Thursday, September 29, 2011

Each moment matters

Yesterday I had a small role in the Each Moment Matters luncheon, a fundraiser for Presbyterian Communities and Services. PCS is the nonprofit group that includes Faith Hospice Services, the hospice group that cared for Steve in his final weeks and provided bereavement care for me, Cooper and Katie.

You may remember the video that Faith produced as part of its fundraising efforts for the T. Boone Pickens Hospice and Palliative Care Center. (You can see it here.)

I learned before the event that the video has been shown dozens and dozens of times all over North Texas. And that some of Steve's colleagues at Children's Medical Center watched the video but couldn't finish it. (I understand. I have trouble watching it, too.) The video helps deliver the message of why bereavement services are so crucial for families who have experienced a loss.

What an awesome legacy for our beloved Steve!

At the beginning of the luncheon, five us were on stage. One by one, under a spotlight, we spoke about how our lives were affected by the nonprofit.

My scripted line:
"My name is Tyra. While caring for my husband, Steve, Faith made each moment matter by providing music therapy for our two young children, which led to 13 crucial months of bereavement services."

By now you surely know my fear of public speaking. Steve Damm would scarcely know who I am, standing up in front of 800-plus fancily dressed people. I delivered the line with what may have appeared to be a dramatic pause but was in fact a pause to steady myself and not throw up in front of all those folks.

After I sat at my table (next to Betty, who also attended), a woman approached me.

"Tyra, I'm Rachel," she said.

She looked vaguely familiar, but I truly had no idea who she was.

"I was one of Steve's nurses."

Of course. (I'm not sure why I hadn't considered that I would see one of his caregivers there.)

Rachel was the best of Steve's hospice nurses. She would come in the middle of the night to address pain and catheter issues. She was compassionate and tender and matter-of-fact.

She was the nurse who evaluated Steve on Sept. 6 and then led me to the dining room to tell me that his time on earth was nearing an end. She helped me understand how his body was shutting down, helped me understand what steps needed to happen next.

After we hugged and I cried a little and I thanked her for her care, she told me a story.

About seven months after Steve died, Rachel was caring for a young woman who was dying.

The woman told Rachel that she had found great comfort in reading a blog about another family in a similar crisis.

She had been reading Steve's blog. (This is the moment I started to cry more.)

She knew all about Steve, Cooper, Katie and me.

Rachel promised this woman that if she ever saw me again, she would share what the blog meant to her.

What an awesome legacy for our beloved Steve.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


One of the many traditions I love at our school is the TNT (Teachers Notice Things) award. Students are recognized for above-and-beyond acts of kindness and compassion.

Cooper received a TNT early in his kindergarten year. He received his second yesterday, early in his fifth-grade year.

During the assembly I sat in the back of the cafeteria and listened to Mrs. Woodson praise Cooper in front of the whole school and watched my sweet son stand next to her. And I so badly wanted to call Steve or send him a text.

Beverly Woodson (world's best principal) and Cooper 
(photo by Katie's teacher, Shannon Gallant)
But I know that Steve knows. And I know that Steve is proud of our son -- who looks more like Steve every day and who acts more like Steve all the time.

A couple of mom friends and teacher friends stopped by to tell me that they, too, were proud of Cooper. And they, too, had tears in their eyes. Because they have also watched Cooper grow from that little kindergartener to a giant fifth-grader, have watched him struggle to make sense of Steve's illness and death, have watched him be goofy, have watched him share the same kind of tender heart and gentle disposition that defined his Daddy's character.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I was at the kitchen table, editing on deadline. I had put Katie to bed 30 minutes earlier.

She cried out.

I saved the story I was working on and hustled to her room.

She wanted a hug. Then the words came tumbling out: "I want to see Daddy. I want him here. Why did he have to die when he was 40? He didn't get to see me when I was 6."

I snuggled her and hugged her and told her that I, too, wanted to see Daddy, that I want him here. That I wish he could tuck her in and read to her and hug her when she is 6. And that I was so very sorry he couldn't.

Then she gave me a kiss and I gave her another big hug and walked back to the kitchen to work.

Friday, September 16, 2011

'He was nice.'

It's been a tough week. A week with lots of bright spots, but tough nonetheless.
  • Some parenting challenges related to age-appropriate-yet-frustrating behavior.
  • A dear friend facing a monumental crisis.
  • Onset of fall allergy season.
  • A new work schedule that requires a huge adjustment on how I order just about everything at home. 
  • A PTA meeting that I've been planning since summer -- a success, I think, but a minefield of details.
  • An accident involving my car (it was parked, no one was in it) that has created an additional layer of logistical challenges.
  • Cooper taking Created By God, a human sexuality class, which I know he's ready for but I'm not ready for because I can't help but wish Steve were here to be a part of the very important, ongoing discussion. 

