Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The idea of the award began with Dr. Chitnis, the neurologist who was assigned to Steve during his stay at Zale Lipshy in December 2007, and Dr. Maher, Steve's neuro-oncologist.
Dr. Maher or I will present the award, which includes a $500 gift (funded by Dr. Chitnis) and a plaque, at the end of the academic year.
Steve was an influential advocate for quality patient care during his tenure with Children's Medical Center and as a cancer patient.
He relished his role as an administrator, which allowed him to work behind the scenes to ensure that children from families who could least afford quality health care received the best possible care.
As a patient, Steve was gently assertive. Together, he and I pushed for the best possible care. He was quick to praise excellent care and willing to demand better treatment when necessary.
I am thankful that we are able to celebrate Steve's legacy with this special award and will keep you posted on more details.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
II Timothy 4:7-8
‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Tyra, Cooper, Steve (holding niece Molli), Aunt Melane, Uncle Greg and niece Brooke, 2004
Sunday, September 27, 2009
And after he passed away, I didn't change my mind. I didn't want to have to answer one of the typical reunion questions about marriage. I didn't want to be around so many people and so much noise.
I did want to see longtime (not old, of course) friends, though. Konrad suggested a Saturday brunch somewhere. I offered our home, and Konrad took charge of organizing.
About 20 friends visited here yesterday -- a great compromise.
A few of them suggested more than once that I should attend the reunion. I finally gave in to peer pressure, arranged the best sitters for Cooper and Katie (Aunt Mel, Uncle Greg and Aunt Ami) and went to the party with Karen and Swati (just like old times).
Swati, Tyra and Karen
Yes, there were lots of people and it was noisy, but my fears didn't materialize. Just about everyone I spoke to already knew about Steve, and our conversations were comforting, not upsetting.
Last week Cooper volunteered to read Scripture during today's early church service -- our annual Children's Sabbath.
Early this morning he balked at the idea.
"I don't want to go to church, Mommy," he said as he snuggled under my quilt.
I asked why.
"Because Daddy loved church, and it makes me sad to do what Daddy loved."
I told him that I sometimes felt the same way and that on some Sundays we could stay home. But on this day we needed to go, to honor his commitment.
"But I might cry," Cooper told me. "And I don't want to break down in the community."
We talked about crying in front of others, and I assured him that it's OK to cry.
Our morning routine helped turn him around, and by the time we arrived for the 8:30 service, Cooper was ready.
He read Genesis 1:31a and 2:1-3 with confidence and ease.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Andy and Debbie helped to create what I consider the perfect service for Steve and truly the most beautiful service I've ever attended. Every detail fit Steve perfectly and reflected meaningful moments and themes from his life.
Steve loved music -- listening, singing, dancing, performing, creating. As we celebrated his life, we also listened and sang. Choirs from our church (Holy Covenant United Methodist) and Jim and Betty's church (Schreiber Memorial United Methodist) performed together, creating gorgeous sounds and filling the sanctuary with a joyful noise.
In This Very Room (Ron Harris)
"And in this very room there's quite enough love for all of us,
And in this very room there's quite enough joy for all of us,
And there's quite enough hope and quite enough power to chase away any gloom,
For Jesus, Lord Jesus ... is in this very room."
On Eagle's Wings (Michael Joncas)
"And He will raise you up on eagle's wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His Hand."
Safe Within Your Arms (Mark Hayes)
Cooper's favorite Christmas song, sung by children attending the service:
The Little Drummer Boy
"I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That's fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum"
It is Well with My Soul (Horatio Spafford)
"When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul."
Order My Steps (Glenn Burleigh)
"I want to walk worthy ... my calling to fulfill
Please order my steps Lord ... and I'll do your blessed will
The world is ever changing ... but you are still the same
If you order my steps ... I'll praise your name"
Here I Am, Lord (Daniel Schutte)
"Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart."
Steve's all-time favorite anthem:
Creation Will Be at Peace (Anna Laura Page)
Lord of the Dance
"Dance, then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the dance said He
And I lead you all wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance said He"
The Lord Bless and Keep You
"The Lord bless and keep you
The Lord make His face to shine on you,
And be gracious, gracious;
The Lord bless and keep you
The Lord lift His countenance on you,
And give peace, give you peace;
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I remembered the deadline all day Wednesday and Thursday.
About 11 p.m. Thursday, I was ready to go to sleep. I tried to turn off the one remaining lamp in the bedroom.
I turned the switch. The light was still on. I tried again. The light was still on. I did this about 10 times with no change.
Then I thought that maybe I had forgotten which way to turn the switch, so I went in the opposite direction.
Still the light was on.
So I unscrewed the light bulb and fell asleep.
I woke up at 6 a.m. Friday with a start. I forgot to purchase the plane tickets. I hurried to check the flights -- the price had increased by more than $100 per ticket overnight.
(No worries. I checked another airline and was able to buy tickets for the original price.)
After all that activity, I realized that that malfunctioning lamp was no accident. I'm pretty certain that Steve was somehow trying to communicate with me to stay awake a little longer and purchase the tickets before the deadline.
I've also realized that I need to be more open to other special Steve moments.
The lamp has worked correctly ever since that night.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Between Steve and me, Steve definitely had more school spirit. He was a third-generation University of Michigan graduate. He was in the marching band. He loved Ann Arbor.
