Sunday, May 30, 2010

Coming home

Back in December, Cooper's Cub Scout den gathered early on a Sunday morning at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to welcome home troops flying back to the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan.

We lined up outside ropes inside the terminal, saving room inside the ropes for family members and veterans. We all held American flags; many of the Scouts held posters they had created.

When the uniformed men and women started walking from the secure area of the airport into the welcoming area, we cheered and applauded. The boys stood close to the ropes, eager to shake hands and give high fives.

Most of the troops were on their way somewhere else, but a few of the troops had reached their final destination, and family members were right there to smother them with hugs and kisses.

The experience would be emotional under any circumstance. But when I saw daddies reunited with the children and wives they'd left behind and then looked over at my own two children, who will never feel again feel Steve's warm embrace, I was selfishly overwhelmed.

I hadn't considered how difficult it would be to watch these tender reunions. I felt guilty for feeling so sad while these families were so relieved, and I felt guilty for taking Cooper and Katie to watch the reunions so soon after Steve's death. Cooper especially struggled for the next couple of days, though he didn't have the awareness or words to express exactly why.

As we prepare to celebrate Memorial Day, I think again of the troops who come home -- and the troops who don't.

I remember my grandfather, Bill Thomas, who served in World War II. I think of my brother-in-law Greg, who served during the Persian Gulf War. I am thankful that they came home and mindful that over the years there are thousands of dads, brothers, sons, uncles, moms, sisters, daughters and aunts who didn't.

Grief is personal. I think of mine every day, and I share a fraction of those emotions here. And my grief over Steve's death and absence is a fraction of the collective grief experienced by everyone who loves him.

So just imagine, over time, the collective grief over the death and absence of the men and women who have died while serving our nation. I am thankful for their sacrifice and the sacrifices of all those who love them.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Over the past few years I've accumulated a list of blogs that I follow (with the help of Google Reader). The blogs represent a mix of co-workers, friends, friends of friends (and of friends), random writers and cancer survivors.

One of those cancer survivor bloggers today wrote about her PICC line dressing change. When I read those words, I took an involuntary sharp breath. It wasn't that long ago that I was worried about PICC line dressing changes for Steve. And yet I hadn't thought about them in months.

The PICC line was the tubing inserted in a vein in Steve's arm with direct access to a larger vein in his chest. It was how he received IV chemotherapy and fluids and antibiotics and all those drugs that helped sustain his life in 2009.

I never changed the dressing (the materials on his skin that kept the line secure), but I observed often enough (with sharp eyes, watching for possible contamination) that I could have changed it if necessary. I knew that his was a single lumen, not double, which puzzled more than one nurse. I kept track of when the bio patch had been changed, and I checked for signs of infection, and I covered -- and later uncovered -- the dressing every single time Steve took a shower or bath.

All of that came rushing back just by reading the words "PICC line dressing change."

I miss everything about Steve -- our life before brain cancer and our life during brain cancer. I grieve the years we had together before we had ever heard of the word "PICC" and all the other cancer-related vocabulary. I grieve the months we had together after, when we were forced to make room for the kind of medical knowledge no one wants to know so personally.

I miss the years when we would end our busy day and walk upstairs to the TV room to catch up on shows and visit and cuddle. I miss the months when he was too weak or unstable to walk upstairs at all. I miss able-bodied Steve, who always drove on long car trips and made me coffee and wrestled with Cooper in the middle of the family room. And I miss the Steve who stopped driving in December 2007 and couldn't reach the coffee pot because of his wheelchair and who couldn't wrestle but never held back a hug.

This afternoon Katie told me, "When Daddy was alive and not sick, he worked and did lots of nice things for you, Mommy." She is so right.

Then I told her what is so remarkable about her Daddy is that even when he was sick, he was still very much alive and still worked and still did lots of nice things for me and many others.

Katie and Steve at her 2nd birthday party, June 2007 (recently rediscovered photo from Melissa)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Last day of preschool

Since my own schooldays, I've been a mess on the last day of school. (I wrote a column about it last year.)

