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

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