Friday, May 27, 2011

Oct. 3, 2003

This is one of the many ways I remember Steve: 
devoted dad who loved to play. 

Cooper and Steve, Central Park, New York City

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


In January, Cooper, Katie and I were interviewed for a fundraising video for Presbyterian Communities and Services, the parent agency of Faith Presbyterian Hospice, which helped take care of Steve in his two months. Faith also provided grief counseling for the three of us throughout the year after Steve's death.

The folks at Faith have told me that they're now using the video during presentations. And that it generates lots of tears.

My hope is that it also generates interest in supporting the T. Boone Pickens Hospice and Palliative Care Center in Dallas. The center will offer inpatient hospice care, education training and resource center, spiritual care center, outdoor reflection center, and child and family bereavement center.

I am so proud of our children, who are able to express themselves well despite their heavy loss. I am thankful that we were given the opportunity to share a small part of Steve's story -- and that it might help other families in similar situations.

The video is here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Head for the Cure

Katie (with a huge assist from Jeannie) created this poster for the race.

About 80 Run for Steve team members gathered this morning to run/walk the Head for the Cure 5K in Frisco.

Most of the team before the race (with some on their way and some hidden in the back)

Though the morning started a little cold and windy, the weather conditions were perfect for the race. In fact, at least two of our runners earned medals -- Walter Dewar (my ninth-grade geometry teacher) placed second in his age group and Katelyn Dattilo (one of the sweet seventh-graders I teach in Sunday school) placed first in her age group.

Katelyn and Walter

The team included Steve's family (Jim and Betty competed in their first-ever 5K), friends from Newman Smith and W.T. White, from the Dallas Morning News, from our neighborhood, from church, from Bledsoe -- even Autumn, a long-lost friend from Belton (circa 1982), rediscovered through Facebook. 

Betty and Jim on the course

Here's what I wrote to the team today. 

Early in the run, I saw one of our fourth-grade friends, Greyson. He was looking for his mom, Heather. I told him that if he can't find her not to worry -- he could just look for an adult in a Run for Steve shirt and they'd help him. 

"Well, let me tell you," Greyson said, "there are A LOT of those shirts."

Not long after Sept. 7, 2009, Cooper asked why God would allow his daddy to die. I told him that I don't know. But I did know that God provided a whole bunch of special people to walk with us as we continue life without Steve. Thank you for being those people.

What's incredible is that today's team represents a fraction of the people who walk with us and support us with prayers, friendship and acts of service. I am continually amazed by the special people surrounding us. 

Look for the gray shirts to find Katie, Adam and Noe, just before the kids' 50-yard dash.

Some couldn't make the race but donated generously to the cause -- thank you! Our team raised $650 in donations, not including the money raised from entry fees. Overall, the Frisco race grossed $152,000.
Money from the race will go to M.D. Anderson, to fund brain tumor research. A cure can't come fast enough. One reason: Melinda and Corey. Melinda is a W.T. White graduate who was in marching band with Steve. She is a brain tumor survivor who learned just yesterday that her tumor is most likely back. I invite you to pray, as Melinda has asked, for complete healing.

Corey and Melinda at the race

You can find lots more 5K photos here (by me) and here (by the talented Layne Smith).

Connor, Cooper, Baylen and Asher

Friday, May 13, 2011

Like father, like daughter

Way back in December 2007, when we knew there was a lesion in Steve's brain stem but we didn't know what it was, Steve was on a high dose of steroids. The hope was to reduce all the swelling.

Steve on lots of steroids was entertaining. The medicine exaggerated his love of talking. He talked a lot. Told borderline-inappropriate jokes to anyone who visited. Revealed lots of information. His filter totally disappeared, and none of the spouse techniques I'd developed over the years were effective in helping him regain the filter.

When the steroids stopped, the exaggerated qualities subsided.

Katie has been fighting ear infections for five weeks now. She hasn't been sleeping well. Last weekend she came down with a mean respiratory virus. On top of all that, she's been struggling with grief more than usual.

And on top of all that, she has taken oral steroids this week to reduce all the swelling in her ears, sinuses and throat.

Tired Katie on steroids isn't entertaining. Her grief is exaggerated. She's crying much more than usual. She's quicker tempered. She's difficult to calm down. None of the mom techniques I've developed over the years are effective in helping her regain her composure.