We've always sent Cooper to school in a Michigan shirt for these kinds of events.
He wore his maize and blue today, and after school we talked about his friends' allegiances -- mostly University of Texas, Texas A&M and University of Oklahoma.
For the first time in two weeks, Cooper asked a question that I would have deferred to Steve. It certainly won't be the last time.
"Mommy, who are Michigan's enemies?" Cooper asked.
I had to pause for a moment. This is when I would normally call Steve, text Steve or just find him in the house to verify the answer first.
I answered Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan State.
I hope that you Michigan men and women will set the record straight if I answered incorrectly.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
The three of us had wonderful company. Jeannie had volunteered to help that night, plus Liz was with us. (Noe and Katie are on the same team.)
Still, I ached for Steve to walk the sidelines, cheering on his darling Katie. It was just four years ago that Cooper played his first game, and when I close my eyes I can see a healthy Steve smiling and waving at 4-year-old Coop on the field for the first time.
I know that Steve is always with us now. That he's in our hearts and watching out for us. I truly believe that. In the moment, though, I'm selfish and want the real, live-in-the-flesh Steve.
Cooper gives Katie some sideline advice between quarters.***
Friday night the three of us gathered in Katie's room like we do every night for stories before bed. Without thinking much, I selected Caps for Sale.
The book about a hat peddler and some mischievous monkeys was one of Steve and Katie's favorites. For weeks at a time, he'd read it to Katie every day. I didn't expect that I'd have trouble reading it.
By the third page of this normally cheerful book, I was sobbing. I couldn't continue.
Cooper gently took the book from my hands and began to read instead.
I miss Steve's voice. I miss his weak voice from three weeks ago and his strong voice from the pre-cancer days.
So last night I called his cell phone to listen to his outgoing message.
Oh my goodness. The warmth of his voice surrounded me. And then, when it was over, I was a big ol' messy mess. I sobbed for about 30 minutes.
When I cry around Cooper and Katie, they try so hard to cheer me up. I often tell them that it's OK to cry, that it's a natural way to let out emotion.
Still, they tickle me, make silly faces, hug me, tell me jokes.
From last night:
Cooper: Knock knock.
Me: Who's there?
Me: Olive who?
Cooper: Olive Daddy.
Then Cooper offered to tuck me into bed and make me breakfast in the morning.
I politely declined. Instead, I tucked each child into bed, fell asleep on my own and woke up in plenty of time to get ready, make their breakfasts and drive us all to church this morning.
Before church this morning
***Cooper, Katie and I are not alone. Everyone who loves Steve is grieving.
There are so many of you who continue to help us daily and who continue to pray for us. We are abundantly blessed and sincerely thankful.
We are also receiving help from trained professionals.
Cooper's guidance counselor at school has been working for a year and a half to establish a nurturing relationship. He completely trusts her and has been spending time with her a few days each week.
Hospice continues to provide services. The music therapist meets with Cooper and Katie in our home every other week. An adult grief counselor has started visiting at the same time, so we have a team approach for our care.
We'll resume play therapy for Cooper and Katie in the next couple of weeks.
I have my own grief counselor.
In the next weeks or months we'll begin attending sessions with Journey of Hope, a grief support center in Plano.
We won't use all these resource all the time. We'll rely on a mix of services depending on our needs. And we'll always rely on prayer and grace.
Cooper's soccer team has new uniforms this season. On the back of each blue jersey is the player's last name and number. On the front left corner of every jersey are the initials SED -- for Stephen Edmund Damm.
Longtime buddies Dylan, Cooper and Reilly after yesterday's game
At the end of Katie's game Saturday, Coach Hollie gathered all the players for the post-game talk. She asked Katie to sit in her lap.
Coach Hollie explained to the 4-year-olds that Katie's Daddy had passed away. And then she presented Katie with a soft stuffed bunny, dressed in a soccer uniform, as a gift from the team.
The bunny's name is Hope.
Hollie, Katie and Hope
Saturday, September 19, 2009
This was one of Steve's favorite races, and we will run in his memory, as a tribute to our amazing friend!
I am collecting names of everyone interested in running for Steve. If you are planning to run, please contact me at email@example.com and tell me which event you will participate in -- full, half or relay.
Anyone and everyone of all skill levels is welcome to join the Run For Steve team!
If you would like to be placed on a relay team, please let me know. If you don't want to run, there are still plenty of chances to support the team on race day. We'll need shuttle service to and from the race and relay points. Most importantly, we'll need lots of people along the course cheering on the Run For Steve runners!
We are planning to have brand new shirts for the team this year -- featuring a quote from one of Steve's favorite movies, Fletch. More info will be coming soon.
Last year Steve cheered us on from the finish line. This year I know he'll be running right there along side all of us!
-- Liz Smith
Thursday, September 17, 2009
This morning before school, Katie told me, as she pointed to her face: "This is a happy face because you're still alive, Mommy. And this is a sad face because Daddy isn't."
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
The painting above the mantel that we bought at an estate sale about a decade ago. The bargain antique kitchen table, chairs and sideboard. The black-and-white portrait from our Caribbean cruise in 2000.
These reminders are beautiful and comforting. But sometimes just a glimpse triggers tears.
Yesterday I returned to the endodontist for an X-ray, to see if my root canal from two weeks ago looked good. The endodontist, known for her perfectionism, wasn't pleased and wanted to redo the whole thing.
