Friday, October 29, 2010


Cooper as Steve (complete with a Steve tie) and Katie as Mrs. Harris

It's the end of Red Ribbon Week at our school and schools all over the country. Each day at Bledsoe, students are encouraged to dress a special way -- in sweats because it's no sweat to say no to drugs, in team jerseys to symbolize we're all part of one team, etc.

Today is hero day.

Katie chose Mrs. Harris, her kindergarten teacher, as her inspiration. Cooper chose his Daddy.

Katie requested "teacher clothes" and a super teacher cape. Teacher clothes were no problem -- cardigan, skirt and argyle knee socks were already in her closet. A cape, though, wasn't.

Now, I'm already in the middle of costume season, and I'm not exactly the most skilled mom. With Betty's direction, though, I've created or am in the process of creating a Halloween wizard costume for Cooper, a sock hop Scottie skirt for Katie, and a nursery rhyme parade dog costume for Katie.

Well, why not add a cape to the list? So yesterday I bought some supplies, borrowed Zena's sewing machine and pulled together the cape, incorporating "ST" as requested by Katie and lots of pink, Mrs. Harris' favorite color.

Super teacher cape

Cooper's hero outfit was a little easier to pull together. Steve had his favorite "uniform" of khaki pants, blue dress shirt and tie. He'd throw on a sport coat, sweater or sweater vest in the winter. We had those basics in Cooper's closet.

Katie's badge

Long after the children were asleep last night, I printed badges for them to wear with their costumes. Cooper's said "My hero is my Daddy" and included a photo of the two of them.

Cooper was so sweet this morning when he saw the badge and asked, "Mommy, do we have white dots for the card? I want to change 'Daddy' to 'Dad' so no one at school makes fun of me." He also asked for the Children's Medical Center logo.

While they ate breakfast, I printed a new badge.

Cooper's badge, with photo from the first day of kindergarten (notice the pen in the pocket -- another Steve trait)

It's appropriate that Cooper was dressed as Steve today. At Bledsoe's nine-week celebration, Cooper was recognized with an award for excellent character. In our home, Steve continues to be the ultimate role model for integrity, compassion, enthusiasm, gentleness and humility.

Cooper and Tyra after the assembly

Friday, October 22, 2010


I've been a Rangers fan for 20 years. Steve was a fan of baseball and the Rangers long before I was.

We went to games while we were dating. When we married in July 1994, we had very little money and no time to take off of work, so we didn't have a "real" honeymoon. We went to a Rangers game at the then-new Ballpark in Arlington with family and friends.

(We took our delayed honeymoon five years later, when we spent a glorious week in Paris and Munich.)

Eric, Liz and Steve at the Ballpark in the late '90s

We watched the Rangers in spring training in Port Charlotte, Fla., with Matthew and Gretchen.

Steve, Tyra and baby Cooper at the Ballpark, August 2001

When Cooper was about six weeks old, we took him to his first Rangers game. I'll never forget that outing, mostly because it was the first time that Cooper slept through the night -- 11 hours.

After we moved to Frisco, we spent more time watching the RoughRiders (a AA affiliate of the Rangers) in person. The field is 10 minutes from our house, it's inexpensive, the parking is easy.

To be honest, I never expected to see the Rangers in a World Series. I love the team, but, like most fans understand, there's little hope after August.

This series, ending with tonight's awesome win, has been emotional for me. What I selfishly want is Steve in this room, hopping up and down, exclaiming with excitement, explaining plays to Cooper and Katie.

If heaven works the way I hope it does, Steve has been watching the games from behind home plate. And I know where he'll be during the World Series.

Cooper on Monday, wearing Steve's Rangers jersey

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Run for Steve/Tri for Steve

The official Run for Steve team is taking a year off from the White Rock Marathon this year. I know that some of our runners will be there no matter what, either for the full, half or relay. I am proud of you all! But I need to take a break from big events while I manage all the little and medium events in the lives of the Tasmanian Dolphins.

Don't hang up your running shoes, though! There will be three "official" Run for Steve events in 2011, including two triathlons.

1. Historic McKinney Kiwanis Kids Triathlon, Saturday, April 30, 2011
Cooper plans to run, bike and swim in the event, and we'd love to see our younger friends on the course, too!

I plan to run, bike and swim (along with Run for Steve captain Liz!), and we'd love to be joined by lots of friends on the course.

3. A fall 2011 run that benefits children's health care, one of Steve's passions

I'm having an especially difficult grief week this week, but I am cheered by the memories of so many runners running for Steve and by the prospect of more events.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Before I forget (and some details are already fuzzy)

I don't think I've shared before how beautifully our elementary school handled Steve's death.

I thought of it today when a store clerk and I were talking about Bledsoe, and she asked if we liked the school. As I typically do, I gushed. Our neighborhood school has been a huge blessing -- for its academic strengths, its variety of programs, relationships formed.

Bledsoe has been more than a school to our family. It is a safe, comforting home for Cooper and now Katie. It is filled with a talented group of leaders, teachers and staff members -- and supported by compassionate families.

On the day that Steve died, I spoke with Cooper's teacher, Brae. Cooper said that he wanted to go to school the very next day. We weren't sure that this was a good idea, but Cooper was certain.

Brae and Angie, the school's guidance counselor who had already spent a lot of time with Cooper, planned the next day together.

