Sunday, January 31, 2010

Melinda update

Our friend Melinda will undergo brain surgery again Monday morning at 7.

She has recovered well since the Jan. 18 surgery, but the post-surgery MRI showed residual tumor left behind. Tomorrow's operation will target those remaining cells.

We continue to pray for Melinda, her family and the medical team that will care for her.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Answered calling

I'm learning that throughout the grief process there are multiple moments of clarity. It would be impossible, thankfully, for our hearts and minds to realize everything at once. Instead, we slowly realize what we miss or how we really feel about specific details.

In the past few weeks I've more fully understood one of the countless losses associated with Steve's death -- the end of what I consider my most important assignment. I wrote about it for today's Briefing. You can read the column here or here.

It can be an uneasy feeling to have answered a calling

Early in my husband's battle against a malignant brain tumor, I realized something that helped propel me through.

I was fulfilling a calling. I had been training my whole life to help Steve. I just didn't know it.

Before Steve and I were a couple, I was mostly independent. I had learned at a young age how to take care of myself – sometimes out of necessity. I didn't always do a great job. In fact, I was often terrible.

I also learned how to take care of others. Again, the results weren't always pretty. I made lots of mistakes.

Still, from the time I was 7, I was learning how to be an advocate. I was learning how to speak up for myself and others.

Less-than-ideal circumstances also taught me to be calm in a crisis.

During one of those crises in my teen years, I had what I later realized was a panic attack.

Through trial and error, I learned that when chaos surrounds you, the best bet is to be calm and tackle tasks one at a time. If you can assign priority to those tasks, even better.

I honed those life skills in newsrooms. My favorite shifts were the most chaotic – election results, Friday night football, unexpected, big news events.

Newsroom work also helped sharpen my ability to research, process and analyze information quickly.

A résumé with some caregiving, advocating, managing crises and researching is OK. But my main qualification was loving and being loved by Steve.

To this day I remember everything about the first moment I saw Steve, the first time months later that we kissed. Throughout our 15-year marriage, we both recognized how special and unique and dear was our love.

When he would thank me for helping him through his cancer journey, I would hold his hand and tell him that it was what I was meant to do. That he had cared for me for so many years, relieving me from the fatigue of taking care of myself. That, if possible, I would do anything to take away the tumor and his pain.

I couldn't take the pain away, and not even the most skilled surgeons could remove the tumor, so instead I applied those skills I'd been gathering for an assignment we never asked for.

When Steve was too polite to complain about less-than-ideal treatment by aides or nurses, I complained. When there were unanswered questions about treatment, I kept asking.

When we were in the middle of crisis – and it often felt like we were never out of crisis mode – I mostly remained calm. There was one moment, after we learned that Steve would require hospice care, that I felt panic creep into my chest, just as it had when I was 14. I recognized the coming attack and talked myself down.

I read medical journals and sifted through Web sites, looking for clues to manage symptoms and verify that we were on the right treatment track.

My love for Steve grew. And his for me.

It's been almost five months since he passed away. My love continues to grow. But my assignment, what I believe was my calling, is over.

That realization is one of my countless struggles in Steve's absence.

There's no doubt that I have other callings. We all do. My most important now is raising Cooper and Katie – guiding them through an unpredictable grief process, showering them with love, correcting them when necessary, fulfilling the dreams that Steve and I shared.

Still, I can't help but wonder if our current path is leading to something as extraordinary as being allowed to care for their father and my husband. I am working on maintaining faith that if we take care of today, we'll be pleased with tomorrow.

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Back to the service

Someone gently reminded me tonight that Steve's memorial service hasn't been completely posted to the blog. I was thankful for the reminder -- it pushed me back toward the project. (Though I did need the break for a few weeks. If you imagine grief being illustrated in peaks and valleys, I've had more valleys than peaks lately.)

I've posted parts 8 and 9 -- Betty beautifully reading the words I wrote about Steve. (Look at the upper right of the page to find all the links so far.)

As I'm sure you've gathered, I could write volumes about Steve. What I wrote for the service barely begins to cover why he is so missed and so loved by so many of you and me.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Little bit of Germany

We made a big step last night. Cooper, Katie and I returned to one of our favorite restaurants -- Bavarian Grill in Plano. We've never been without Steve before, and I honestly thought we'd never go again.

We have great memories from the restaurant -- celebrating birthdays, dancing the Chicken Dance, laughing with friends, remembering our trip to Munich in 1999 and Steve's high school adventures in Germany.

We shared most of those meals with Will, Holly and Conor. When they invited us to join them this weekend, I said yes, even though I was hesitant without dear Steve.

The night was wonderful -- even with a longer-than-usual wait and slow kitchen.

The kids watched for the train to chug by overhead. We applauded festive oompa tunes. When dinner still wasn't there, the three adults were thankful to have three iPhones to hand over to three restless children.

We devoured pretzel rolls and sausage and cabbage and potatoes.