When I realized that I was about to get more shots in my gums and the roof of my mouth, I burst into tears. The only other time I'd had dental work -- two weeks ago -- I was able to go home and tell Steve all about it. I shared with him how much it hurt, and he hugged me with his one good arm and told me that it would be OK.
Yesterday, though, I couldn't sit on the edge of his bed and give him the blow-by-blow account. There was no Steve hug in the end.
Of course, I can always talk to Steve, and I know that he's with me during joy and sorrow. And there are lots of you who offer hugs every day and tell me it will be OK. But I can't ignore how much the sadness crushes me, often during moments I don't anticipate.
My mom, who is still bedridden in a nursing home in Temple, has been worried that I would have trouble sleeping in our bedroom -- the place where Steve passed away.
I have had trouble sleeping, but not because of the location. I had become so conditioned to wake up throughout the night to check on Steve, to listen to his breathing, to make sure he was resting. My body is slowly catching up to reality, slowly allowing me to sleep at longer stretches. I still wake up in the night, but not as often as before.
Our room and our home represent so much more than Steve's illness. There was and is so much life here; I'm not at all haunted by his death here. I am thankful that he wasn't trapped in the hospital when he passed away, and I am incredibly grateful that I was by his side.
Cooper and Katie are adjusting well. All three of us have our moments, as you would expect, and I am comforted that they trust me enough to fall apart with me.
Last week they were squabbling more than they should. Their tempers were short. I pulled Cooper aside and spoke with him about the importance of us getting along -- especially now -- and about not directing our anger or sadness about Daddy's death at one another. (We talk a lot about appropriate ways to express our volatile emotions.)
I was desperate to find a meaningful analogy for Cooper. And then it came to me. (I think that maybe Steve was whispering in my ear.)
First we talked about the Dolphins, Cooper's soccer team. I asked him what his team tries to do.
And would you ever argue with your teammate on the field when you're trying to score a goal?
Then I told him that the three of us -- Mommy, Cooper and Katie -- are a team now. And our goal is to heal from our sadness and to always honor Daddy. I told him that the healing will take a very long time. But if two of the three team members are fighting, it's going to take even longer. The arguing will hold us back from our goal.
Since then, the three of us talk frequently about being a team. We've named ourselves -- the Tasmanian Dolphins (a nod to Katie's soccer team, the Tasmanians, and Coop's team, of course). We're going to have T-shirts made. When we pray together at night, I ask for God's help in guiding our team and helping us heal.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
“Steve, you have raised the bar for the rest of us …” This sentiment was expressed recently by Tyra’s beloved Aunt Ami, and this afternoon as we have celebrated Steve’s life the bar has seemed to rise higher still … and deservedly so.
Several months ago, I stopped by the Damm’s home to visit with Steve. Steve was seated at the family’s dining room table ... laptop open, Walker Texas Ranger at his side, putting in a couple of hours of work while Cooper played with Legos on the floor nearby. That day, Steve reflected on his work with Children’s Medical Center, through which he established and supported clinics for under-served children.
He joked that when he was looking to move away from health-care consulting, if he had been offered a job at a dermatology office that specialized in botox injections, he would have taken it. But instead God’s hand opened a door for him at Children’s and gave Steve a chance to serve.
Serving others had become one of Steve’s core values. As a part of a worship service at Holy Covenant this past spring, Steve allowed me to interview him about what I would call his ministry through Children’s.
He spoke passionately about the pervasive need for quality, accessible healthcare for children in Texas and called his congregation to respond by volunteering at one of his nearby clinics or emailing our representatives. Steve was in the thick of his battle with cancer, and yet he was fighting for them, fighting for justice.
What is good and what does the Lord require of us? Work for justice, says the prophet Micah.
Steve was a gentle and kind man. He cherished his family. Whenever he mentioned Tyra to me, tears of appreciation and respect welled up in his eyes. Tyra - he often called you his angel, his hero.
Whenever he talked about Cooper and Katie, he beamed with pride. Cooper and Katie - I know that Steve’s wish for you is that you enjoy your childhood (laugh and play and learn and dream everyday) and someday grow up, fall in love with your soul mate, get married, have kids of your own, and do all of the things your Daddy did … and more.
Steve treasured his family; his heart belonged to them. But his kindness extended far beyond his relationships with family and close friends … or you could say that he considered most everyone he met his friend. His colleagues at Children’s adored him. The various nurses who attended to him over the past 20 plus months received royal treatment from him. One commented that if Steve were perfume, she’d bottle him up and keep him for herself.
Tyra shared that she sometimes thought Steve was too kind to be in the business world. His job was to analyze data, but he always made his decisions based on people.
What is good and what does the Lord require of us? Be kind, says Micah.
A little over a month ago, Steve and I talked about his hopes for this day. He wanted us to laugh and sing. He wanted us to experience the goodness of God. In that conversation, he reflected on the Damm Spot and how it had changed him.
He said, “There’s no cause, no answer to the question - why?’ He said, “I’m not going to say that the Damm Spot is the best thing that ever happened to me. But, it has made me more spiritual, more aware of God’s presence in my life. I was going 100 miles per hour, and this has been like a big yield sign.”
He said, “I now have absolute clarity about what is most important in my life: my family and my faith.”