This year, the difficulty is compounded.

Today is Katie's last day of preschool forever. In three months she'll be starting kindergarten.

She's spent three years at our church preschool, a warm, loving school that is really part of our family.

When she started in the 2-year-old class in fall 2007, we had a "normal" life. Dad with a full-time job, mom at home with a freelance job, son in first grade, daughter in preschool.

Katie on the first-ever day of preschool, age 2

Then Steve was diagnosed with cancer and our normal was redefined.

When Katie started in the 4-year-old class in fall 2009, Steve was faltering. We had no idea, though, that her first week at school would be his last week on earth.

Katie on the first day of preschool, age 4, just a few days before Steve passed away

It is especially difficult to close this chapter of our lives -- the preschool chapter -- without Steve right here. And as tough as it is to close a chapter without him, it is even harder to start a new one -- kindergarten in the fall -- without him.

To start something new without Steve is to acknowledge that we are continuing life without him. And I know that that is the rational, reasonable thing to do. It would be much worse to stand still or go in reverse, to be afraid to try new things or to start something new with a grumpy attitude because he's not here.

I know that to honor Steve's life, my job is to shepherd Cooper and Katie through childhood and beyond with a positive, adventurous spirit.

Today, though, I am pausing a bit and crying a bit. Because little girls should be able to come home after the last day of preschool and get a hug from Mommy and Daddy. Because I want to hold Steve's hand and tell him how excited Katie was to walk into her classroom today, just after she told me how sad she was that school was almost over.

Katie this morning, her last day of preschool, age 4

We are so blessed that the next chapter, even without Steve right here in the flesh, will begin at another school that is a part of our family. The Bledsoe family has been part of our support and comfort since Steve's diagnosis.

And, of course, Steve is always with us, always a part of our family, always there for the milestones and tiny, everyday moments.

"... These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
(1 Corinthians 13:13)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Voice lessons with David Gaschen

I am happy to report that Damm family friend David Gaschen is accepting students for voice lessons. (You may remember him as our Christmas caroler or fundraiser or the Phantom.)

The Broadway veteran, father of two and all-around good, super talented guy works with singers from about age 14 and older. He offers hourly lessons in his Frisco home.

You can reach him through e-mail at and on his cell at 972-746-7076.

Friday, May 14, 2010


You no doubt know how much Steve loved his own children. He showered Cooper and Katie with love that continues to give them strength and that will multiply as they grow and create their own families.

Steve shared similar love for all children -- our nieces and cousins, our godchildren, our neighbors and friends. And for thousands of children he didn't necessarily meet but served through his work.

In 2000, when Steve was offered the job through Children's Medical Center of Dallas to start a clinic for underserved children, we both felt certain that he had found his calling. He was given the opportunity to combine his incredible technical and finance skills with his devotion to helping everyone have access to quality health care.

Physicians for Children was Steve's passion. The PFC team worked together to provide consistent, high-quality care for children who would otherwise wait hours in an emergency room or wait days for an appointment in a lesser clinic or perhaps not receive treatment at all.

Steve's dream was for the Dallas area to be dotted with PFC clinics.

There are currently four clinics open, and this week I learned that there are plans for two more this year and a commitment from Children's for even more in the next few years.

I am incredibly proud of Steve's legacy and the teams that continue to care for children and the teams that will be pulled together to take care of even more children.

I love that Cooper and Katie have a daddy who is a tremendous role model and an example of how one person, working with folks who are similarly dedicated, can affect big, positive change.