First thing Tuesday morning, I met with Angie and two specialists from the district. By this time, Cooper thought he wouldn't be able to stay the full day. But he did want his classmates to know all at one time that his Daddy had died. He was worried about having to tell people one by one.

Angie, Cooper and I walked to his classroom. Everyone gathered at the back of the room. Cooper sat on the carpet next to his best friend, Asher, who was celebrating his birthday that day. Asher put his arm protectively around Cooper's shoulders.

Angie sat in front of the group and said she had some very sad news. She tried to keep her composure, but she understandably cried some as she told Cooper's classmates that Steve had died after fighting brain cancer.

She told his friends that it was OK to tell him that they were sorry and to show that they cared but that he might not want to talk about it all the time.

Then Cooper and I went home. He spent the rest of the day at the house and returned to school Wednesday.

Angie met with Cooper three mornings a week over the next few months. We eventually reduced the days to two. This school year he hasn't yet expressed interest in counseling. But he knows it's always an option.

She and Brae are just two of the special people who took deliberate, gentle care of us when we so critically needed extra care.

So, if you ask me if I like our elementary school, I'll either give you the short answer: an emphatic yes. Or a long, emotional answer that ends in an emphatic yes.

Brae, Cooper, Angie, Kelly (former assistant principal at Bledsoe) and Jess (a teacher Cooper never even had) at one of his soccer games last October

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

End of day

Those few minutes before children fall asleep are often the most enlightening of the day. If you pay attention, that's when you're likely to learn details or clues from the day without any prying at all.

Cooper had some rough moments at school and some trying times at home this afternoon. We talked through what had bothered him before moving on to spelling words and his campaign poster for student council.

(His campaign slogan comes from a phrase that Steve and I taught him when he was 2: "You can't cooperate without Cooper.")

After Katie was in bed, Cooper and I visited a few more minutes.

"My heart is sad about three things," he told me.

1. Our friend Cole, who is recovering from a football injury
2. A classmate at school
3. Daddy

I gave him an update on Cole, assuring him that though Cole faces some big hurdles, he's eventually going to be OK.

We talked through some strategies on dealing with the classmate.

And I asked him to tell me more about how he was feeling about Daddy.

"Why couldn't you have found the tumor two years earlier so that we could have taken it out?"

I explained that we don't know exactly when the tumor began, but we think he had it for just a few months, definitely less than a year, when we discovered it.

And I told him that because of the tumor's type and unfortunate location (longtime readers will recall that notorious phrase from early in the process), there's not much we could have done.

"Well, we could have given him medicine earlier and he could have lived longer," Cooper replied.

"Maybe, Cooper," I said as I sighed. "We just don't know. And we can't change how everything happened."

Then I gave him a few more details about how cancer cells work (as best as a journalist with no formal medical training can) and why the brain stem is a highly dangerous surgical area.

"I think of cancer cells as soldiers," Cooper said. "And they want more and more reinforcements, so they just keep making new soldiers."

He added, "But I wish we could have wiped out Daddy's cancer cells."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Unexpected moments

A constant thread throughout this grief process has been my ability to cope with expected vs. unexpected moments.

When I can anticipate a grief moment -- a family birthday, our wedding anniversary, the anniversary of Steve's death, receiving his remains (as Jim, Betty and I did last week) -- I often surprise myself with my composure.

And I'm truly not pretending or acting. When I expect a moment or day or series of days to be difficult, and then those moments or day or days happen, I typically remain calm inside and out.

The unexpected moments, though -- they are a different story.

Today they piled one on top of the other.

I woke at 3 a.m. with an awful earache (allergy symptoms are particularly bad for lots of North Texans right now). I was totally capable of getting out of bed for Tylenol and water. But I wanted Steve to do it for me. I cried from the physical pain and the heartache.

I visited my doctor for an annual check-up later this morning. It was the first time I had sat in her waiting room since Steve died. The only other people in the room were a husband, pregnant wife and toddler son. It reminded me of Steve and me. He was by my side for every single prenatal visit in that office when I was pregnant with Cooper. He missed only one when I was pregnant with Katie (and he lamented that missed visit for years later). As I waited for my turn, I wiped away tears.

After the appointment, I visited a dear family at Children's Medical Center. Cole was in a football practice-related accident yesterday and is receiving excellent care at Children's -- the same hospital that employed Steve for nine years.

I hadn't been on the campus in a long time. There was no question that I needed to be there -- wanted to be there -- for Cole's family. I'm glad I had the opportunity to hug his mom and dad and to listen to Kelly describe every mom's nightmare and to smooth Cole's hair while he slept.

But I wasn't prepared for how difficult it would be to park in the garage Steve parked in. To walk the skybridge that he walked every day when he worked at that campus. To walk by other administrator types wearing similar suits and almost identical badges.

Before I drove away to get home in time to pick up Cooper and Katie from school, I sat in the minivan and sobbed.

Too many unexpected grief moments in one day.

Thank God for the unexpected joyful moments. Like Katie choosing cowgirl boots to wear with her bright blue T-shirt and hot pink cropped sweatpants. Like an impromptu morning tea with Liz. Like Julie calling just to check on me.

And like Cooper on the way home from soccer practice tonight. I pointed out the particularly pretty sunset -- orange and pink and purple filling the western sky.

"That's so beautiful not even Leonardo da Vinci could capture its beauty," Cooper said.

(He's learning about da Vinci, by the way, from aforementioned Kelly, his GT teacher at school.)

"The world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming."
-- Helen Keller