At one point in or conversation, in light of what he was experiencing, I asked him, “How is it with your soul?” I wouldn’t have been shocked if he said that he was somewhat bitter or angry toward God. But instead he quoted one of today’s hymns.
First, he said, “It is well with my soul.” Then, after a few seconds he amended his first answer in typical Steve fashion. “It is weller with my soul.” Steve was on a journey with God, always being renewed in God’s image and transformed by God’s grace.
What is good and what does the Lord require of us? Walk (or in Steve’s case, run) humbly with your God.
I have no doubt that it was weller with Steve’s soul. He fought the good fight. He finished the race. He kept the faith. He was ready, and as Cooper so aptly put it: “It’s OK, because Daddy believed in God and Jesus, so he is in heaven.”
There will be many days ahead, on which it will not feel like it is OK. We miss him. We always will.
But Steve has given something to us that will be with us always. In Steve’s amazing life, we were given glimpses of the glory of the life to come, an everlasting life that Steve is enjoying now… free of oxygen masks and IVs, able once again to laugh and sing and run … a life where there are no more tears, no more pain.
We have seen these beautiful glimpses in his tireless commitment to justice, his boundless kindness, and his humble companionship with God. We have seen glimpses of the glory of the life to come in the community of love and generosity that has formed around this precious family.
Steve’s inspiring life and this journey of care-giving that so many have shared can fill us with hope that there is indeed a life to come in which God’s goodness ultimately reigns - where the love and joy and peace and harmony that we have celebrated today is not the exception but the rule.
Steve truly has raised the bar for the rest of us. God was at work in a glorious way in his life, and we will honor his memory as we take our cues from him, allowing God’s grace to work in and through us, to renew our souls and to bring hope to a hurting world.
Cooper, Tyra and Katie, the morning of Steve's beautiful service
Monday, September 14, 2009
My Friend Steve
I am so honored that Steve suggested I speak at this celebration of his life. I know he is watching us right now, and I know he wants me to get on with it so he can watch the Michigan-Notre Dame game at 2:30.
When someone you love passes away, it’s easy to remember him as having been a perfect person, to speak about him only in superlatives and to inflate his accomplishments. Steve was a humble man, and I promise to honor that trait by not exaggerating his qualities in this remembrance.
My friend Steve was The Single Funniest Human in the History of Earth or Any Other Planet. Scientists studied his laugh in hopes that its radiant quality could be harnessed to help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
So wicked, so sharp was his sense of humor that he made the sound of laughter seem a like a natural occurrence in cancer treatment rooms across North Texas.
That last one was not an exaggeration.
In her blog, Tyra has written again and again about her “sweet Steve” or her “super Steve.” I’m here to tell you about my “silly Steve.”
Let’s start with that laugh. Anyone who spoke to Steve is familiar with the basic version: the rapid, machine-gun exhales, the squinty eyes, the slightly toothy grin and bobbing head.
Those of us who saw the real Steve laugh, though, we saw something even more magical. The dinner party for his 40th birthday comes to mind. First, a blank stare for five seconds, followed by a long, throaty wheeze and pet-store bird noises with every inhale. Then the head-bobbing, on a much grander scale. In the spiky-hair days of high school and college, it looked like an angry porcupine was wrestling his face for control of his scalp.
It was so goofy, so unique. So beautiful.
It also was the reason he and I watched most of our senior calculus class from the hallway. I swear, there were times in the last 21 months when I thought Ms. England would appear in his hospital room and lead me out by the ear.
Tyra tells me his favorite meal was steak with garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus. I’m here to tell you that if I had asked him what he wanted for dinner, he’d answer, “a bloody mary, a steak sandwich and a steak sandwich. Put it on the Underhills’ tab.”
If you’re laughing at that, you know it was a quote from the movie Fletch. You also know Fletch was Steve’s second language. He and I – and probably more than a few others in the room – could have an entire conversation about something non-Fletch-related using only lines from Fletch. It was one of his gifts.
Silly came easy to him. In recent weeks, he decided to start updating his Facebook status based on whether or not he was wearing pants in his bed at home. And for those who have been wondering, I can finally solve the mystery: The entry “p=y” meant “pants equals yes,” and the entry “n”?
Yes, Steve was silly and fun-loving. But Tyra is obviously right, too. He was the Single Sweetest Man in the History of Earth or Any Other Planet.
I wrote this story for Tyra’s blog, but I hope you won’t mind if I repeat it now.
A few months before Steve’s symptoms began, he and I joined my cousin and his friends for a 12-person relay race in the mountains of Colorado. We ran 195 miles from Fort Collins to Steamboat Springs, each of us taking on three different legs.
He and I were clearly the least athletic members of the team, and we were not accustomed to the thin air up there. Of course, the van we used for the event was full of laughter the whole way, and by the time we were running our final legs, we were all pretty gassed.
On my final leg, I was on a long downhill stretch in the hot sun, and I asked the guys in the van to go a couple of miles up the road to meet me with some water. The van sped off, and I expected it to disappear from sight.
About a half-mile away, it stopped. I saw someone get out and start walking uphill towards me. As I got closer and closer, I could tell it was Steve. He hadn’t run his last leg yet, and I knew he needed his rest.
When he finally got to me, he handed me a cold bottle of water. Just thought I needed it sooner rather than later. He was right.
We walked a ways together, and he spoke quiet, encouraging words to me – words I repeated over and over to myself as I finished my run.
