankful for friends who handled so many details of the day -- Liz, Zena, Jason, Andy, Mary, Shilpa and Kris.

My Briefing column today focuses on the importance of friendship, modeled daily by so many friends of the Damm family.


The love of friends makes life's milestones sweeter

As the sun was setting Wednesday afternoon, about 60 friends and family members gathered on a hill in our neighborhood park to wish Steve a happy birthday.

Steve – my late husband, father of our two children, son, brother and dearly missed friend and colleague – would have turned 41.

Our grief is still raw. He died just two months ago from complications of brain cancer, and the permanence of his absence hasn't become completely real yet, though it sets a little more each day.

We've always celebrated birthdays with gusto. Steve and I were a great team in throwing parties – collaborating on themes, invitations and cake. (I would bake; he would decorate. All cakes coming from our home now won't be near as pretty.) There was no question that we'd celebrate Steve's first birthday in heaven, but I had no idea what to do.

One of the grief counselors we work with suggested a balloon release. I loved the idea and imagined the kids and I and Steve's parents letting go of a dozen balloons.

That small plan didn't last long. I also wanted Cooper and Katie to be surrounded by what has become our extended family – an incredible group of friends who helped to sustain us through Steve's brutal cancer journey and who continue to support us as we navigate life after such a tragic loss.

We extended the invitation to anyone who wanted to join us. By 5:30 p.m., the park was crowded with the children who make my own children happy and the adults who constantly remind me of the gifts of friendship.

Cooper played with boys he's known for at least half his life. They watched for fish at the edge of the pond and climbed on jungle gyms and ran and hollered with carefree abandon.

When it was time to get quiet and reflect on Steve's life and death, one of Cooper's best buddies was at his side. They bowed their heads and folded their hands in prayer.

After the release, a group of friends surrounded Cooper. They laid flat on their backs to watch as the balloons and attached notes to Steve disappeared into the still sky. Then silliness ruled again, and they ran around until darkness set in.

For me, the afternoon was about honoring Steve, acknowledging his enduring spirit and sharing the special moment with loved ones. And I expect that someday Cooper and Katie will feel the same way.

But in the moment, what seemed to matter most to them was that they were among friends – the people with whom they feel comfortable and who make them feel good about themselves and who help create warm memories.

Life is just better when you're surrounded by the people who find similar enjoyment and share common interests. There's great joy in finding true friends who don't necessarily share all of your beliefs but still find a way to bridge the differences.

And the challenges that we all face are easier when the burden is shared among people we love.

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

Thursday, November 5, 2009

More from the service

I'm continuing to add pieces from Steve's memorial service to YouTube. You can also find links on the top right corner of the blog. Here are the six so far.

Part 1 (includes "In This Room")
Part 2 (includes "Safe Within Your Arms")
Part 3 (includes children's time)
Part 4 ("It Is Well With My Soul")
Part 5 (includes Will's remarks)
Part 6 (Will's remarks continued, "Order My Steps")


Melissa, my best friend since eighth grade, wrote about Steve in honor of his birthday. The link is here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Happy birthday, sweet angel Steve

Part of the note I attached to my balloon for Steve

Part of the crowd gathered, just before the release

Cooper, super son

Katie, super daughter

Balloons for Steve's 41st birthday and his first in heaven

Chocolate cake for us and Jim and Betty

Meanwhile, Uncle Jim was on the road to Florida, where he released these balloons.


Also, our dear friend Layne took beautiful photos. The link is here. I'll share a few on the blog later this week, when I write more details about our marvelous afternoon.

Thanks to all of you who spent time with us today to remember Steve!


Neices Molli and Brooke and friend Emily released balloons in Anna.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Steve's birthday eve

Wednesday afternoon we'll celebrate Steve's first birthday in heaven. You're welcome to join us. Click here for details.


I've started uploading audio from the memorial service. It seems appropriate to begin sharing such a joyful celebration of Steve's life on the eve of his 41st birthday.

Click here to listen to the first nine minutes of the beautiful service, which features the combined choirs of Holy Covenant and Schreiber Memorial United Methodist Churches.

This will be a multi-part process, so check back often for more excerpts. (YouTube accepts clips of 10 minutes or less, which is actually best for me. This is an emotional process.)

Guest blogger Liz: Run for Steve

The Dallas White Rock Marathon is less than six weeks away!

Now is the time to firm up what you are running (relay, half or full) and get ready to run for Steve.

The race is 65 percent full. If you're running the half or full and haven't registered, please do so. If you would like to be on a relay team, let me know.

We will be wearing a new shirt this year -- thanks to Will for the great idea! The shirts will be an uplifting tribute to our dear friend Steve. More information about the shirts will be coming in the next week or so.

I look forward to seeing many familiar faces at the race this year as well as many new ones. This will be a nice way to feel close to Steve, doing something he loved so much ... running!

Please let me know if you have any questions. You can e-mail me at

-- Liz

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Standing still

It would be so easy to be paralyzed by grief.

After spending 15 years of marriage with Steve, there's nothing in my daily life that doesn't evoke a memory of my one true love. If I were to examine every detail, I would truly become paralyzed -- unable to make a decision, unable to move forward. I would just stand still.

For many reasons -- most importantly Cooper and Katie -- standing still isn't an option. So all day long, every day, I try to strike a balance.

Take the calendars in the house, for example.

Today we changed the monthly calendars from October to November -- another month away from September. Turning the pages isn't easy, as the simple motion is a physical reminder of the time that has passed since Steve passed away.

There's one calendar that won't change, though. Every year I keep a Mary Engelbreit day-by-day calendar in the kitchen. It used to be my ritual to tear off the page each morning, a small gesture to acknowledge the new day.

The 2009 version that sits near the kitchen sink still shows Sept. 5/6. I can't bear to tear off that page to reveal Sept. 7. I can't bear to physically acknowledge the many days that have passed since the extraordinary morning that Steve's body stopped working.

I expect that by Jan. 1, 2010, I'll be ready to tuck away the calendar, with Sept. 7 through Dec. 31 still intact. And I hope to be able to start a new calendar.

Trying new things is as difficult as keeping the same habits.

Cooper, Katie and I eat out about once a week. When we choose a restaurant that we're familiar with, I of course think of Steve. My inner dialogue goes something like this: "We sat at that table last time we were all here together. Steve ordered this menu item. We laughed about such-and-such."

I'm reluctant to try a new restaurant. It makes complete sense that the rest of the world will change and evolve and grow and that I will do the same, but it's so difficult to acknowledge that. It's difficult to experience something new and know that I won't be able to share it with Steve. So much of our relationship was based on sharing with each other what we'd learned when we were apart.

Yesterday I cooked one of Steve's favorite vegetarian dishes -- tamale pie -- for our Halloween dinner with Jim, Betty and Uncle Jim. I made it about once a month every fall and winter for the past seven or eight years.

Preparing the dish and eating the dish were tangible reminders of sweet Steve. Like so much during this grieving journey (a journey that's barely begun), it was bittersweet. How could I possibly make one of Steve's favorite recipes without him here to enjoy it? But how could I not? The aroma of the dish as it baked evoked such strong emotion -- so much love, so much wistfulness.

I frequently remind myself that Steve fully expects us to continue exploring, living and loving life. But sometimes even that knowledge isn't enough to take away the crushing pain of his absence. It's all part of the journey.