Tonight was the last dose of steroids, and I'm praying that the exaggerated qualities subside. Sweet Katie needs a break.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Five days until Head for the Cure

The Head for the Cure 5K is this Saturday! Cooper, Katie and I are looking forward to seeing so many friends and family members at the race. The race begins in front of Frisco City Hall at 8 a.m. (For you out-of-towners, City Hall is part of Frisco Square, on the southeast corner of the Dallas North Tollway and Main Street.) 

A few details:

1. Packet pickup is this Thursday (3 to 7 p.m.) and Friday (10 a.m. to 7 p.m.) at Luke's Locker at the Shops at Legacy in Plano.

2. If you can't make it then, you can also pick up Saturday before the race at the site (6:30 to 7:30 a.m.).

3. If you ordered Run for Steve shirts, you should have received an email from me. If you haven't received my T-shirt note, please email me today.

4. Let's plan on meeting at 7:15 a.m. Saturday on the northwest corner of Frisco City Hall. (I hope to park in the parking garage directly south of City Hall.) 

5. More official race details are here:

Please let me know if you have questions. Thank you so much for helping raise money to find a cure for brain tumors and for honoring Steve's memory in such a meaningful way!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

20 years

Twenty years ago this week, Steve graduated from the University of Michigan.

There are about a dozen different directions I could go from that one sentence. Here are a few.

1. President George H.W. Bush was the speaker at graduation on May 4, 1991. (His son, Gov. George W. Bush, was the speaker at Texas Tech in 1997, when Steve received his MBA.)

2. Steve was allowed to walk during graduation, though he hadn't yet received credit for one English class. He still had to write his senior thesis. He analyzed a poem and narrowed it down to a single word: spring. I believe he turned in that thesis in December 1991. And he did receive his bachelor's degree in English literature. The diploma hangs in the playroom at our house.

3. I wasn't in Ann Arbor that day. In fact, I hadn't yet met Steve. I can't even be sure that I had heard of him yet. I know that sometime in 1991, Will started telling me Steve stories and showed me some fun photos from the 1986-87 W.T. White High School yearbook.

4. I wish hundreds of times each day that Steve were here. One reason this week: So he could tell Cooper and Katie stories from college. About his job at Baskin-Robbins, his friends from marching band and ATO, his study habits (or lack thereof), his ability to pull together a paper just hours from a deadline, road trips with friends, visits from his family, meals of ramen noodles and beer, Tigers baseball games, various roommates, girlfriends, fraternity formals, football games, basketball games, the night that Michigan won the national basketball championship and the library was closed because of rioting and he wasn't able to finish a school project, his first winter there without a "real" coat, how often (or infrequently) he did laundry. Admittedly, some of these stories would be best told in the years to come -- not to impressionable 9- and 5-year-olds.

5. We met seven months after he graduated, in Will's apartment in Denton, the night of the NT Daily Christmas party. Steve had driven up from Brenham, where he was working as a medical practice assistant administrator, a job he got because the co-owner of the Ann Arbor Baskin-Robbins was also the administrator of the Brenham clinic.

6. I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around this 20-year milestone. In October 2007, Steve and I attended his 20-year high school reunion. We were blissfully unaware of the tumor growing in his brain. I struggle believing that almost four years have passed since that event. The passage of time is a blessing and a curse. I'm thankful that life continues and I'm wistful for the life we had.

7. I am forever thankful for all the events that led to our future. On May 4, 1991, I had no inkling that a tall, handsome, funny, smart, irreverent, spirited, creative, outgoing, peaceful, kind, gentle Texan was graduating from the University of Michigan. That he and I would meet and fall in love. That he would rescue me when I needed it most and provide the kind of emotional shelter that I didn't even know existed. That we would create a joyful family. That we would share the sort of love that never dies.

(photo by Liz Chamberlain Wohl)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I tried to be a triathlete

Tyra, Liz, Greg and Jim, very early Sunday morning

Cooper rocked his triathlon Saturday. I was less successful Sunday, but I tried! And it was great to be surrounded by Liz, Uncle Jim, Uncle Greg, Jeff and Melanie plus lots of family members cheering us on.