That December, when we learned how serious Steve’s condition was, I was on my way to stay the night with him in the hospital. My pastor prayed with me, encouraging me to be the “cup of cold water” for a friend in need.
I immediately pictured Steve walking up the mountain. I have not been able to shake that image of him since, nor do I ever want to.
That’s the kind of friend Steve was. The kind you pray you can be in return.
Here’s something I didn’t write for the blog about that trip to Colorado. As soon as Tyra dropped us off at the airport, Steve pulled an e-a-r-r-i-n-g out of his pocket and put it in his left ear. It was the first time I’d seen him wearing one in many years, maybe since the kids were born.
As long as he had that thing in, I called him “Steve Denver.” “Check out Steve Denver.”
“Dude? How old are we?”
“Steve Dallas” forgot to take it out when we got home, and I wish I had taken a picture of the look on Tyra’s face when she saw “Steve Denver.” Such confusion -- “Where did you go again?”
My friend Steve and his true love had such a beautiful connection.
Tyra, I told you this in private Monday, and I want to say it again for everyone to hear. You were so good to him.
Not just for the last 21 months. I know how deeply you love him, and I know he loved you the same way.
And through this journey, you have displayed more grace in the worst of times than most of us do in the best of times.
Throughout his illness, Steve fought not just for his own life, but for more time with you. I know you will always remember that even when he was in great pain, he worried first about you and the kids. I know you will also remember that you were first in his heart well before he got sick.
Over the last 26 years, I always saw the same fun-loving, all-or-nothing glow in him that I remember from high school. But your love made that glow even brighter.
Before you met, he was a great guy. You inspired him to become a great man.
Jim, Betty and Jim: I loved Steve like a brother. And if you look around this room, you know I’m not the only one. Nothing we can do will fill the hole in your hearts right now, but I hope you can find at least some comfort in the love of this extended family.
Here is a man – so funny, so kind and caring, so sweet and super. Here is a man I am so proud to have called my friend.
Here is a man I miss so very much.
But as our precious goddaughter Katie said Sunday, “he is still in our hearts.”
You know where else he is? In Cooper’s long legs. In Katie’s mischievous laugh. In his children’s loving spirit and in their brilliant minds.
Cooper, please know this: You do not have to be the daddy now. You just have to be yourself. Your father is in you. He’s in your heart and in everything you do. You can talk to him whenever you want to, and as you grow, all of the great things about him will become great things about you.
That goes for the rest of us, too. We carry him in our hearts, and if we truly want to honor Steve, the Single Greatest Friend in the History of Earth or Any Other Planet, here’s how I believe we can:
Laugh hard many times a day, every day. Grab a friend and run up a mountain together. Be kind to everyone. Live out loud. Love your family and friends with all of your heart.
When we returned from Colorado, Steve wrote me a check to settle up some of our expenses from the trip. In the memo line, he wrote, “Celebrate life!”
I know he wants us to do that today. I know he wants us to do that every day. And I know he wants us to put that celebration on the Underhills’ tab.
Will and Steve, 2004, Dallas White Rock Half Marathon
Sunday, September 13, 2009
On the behalf of our family, Thank You for being here to celebrate with us this precious life, of our son, Jim’s brother, Tyra’s husband, Cooper and Katie’s father. I trust that you have seen the focus of this memorial in the order of service and that the music selections have a recurrent theme. They are Steve’s wishes as to what he wanted to help us understand and learn from this day. The scripture that David just read:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
This passage embodies Steve.
Let me share some things that may be repeated throughout this memorial service, or perhaps we should say “memorial of service.”
Steve’s life was one which sometimes seemed incongruous. He often lived on the edge, but he excelled in his talents and love of art and writing. He could draw Bill the Cat better than the creator of that comic strip. His love of art is evident when you see the selection of art work in his home. Upon graduating from college, his first request of us was to buy him a piece of art, which he selected.
Steve learned the concept of service in a variety of ways. Many of his experiences we have learned of only this past week. He did not wear them on his sleeve. Instances were reported from time to time in the blog comments of helping people and doing things for others.
His commitment to his work, the creation of Physicians for Children which he considered his first baby, was an expression of service.
And, his service to his church made us proud.
Steve was always a friend. We can’t count the many comments that have been received from friends stating that point. Helping in time of need, listening when that was important. Steve was always there with no preconceived judgements, just a friend.
Friends, we know that you understood these things because of the many comments received from the blog.
No one could come away from "experiencing Steve" without having his or her life changed for the better.
with dignity, strength, determination, compassion, hope, faith, joy, anger, sorrow, and love.. always with love.. you have shared your life's trials..thank you for allowing me into your life.my prayers as you continue your journey.
I'll remember how much he loved helping people.
What a blessing Steve was to all of us.
Tyra, we all thank you for being able to put these things into beautiful words that have been shared with the world. Again comments from the blog show us that your readers understood these things. And I quote:
Your family's faith shines on in your words.
I've never met any of you, but I feel as though I know you all so well.
We could go on for hours with stories, shared experiences, but we won’t.
You are at peace, son.
The Damm family in the 1980s, North Muskegon, Mich.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
During the first 38 years of his life, what he would call his charmed life, he was fearless. He was passionate. He was fully invested. He was creative. He was a marvelous friend. During the scariest challenge of his life – living with an inoperable, deadly brain tumor – he was even more fearless. He was even more passionate. He was even more invested. He was even more creative. His compassion and empathy as a friend reached new heights.