We told Cooper the story of the extra-long French fry. When he was about 2, Cooper was impressed by the world's longest French fry, right on his plate. He waved it around and then poked a nearby patron under the arm. Holly remembers that I asked Steve to ask Cooper to stop, but Steve was laughing too hard to react.

I thought about the night that we all balanced spoons on our noses. How Steve and Will would dare each other to finish their wurst platters. And how those two would enjoy big steins of beer together (before Steve stopped drinking altogether after the infamous Alamo Bowl 2005 incident -- a story for another day).

I am thankful for so many memories of Steve. And I am thankful for the opportunity to keep living and enjoying family and friends, even without Steve right here.

Conor, Katie and Cooper

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Prayers for Melinda

One of our many unsung heroes is Melinda.

During Steve's battle with cancer, she took excellent care of us -- bringing meals to our home and to the hospital, coming over to play with Cooper and Katie, praying for us and sending encouraging notes.

Melinda was a freshman at W.T. White when Steve was a senior. But our connection is much greater than a shared high school.

Melinda is a brain cancer survivor. Three years ago, doctors removed as much of her tumor -- a grade 3 anaplastic ependymoma -- as possible.

She recovered from that surgery well and, for the most part, has had a great three years since. But there is new growth in the tumor bed, and doctors are unanimously concerned -- enough to warrant another surgery.

Monday at 7 a.m. in Dallas, Melinda will undergo brain surgery again.

Please join our family in praying for Melinda and her family, for the doctors and medical staff, for the team that will continue to care for her after the surgery.


Two years ago today, Steve endured his own risky brain surgery. It's a difficult day for me to recall. As many of you remember, the biopsy was twice as long as expected. It didn't go according to plan. And the preliminary results revealed exactly what we had feared -- an aggressive tumor in his brain stem.

When I have become overwhelmed with sadness today, I also try to remember how very brave and resilient Steve was in the face of his diagnosis. How doctors said that Steve might have just four or six months to live and how Steve -- with the help and love and prayers from so very many of you -- wowed the doctors with his tenacity.

Cooper, Katie and I are actually in Houston this weekend, staying with Jayshree and Sanjay, not far from M.D. Anderson, where the biopsy took place. I thought that it was a coincidence that we're back in Houston the same date -- but maybe not.

"True love stories never have endings."
(Richard Bach)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Little things

On the way to preschool this morning, Katie and I heard emergency vehicle sirens. Katie asked what was wrong. I told her that I didn't know but that when I hear sirens I say a little prayer, asking that everyone will be OK.

A minute later, she said, "I just said a very small prayer. I know God heard it because He has very good ears."


Most nights when I say goodnight to Katie and then Cooper, I ask if they can feel Daddy in their hearts.

A couple of weeks ago when I asked Cooper, he answered: "Yes. And I feel Daddy yawning. And he's turning on his light for me. And I can see him hugging me in the rain."

Cooper's answer tonight: "When I feel him in my heart, it's like everything is good and nothing is bad."


Monday morning I was driving through Addison and talking to Melissa on my cell phone. Actually, I was crying and talking -- probably not the safest combination.

And then I noticed a motorcycle police officer behind me, with his lights flashing. I ended the call and pulled into a parking lot.

The officer was very nice when he informed me that my state registration had expired. In April 2009.

I sobbed uncontrollably. Then I was worried that I appeared manipulative, like I was trying to get out of a ticket. And trying to stop made me cry even more. It was really quite a scene.

I explained that my husband, who had passed away in September, had always taken care of the registration and that I had no idea it was that long overdue and that I was really sorry for it being overdue and that I was really sorry for crying. Every word was true. (I am certain that we received the renewal notice in the mail last year -- why wouldn't we? But there's no trace of it in the house.)

Oh, the poor officer. He told me not to worry, that it was just paperwork. He let me go.

Tuesday I renewed the registration, reminding myself that it's really a little thing. And I'm sure there are lots of little things that got dropped or lost along the way when Steve and I were focused on really big things.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


A few days ago I wrote about the first New Year's Eve without Steve.

Dear friend Karen, who has endured all kinds of drama with me since the eighth grade, dug up photos from her party in 1992.

My first thought: "Wow, that Steve is dreamy."

Second: "Wow, I had a lot of hair. And incredibly large glasses."

Steve, of course, stayed dreamy. This photo reminds me of that amazing falling-in-love kind of feeling. Staring at this photo truly takes my breath away (and not because of my fuzzy head). I am just so in love with Stevie D.

And then tonight I stumbled upon this photo, taken at the Helton home on New Year's Eve 2008, the last New Year's Eve we were able to hold hands and kiss in the new year.

See? Still dreamy.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


This afternoon I dissembled Christmas in the house. (I had welcome help from Cooper, Katie, Jim, Betty and Uncle Jim.)

Everything in this house has a Steve connection. Christmas decorations and ornaments are no exception.

