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

1 comment:

chapman.d said...

what a simply delightful time! I love the brightly colored balloons. A great idea. much love to all.