Steve wasn’t afraid to love, either. When we lived in Lubbock, we had awful luck with our first two Scottish terriers. Both died much too young. To be honest, after going through the heartache of losing two dogs, I really preferred to never own another.
He eased my fears, telling me, “You can’t live life worried about what you’ll lose. You have to be open to love, even knowing there will be pain.”
I’ve never known a father more passionate about his children.
One of their favorite shared experiences was Harry Potter. Cooper and Steve read the first five volumes together and almost finished book six. When Steve’s voice started to fail, he wasn’t ready to give up their special time. Some days he would stop talking for two hours before bedtime so that he’d have the strength and voice to read four pages of Harry Potter aloud to his Cooper D.
About a year ago, I recorded a short video of 3-year-old Katie dancing on our bench on the front porch. Her outfit includes a red tutu and brown boots, and she shakes, stomps and shimmies with enviable confidence.
When he was a health-care consultant, he spent every week out of town. For three years he commuted to and from Los Angeles or Saint Louis. We both wanted to start having children, but neither one of us wanted Steve to be an absent father. He worked with dads who left their families behind week after week, and he couldn’t fathom missing so many school plays and sports practices and bedtime routines.
For years Steve told me about his fraternity brother and roommate Cory. What he didn’t tell me was that he was instrumental in helping Cory through a life-changing experience.
Steve and Tyra, engagement photo, 1994
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Yesterday some of us met with Pastor Andy to review Steve's wishes.
Steve's thoughts included:
"This is the ADD generation, so it should last about an hour." (Note to guests: It may be a little longer.)
"It should be a celebration ... maybe even a roast."
"The service is not about my resume. I am not applying for a job." (I can just hear Steve saying this, and it makes me smile every time I think about it.)
"The service is not about me. It's about sharing Christ with others." (Well, a lot of the service will be about Steve. He's worth celebrating.)
As a remimder:
1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12
St. Andrew United Methodist Church, 5801 W. Plano Parkway, Plano
Reception immediately following at the church.
Children are welcome to attend the service. We will also have child care available. If you expect you'll use the nursery, please e-mail Mary Mitchell Trimble at firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday and indicate how many children and their ages.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Holy Covenant United Methodist Church, 1901 E. Peters Colony, Carrollton, Texas 75007. Scholarship gifts for Cooper and Katie may be sent to The Steve Damm Fund, First National Bank Southwest, P.O. Box 1746, Frisco, Texas 75034.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Steve Damm: Hospital administrator for Children's Medical Center
By JOE SIMNACHER / The Dallas Morning News email@example.com
Steve Damm lived his life with an all-or-nothing attitude, whether he was at work as a hospital administrator, at home as a husband and father, or fighting an inoperable brain tumor.
For the past 21 months, he managed to do all three, while maintaining his sense of humor.
Mr. Damm, 40, died Monday at his Frisco home of complications of his grade IV glioblastoma, or, as he called it, that "Damm Spot."
A memorial will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Plano. He donated his remains to the Willed Body Program at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas in hopes of continuing his fight against the tumor.
"If he decided to do something, he did it all the way," said his wife, Tyra Damm of Frisco. "He just invested everything, his whole self, into everything he did."
In January 2008, Mr. Damm learned he had a rapidly growing brain tumor that would take his life in three to six months without treatment. With radiation and chemotherapy, he could expect to live about 14 months.
"Steve and I decided we would have more time," Mrs. Damm said of the treatment decision. They decided to keep on living and squeeze in all they could with the time they had.
They chronicled the fight online at checkonsteve.blog spot.com, where friends and family shared the family's journey of hope, happy times and hardship.
There were outings with 8-year-old son Cooper and 4-year-old daughter Katie; medical treatments and emergency room visits; vacation getaways.
Blog readers shared the highs and lows – and the love story of Steve and Tyra.
"Now the most difficult part of a church service for me is when the choir sings," Mrs. Damm reflected on the blog in August. "I love their voices, but I can't help but miss seeing Steve in that friendly crowd, hearing his beautiful music."
In February, it became harder for Mr. Damm to get around.
He continued to work full time for Children's Medical Center until June 22, when a pulmonary embolism forced him to reduce his schedule.
"He would save up his strength to do one activity on the weekend," Mrs. Damm said.
Mr. Damm continued to work from his bed until a week ago, his wife said. She blogged that she was holding his hand when he died Monday morning.
Born in Lincoln, Neb., Mr. Damm moved with his family to Houston when he was a year old. He moved to Dallas as a child.
In 1987, he graduated from W.T. White High School in Dallas, where he played trumpet in the band and marched in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as a junior.
Mr. Damm followed a family tradition and received his bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in 1991. He majored in English literature – but discovered his professional path while working part-time as a college student scooping ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins.
His boss there referred him to a medical clinic in Brenham, Texas, said Will Pry, a friend since high school.
The Damms met when Mr. Damm was visiting Mr. Pry at the University of North Texas. Both Mr. Pry and Mrs. Damm were working at the North Texas Daily.
The Damms married in 1994, and Mr. Damm began work on his MBA in health organization management at Texas Tech University. He graduated in 1997.
The couple then moved to Dallas, where Mrs. Damm started working for The Dallas Morning News and Mr. Damm became a health-management consultant for Arthur Andersen. He joined Children's in 2000.