Most of our big vacations are represented: Eiffel Tower, Space Needle, Golden Gate Bridge, New York skyline, Baltimore's Inner Harbor, Mackinac Island horses, Dumbo, Mickey Mouse, White House.

There are ornaments handed down from Steve's family. Ornaments handmade by Cooper and Katie. Photos of Steve holding baby Cooper or baby Katie.

Steve and I enjoyed watching Disney movies together even before we had children. Steve especially loved Toy Story 2 and Woody's horse Bullseye. So, we have a Woody and Bullseye ornament. Cooper insists that it's his, never fully understanding that we would have bought it before we had children.

Taking down the tree full of so many memories was difficult, but it was eased by the joy of all those memories.

After everyone had left and the kids were asleep, I packed away the last few Christmas boxes and returned our everyday photos and knickknacks to their proper homes. And then I could hear Steve's voice in my head.

"I love this house."

Steve said this often. And then he would describe what he loved. The colors on the walls, the arrangement of photos, the art collected over the years, the lived-in, cozy feeling of the home we'd created together.

When I feel overwhelmed by grief -- and lately that's been often -- I try to calm myself with reminders of how blessed I was to find true love, to enjoy a heavenly marriage, to experience life with Steve. Those reminders are all around me -- in this home, in Cooper and Katie and in my heart.

Steve and Tyra, Seattle, 1996

Monday, January 4, 2010

In case of emergency

Do you remember the Friends episode from 1995 in which Rachel goes to the emergency room? I think that George Clooney is one of the doctors. Anyway, Rachel lists Monica as her "in case of emergency" contact.

It's a sweet moment in the show. The characters are 20-somethings living in New York City, forming their own family away from their childhood homes. Monica is touched that Rachel considers her close enough to be listed on a medical form.

I remember watching that episode for the first time. Steve and I were newly married. I was not yet 23. Steve was 26. We were our own little family away from our childhood homes. And I remember thinking, "I love having Steve has my 'in case of emergency' contact."

I really dislike having to remove Steve as my contact.

Just before Christmas, I re-enrolled Cooper and Katie in soccer for the spring. The forms are online and retain information from the previous season.

My heart sank when I realized that I would have to delete Steve from the "father" line and delete his cell phone number, too.

Tomorrow I have an optometry appointment. I haven't been since 2003 -- really awful, I know -- and I would put it off even longer except my vision is starting to suffer. I dread updating the forms in the office.

I have a great lineup of local contacts I can include -- Melane or Betty or Liz or Julie or Zena or Holly or Sharon or Jackie or Allison or Kris or Will. I know that any one of them -- and many others -- would drop everything and help in case of an emergency. I just wish I still could include Steve.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
(Matthew 5:4)

Friday, January 1, 2010

New year

It's difficult to accept that we've started 2010 without Steve.

Our first New Year's Eve together was in 1992, a few months before I graduated college. We were at the Jacksons' apartment for a party -- with my dear high school friends including Karen, Swati, Melissa and Adam.

Every year after, we counted down and kissed to the new year together -- whether at a party or cozy at home.
Last night, Cooper, Katie and I enjoyed time with Andy, Julie and Adam and Andy's family. We were home and asleep hours before midnight.

Christmas Day was a fun flurry of activity. Cooper and Katie woke up to snow outside and plenty of gifts from Santa. (Santa was helped this year by Alison, a friend of our friend Melinda. Alison is a toy distributor and volunteered to gather gifts for Cooper and Katie.)

Cooper and Katie, Christmas morning

Papa, Cooper, Grandma and Katie, after lunch

Jim, Betty and Uncle Jim arrived for gifts and lunch. Melane, Brooke and Molli arrived for gifts, a trip to the Gaylord Texan Resort and dinner back at home. (Uncle Greg was working, protecting the city of Greenville from fires.)

Cooper, Molli, Katie and Brooke at the Gaylord
Uncle Jim and Cooper, ready for the ICE! exhibit

For Christmas lunch, Cooper lit the candle in memory of Steve. Katie extinguished the flame after dessert.


We've stayed busy during this Christmas break. Our activities have included a performance of The Nutcracker, movies, puppet show, Christmas lights, visit to the Fort Worth Stockyards via the Grapevine Vintage Railroad, haircuts, visit with friends. (I wrote about some of our adventures in today's Briefing column.)

During one of the coldest days this week, I learned how to build a fire in the fireplace. (I wrote a little about this in Thursday's Briefing column.)

Building fires was always Steve's job. This Thanksgiving, as we sat around the firepit in Ami and Rich's back yard, I mentioned that I'd need to learn how in Steve's absence.

For Christmas, Ami sent me a package of Fatwood firestarters. I used the last bit of firewood in the garage and actually built a fire! Cooper, Katie and I were proud of ourselves (they provided tips and commentary throughout the process).

Sharon, who was here the night of the first fire, sent me a text the next day: "Steve is bragging on you to the other guy angels in heaven."