From today's Briefing:

Journey is the reward, the destination can wait

I am not a natural athlete. But I am a natural goal-setter.
Last fall, I set an unnatural goal for me: to compete in and finish a triathlon.
One of my best friends, Liz, and I started training after our kids were back in school. For months we logged three to four hours a week, swimming, biking, walking and running.
We emphasized to each other and anyone who asked that our goal was to finish. Our overall time didn’t matter. (I used the same strategy for a half-marathon in 2008.)
Sunday was the big day.
We arrived at the site at 6 a.m., which gave us ample time to set up our transition stations and feel comfortable with procedures.
When I pulled my borrowed road bike out of the minivan, I noticed that the left pedal had fallen off. It was an easy fix: Shove the pedal back on and find someone with a tool to tighten the bolt.
More than 300 competitors lined up in the natatorium to begin the swim. Not long after athletes started jumping in, the sky unleashed a dramatic storm.
Officials paused the race.
When the sideways rain slowed to a sprinkle, the race was back on, and soon I was swimming six laps in a pool that churned with the rhythmic violence of an industrial-strength washing machine.
I moved quickly from the pool to the bike racks, pulled on socks, shoes, jacket and helmet. I jogged my bike to the starting line and tried to mount.
That’s when I discovered that the pedal had been placed in the wrong position. It was not parallel with the right pedal. There was no way I could ride.
Race volunteers shrugged their shoulders. Nothing could be done.
But I knew that someone, somewhere had the tool to loosen the bolt so the pedal could be placed correctly. I insisted that they call for help.
About 15 minutes later, assistance arrived. I wanted to hug the guy, but that would have wasted more time.
I pedaled away. I was a few miles into the bike race, on a deserted gravel road, when I heard a pop.
I pulled over, hopped off the bike and pushed on the back tire. It easily gave in. The inner tube was flat.
I stood on the side of the road, shivering in the wind, losing feeling in my toes. Everyone riding by would ask, “You OK?” and I’d answer, “Flat.”
A few promised to send someone back to help.
Liz caught up with me and refused, despite my insistence, to keep going. Another rider stopped and tried to fix the flat but lacked all the necessary tools.
Eventually, official help arrived. He fixed the flat and checked the bolt on the left pedal.
There was no time for thank-you hugs.
Liz and I were back on the course. We were the very last two. A police car slowly trailed behind. Race officials picked up orange cones.
The wind was fierce and cold. There were moments when we were riding up hills into that wind, our legs pumping, our heart rates high — and yet it was as if we weren’t moving at all.
When I felt discouraged, Liz would offer cheerful motivation. I did the same for her. We had miles to go — on bike, then on feet.
With shortened breath, we worried about our families back at the transition area, who were surely concerned about where we were.
Just as we reached our wildly cheering fans, we heard the news: We wouldn’t be allowed to run. Lightning forced the end of the race.
I completed the 13-mile ride and accepted lots of welcome hugs, but I couldn’t shake defeat and disappointment. All that training, all that focus on one goal, and I am just a two-thirds triathlete.
I’m working on accepting the journey, not the destination, as the reward.
Faulty equipment and fickle weather blocked me from my goal. But I have no doubt I could have finished if allowed, even if I had to walk all 3.6 miles of the run.
Because I’m not a natural athlete, I need a goal to push me forward. Nothing but a promise to myself to finish a triathlon would have forced me to train so diligently, which in turn made me healthier and afforded me more time with a dear friend.
And I’m looking for a new race after discovering a loophole in my original goal: I set no expiration date.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at
When you compete in a tri, there's no hiding your age. They write it huge in permanent marker on the back of your leg.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


This morning Angela and I had coffee -- probably our last before school is out for summer -- to catch up.

She brought with her a lovely vase that she designed, lettered and painted.

On one side is a photo of Steve, 2-year-old Katie, 6-year-old Cooper and me on Easter weekend in 2008. Steve had just finished radiation therapy and was still on chemotherapy.

On the other side is Micah 6:8, Steve's favorite Bible verse and the verse inscribed on his memorial bench at church.

I've already filled the vase with purple salvia cut from our front yard. (Steve and I planted the tall, cheerful perennials many springs ago.)

Eagle-eyed Katie discovered it within minutes of coming home from school. "It's gorgeous," she gushed.

It's true. Thank you, Angela!