At Children's, Mr. Damm was the first administrator for the medical center's Physicians for Children subsidiary, said fellow administrator Lori Nolen.
Mr. Damm started the Children's clinic near Bachman Lake – the first of four. The clinic now has more than 30,000 mostly low-income patient visits a year, Mrs. Nolen said.
"There are a lot of kids in Dallas who receive primary health care, and that's because of his work," she said.
Mrs. Damm said that her husband always took pride in being the man "behind-the-scenes" getting quality medical care to children.
Mr. Damm maintained his sense of humor throughout his illness, said Mr. Pry, the editor of Briefing, an edition of The Dallas Morning News.
"There was always laughter coming from his hospital room, even during some really dark times," he said.
Mr. Damm was an active member of Holy Covenant United Methodist Church in Carrollton, where he served as a trustee and was a tenor in the choir.
In addition to his wife and two children, Mr. Damm is survived by his parents, James and Elizabeth Damm of Dallas, and a brother, James Damm of Bacliff, Texas.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Holy Covenant United Methodist Church in Carrollton. Scholarship gifts for the Damms' children may be sent to The Steve Damm Fund, First National Bank Southwest, P.O. Box 1746, Frisco, Texas 75034.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
When we woke at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, his congestion was much, much worse. His urine, which the day before looked like the perfect color, was suddenly clotted and brown. His throat was burning. His mouth and tongue were swollen. He felt miserable all over.
I spoke with the triage hospice nurse, who sent the on-call nurse to check on him.
When R, a nurse we really love, arrived, I knew from the look on her face that we were in trouble.
After I gave her a list of symptoms, she evaluated him and took me to the dining room to visit.
She explained that his body was shutting down. She thought he might have, at the most, seven days left.
A crisis plan was put in place immediately. We started liquid drugs for comfort and to ease breathing. Steve would require 24-hour nursing care.
All this time, Steve's breathing was increasingly difficult. The noises were terrifying.
Cooper and Katie were across the street with the Dubes for most of this activity. Our friend Gretchen was here. I called Jim and Betty (who called Uncle Jim), my sister Melane, Aunt Ami, Will, Julie, Liz, and Pastor Andy.
Susan, a friend from church, had already planned to serve communion at home. She, her husband and Sharon H. arrived for an abbreviated service.
The three from church, plus Jim, Betty and I surrounded Steve's bed. We sang and prayed and received communion. Susan gently put a few bread crumbs on Steve's tongue. She sprinkled white grape juice on his lips.
Cooper and Katie left to play at the Kniering house, giving us more time to take care of Steve and time for me to plan how to discuss the rapid changes with them.
We continued to give Steve morphine, which was helping with his breathing and agitation. He tried desperately to communicate, first trying to talk. I strained to understand him but couldn't. He tried to type but couldn't find the letters. Melane wrote the alphabet, and he pointed to letters to spell.
He said "I love you" and "thank you." I held his beautiful face in my hands and told him how very much I loved him and how so very many people loved him and that God loved him and that he was the perfect person for me.
Around the time the second nurse reported for duty at 2:30 p.m., he was starting to drift into a sleep-like state.
R, the first nurse, returned and told me that his symptoms were progressing much more rapidly than she had expected. We might have 24 or 48 hours left.
Cooper and Katie came home, and we waited for the hospice's music therapist and social worker to arrive. Pastor Andy was here, too.
I sat with our children on the sofa and told them that Daddy was very, very sick and that he was going to die soon.
Cooper cried out and bolted for his room.
Katie said, "I don't know why he's so sad. When Daddy dies, he'll still be in our hearts."
She asked, as she often does, what it looks like when you die. When I felt comfortable that she had the answers she needed, I found Cooper in his room.
The music therapist and Andy were with him. They had explained to him why I told him the news.
Cooper told me that he wanted to run away or be locked in a closet.
Before Pastor Andy left, we all gathered in the bedroom to hold hands and pray with Steve. Cooper was on Steve's left side. As Andy spoke aloud, Cooper bent over and sobbed. When we finished, he hid under my covers for a while.
Somewhere along the way I lost count of how many people came in our doors that afternoon and night.
Melane and Greg and Jim and Betty hurried over. Will arrived. Uncle Jim came in from Houston. Gretchen delayed her outgoing flight to Los Angeles. Ami, Sasha and Tara drove in from Austin. Melissa flew in from San Antonio. Walter and Jeannie appeared. Jessi arrived. Neighbors and friends streamed in and out. Food and drinks were delivered. We moved more chairs into the bedroom.
Steve couldn't talk back to us and his eyes were closed, but I just know he heard the laughter that filled the room all night long.
We were all devastated, of course, and there were many tears, but you just can't help but tell funny stories when you're talking about Steve.
At some point during the afternoon, I talked with Dr. M. She praised Steve's courage and will to live. She praised my care. She cried with me. She told me to hold his hand and deliver him to the angels.
I was snuggled next to my one true love, and I just couldn't bear to let go of his hand.
By midnight most everyone had found a place to sleep -- either here or at the Dubes. I stayed awake until about 1:30 a.m. and finally fell asleep. I woke at 2:30. Betty was up, too. She helped tuck me back in, and she went back to sleep in my bed.
I couldn't sleep. I couldn't shake the sense that the time was near.