Just after Steve's death, the PFC board wrote a resolution to honor Steve's work. The signed, framed resolution has a prominent home in our family room. The text:

Steve Damm
Administrator and Friend
September 9, 200

Whereas, Steve Damm joined Children's Medical Center of Dallas in 2000, and was hired as the first administrator for Physicians for Children to oversee the development of the Bachman Lake Clinic and develop the Physicians for Children model; and

Whereas, Steve Damm was recognized for his technological expertise by many throughout the Children's Medical Center of Dallas organization, which created immense efficiencies in numerous departments, including setting up the billing system, electronic medical records, and physician and clinic credentialing with the Texas Medicaid & Healthcare partnership for Physicians for Children; and

Whereas, As a result of his outstanding contributions, for the past several years, Physicians for Children Bachman Lake clinic has consistently provided over 30,000 visits annually to a population that is 95% Spanish-speaking and 96% Medicaid/CHIP/Uninsured, and by providing continuous access to primary care, Physicians for Children Bachman Lake has decreased unnecessary visits to the emergency room for thousands of Dallas children; and

Whereas, In his passing on September 7, 2009, Children's Medical Center of Dallas, Physicians for Children and this community have suffered the irreparable loss of one its most devoted and respected administrators, whose dedicated spirit and significant work has touched the lives of thousands of families; and

Whereas, Because of the success of Physicians for Children Bachman Lake and the Physicians for Children model, additional Physicians for Children locations have opened in Carrollton, Plano and McKinney, and we hope to open many more Physicians for Children clinics in the future; and

Now Therefore Be It Resolved, to his family, we, the Medical and Administrative Staff and the Board of Directors of Physicians for Children, extend our sympathy, and knowing how we shall miss him, wish to express our deepest condolences to his family on their loss; and

Be It Further Resolved, in testimony of our great esteem for Steve Damm and his contributions to the access of pediatric primary healthcare for underserved children, unanimously present this resolution to his family as a lasting record of his great life and service.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Katie, Tyra and Cooper before church on Mother's Day

I have no idea what heaven is like. But I have lots of fanciful ideas of what Steve is up to.

I've been needing to buy a new laptop for months, but I've been hesitant to make a computer decision and spend so much money without Steve's counsel. He was my resident Help Desk and IT support.

But the work I do for multiple clients requires that I have a reliable, portable computer. So I gathered advice from trusted folks and made a decision.

Layne and I placed a new computer in the online shopping bag but took a break for dinner with Liz and all of the kids before actually placing the order. "I'd like to wait for a sign from Steve that this is the right thing to do," I said, joking just a little.

The eight of us ate dinner, and there was no sign from Steve.

"He probably has more important things to do in heaven than approve or not approve my computer purchase," I told Liz and Layne before we clicked "purchase."

What else could he be doing? Could he be responsible for the healthy growth this spring on one of the trees in the front yard? Can he hear and laugh along with Cooper's steady supply of jokes and riddles? Was he with me on Saturday when my friend Darla and I spoke to a crowd at Grapevine Mills Mall and I actually didn't fall off the stage or stumble over my words?

Katie has a theory, too. She says that Daddy's job in heaven is to create rainbows. She's certain that he uses a computer for the work. That makes sense, given his technical expertise AND his creativity.

Uncle Jim, Betty, throwing-a-little-tantrum Katie and Cooper, celebrating Betty's birthday

Saturday, May 1, 2010

So much love

Layne just e-mailed me this photo. I've never seen it before now. (That's Layne in the tuxedo. Steve is holding a not-yet-1-year-old Katie. Preschooler Cooper is hugging Steve, and I'm resting my hands on Steve and Katie.)

He found it while searching through images because he's preparing a slideshow in memory of his brother-in-law, Ted, who died in an auto accident early Friday morning in San Antonio. Ted's only sister is Liz, Layne's wife and one of my dearest friends.

This photo was taken almost exactly four years ago. We were attending and participating in the wedding of another dear friend in the Boston area. The bride from that happy day recently passed away.

What does this photo mean to me now -- given what's happened in the four years since it was taken? One of my answers is so cliche that I hesitate to type it. But I will.

Every day is truly a gift. The day after isn't guaranteed. Life is precious and uncertain and too special to be wasted.

What else does this photo mean? So much love.

I see so much love in Steve's eyes and Cooper's embrace and Katie's smile, hiding behind those fabulously chubby cheeks.

Nothing can take away so much love.