I didn't say a word aloud, but I was talking to sweet Steve in my head. And I could hear him reply.
"It's OK to go now, sweetie," I would tell him, as I continued to clutch his right hand with my left hand. "You can let go."
And he would reply that he was ready. We did this again and again, in a special unspoken language.
His breathing was very shallow and slow. And then there was one loud breath. The hospice nurse, who was sitting in the corner of the room, hurried over and gave me a sad nod.
We woke Betty. And we sobbed.
In minutes, everyone in the house (except Cooper and Katie), plus Ami and Tara across the street, were in the room. In those first moments after Steve's death, we were all supporting one another. Steve's mom. My sister and her husband. Beloved aunt and cousin. My best girlfriend since eighth grade. The friend who introduced me to Steve. Then Steve's father and brother.
I waited until about 5:45 a.m. to wake Cooper. I didn't want to wait too much longer, fearing that as Steve's body changed in appearance, Cooper and Katie would be more frightened.
I told him that Daddy had passed away. I carried him to our bedroom, and he gave Steve's body a hug and a kiss. And again. And then he wanted to go back to bed.
I then woke Katie and gave her the news. She chose to snuggle in his bed, with me on one side and Steve's body on the other. She asked about his white skin and his stillness.
As we waited for the proclamation of death and the UT-SW staff to pick up Steve's body, I held his hand. I traced my fingers over his distinguished eyebrows over and over again. I told him again how much I love him, how I'll always love him, how I wished that we could have beaten that Damm Spot but that we all did the very best we could. I thanked him for giving me the two most amazing children.
In the silence, I kept hearing Steve sing to me. He was singing "Was There Life" by Pete Townshend. It was the first song at our wedding reception in 1994. I can't count the number of times we danced to that song in the kitchen or family room or Steve would just sing it to me out of the blue.
Was there love before this girl I can see
Was there ever love for her before me"
You can count on me to stand and say
'Was there ever life before this wonderful day?' "
When Cooper woke again, Melane and I were concerned that maybe he had forgotten the events earlier. He was cheerful.
"But it's OK, because Daddy believed in God and Jesus, so he's in heaven."
1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12
St. Andrew United Methodist Church, 5801 W. Plano Parkway, Plano
Reception immediately following at the church.
Children are welcome to attend the service. We will also have child care available. If you expect you'll use the nursery, please e-mail Mary Mitchell Trimble at firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday and indicate how many children and their ages.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Holy Covenant United Methodist Church , 1901 E. Peters Colony, Carrollton, Texas 75007. Scholarship gifts for Cooper and Katie may be sent to The Steve Damm Fund, First National Bank Southwest, P.O. Box 1746, Frisco, Texas 75034.
Monday, September 7, 2009
He is in a sleep-like state. He can hear us but hasn't been awake since mid-afternoon. He is being given morphine, atropine and Ativan as needed for comfort.
The first assessment today was that Steve would have at most seven days to live.
His symptoms progressed so rapidly that the later assessment gave us 24 to 72 hours.
This is the most heart-breaking (or, as Cooper would say, heart-shattering) experience. We are finding great comfort that he is more comfortable, though. He was really struggling this morning and early afternoon. Though his body is shutting down, his body is no longer restless and agitated.
There is so much to share, but I know that I need to try to close my eyes to sleep -- or at least allow my mind to rest.
I spoke with Dr. M today. She said that Steve has fought harder than any patient she's ever had. She said that for so long he has willed himself to live, overcoming challenges that seemed too big and too daunting.
She told me to hold his hand and, when he is ready, deliver him to the angels.
I've been holding his hand as often as I can ever since.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Hospice begins crisis care tonight at 8.
The goal is to provide him comfort.
Please pray for peace and comfort for our amazing Steve, who is appropriately wearing a Superman shirt today.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Today he said, "I'm tired of embracing the tumor. I want it to go."
Steve's chest rattled some throughout the night last night. After his morning/early afternoon nap he was very congested in his lungs and throat.
He had a breathing treatment, cough medicine and atropine drops (which help decrease secretions). He was more uncomfortable than usual and frightened to eat or drink because everything was causing him to cough more.
I asked the hospice triage nurse to send an on-call nurse out, just to listen and reassure us. The on-call nurse examined him and suggested that we add morphine drops to the drug regimen (morphine can also help decrease secretions) and increase the use of atropine for 24 hours. (Ideally he would just cough up the junk in his lungs, but his body is too weak.)
He improved within a couple of hours. He is still congested, but his condition is much better.
His spirits have been lifted, too, by sweet and funny cards, drawings and notes. Plus he's had many hugs and kisses on the top of his fuzzy head. Gretchen is in town for a couple of days -- that visit alone made his week. On top of that, in just the past couple of days he's seen Jim and Betty; Gretchen C.; the Woodbury family; the Spears family; Lori and Leti; Allison; Zena; Liz; and the Chitnis family.
He knows that he is surrounded by love, whether in the room or sent from states far away.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
"I need to feel better," he said.
That's the theme this week. He's feeling lousy. His hearing is worse. His speech is difficult. He's so very tired and napping more often. His Foley catheter is still causing trouble -- bladder spasms and occasional pain. His shortness of breath seems worse.
Your cards and notes have started arriving, and that makes him feel better. Snuggles with Cooper and Katie always help. Any sign of love offers comfort.