This afternoon I was trying to take a short nap, before Cooper and Katie were home from school, before the driving that their activities require, before my copy editing shift (mercifully from home) that begins at 7:30 tonight.

I was asleep for maybe 10 minutes when the phone rang. (It was a call related to the accident.) I was startled by the call, and my first thought was, "I'm really doing this by myself. Steve really isn't here."

Because all those challenges from the week would be less daunting if Steve were here -- not so much to do stuff (though that would certainly be nice) but to talk with.

Tonight I was driving Cooper and two of his buddies to the Created By God workshop. One of his friends saw a photo of Steve.

"I remember your Dad. He was nice."

Such sweet simple words with so much weight.

He was nice. Oh, gracious, he was nice -- an enthusiastic friend to everyone without judgment.

That first sentence is what really gets me, though -- "I remember your Dad."

Steve as a memory. A sweet, sweet memory.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Los Angeles

When Steve and I were married in 1994, I worked nights on the copy desk at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and a few days a week as a temp for a slightly shady financial company. Steve soon after started working on his MBA at Texas Tech while also working full time.

We didn't see much of each other those three years, even when I took a day job as the regional editor at the A-J (and was able to quit the part-time admin job).

When Steve graduated in May 1997, he was recruited by Arthur Andersen to be a consultant in their health care practice. He worked one 80-hour-week in the downtown Dallas office and then left town for a year-long job in Los Angeles followed by a two-year job in St. Louis. He was gone Monday through Thursday or Friday every week for three years.

I worked nights at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before I finally convinced the Dallas Morning News to hire me.

We didn't see much of each other those three years, either.

When our schedules finally aligned in 2000, we were a little worried that we wouldn't get along. Then we realized those first few years of independence were exactly what we needed. We developed our own interests and friendships -- and then had the privilege to share them with each other.

With all that in mind, when it was time to choose this year's I-can't-be-home-over-Labor-Day-weekend destination, Los Angeles was an easy choice.

I wanted to share LA with Cooper and Katie. It was an important city to Steve and me. And Gretchen, one of my dearest friends, lives there now. We met at the Avalanche-Journal long ago.

So, Gretchen and her boyfriend, Anthony, showed us LA. We stayed in their darling Pasadena home and let them drive us all around.

A glimpse at some of the fun:

Katie couldn't get enough of LA -- or Anthony's convertible. She screamed, laughed or sang the entire ride to and from the farmers market.

At the market, she joined in a jam session led by a musician dude. Doesn't she look right at home?

Who did we find at the Getty Center? Uncle Jim! He was in town for the Disneyland Half Marathon and drove up from Anaheim to meet us at the museum. (For those who don't yet know -- Uncle Jim has moved from Houston to the DC area for a new job.)

Anthony and Gretchen kept us busy for three full days of fun.

Oh, I love the beach. This is my view of Cooper and Katie playing at a Malibu beach. They jumped waves for three hours.

I still get weepy when I see a photo of the three of us. I'm so thankful for Katie and Cooper. And I miss Steve Damm so very, very much.

We rode the roller coaster at the Santa Monica Pier. Katie and Anthony held their arms high.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles has an incredible, newly renovated Dino Hall. 
Handsome Cooper was fascinated by the La Brea Tar Pits. 

There are even more photos here and here and here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Two years

I exchanged text messages with sweet Kerith today. (She is one of the most devoted pray-ers I've ever known.) I wrote that this has been the "longest/fastest two years ever."

Two years ago today I was holding hands with Steve when he took his final breath. It's been two years since any of us have heard his voice (other than recorded) or felt the warmth of his hugs (even when it was a one-armed hug because his left arm wouldn't cooperate) or received a Steve email signed "Cheers!"

Two impossibly long and short years.

In that time, Cooper has grown to five-foot-one and Katie to four-foot-two.

Cooper has read more novels than I have in the same amount of time (and has been diagnosed with dyslexia), has completed two triathlons, has camped away from home for nights at a time, has served our church as the most devoted acolyte I've ever seen, has learned to play piano, has taught himself to walk on stilts.

Katie has completed preschool and started elementary school, has learned to read, has created countless works of art, has spoken the wisest words I've ever heard from a child, has improvised dozens of songs, has become a Girl Scout, has described an angel's life in heaven with vivid detail and confidence.

I've written about 200 columns for Briefing, have edited more stories than I can recall, have volunteered hundreds of hours for church, multiple schools and Girl Scouts, have made new, dear friends, have run races and completed a triathlon, have stepped out of my comfort zone to speak in front of crowds.

Together we've traveled all over the country and beyond. We've created precious memories at home, on soccer fields, at the movies and museums, at the neighborhood swimming pool. We've spent time with Jim, Betty and Uncle Jim, and Melane, Greg, Brooke and Molli, and Ami, Rich, Sasha and Tara.

We have been loved on and cared for by a community of family and friends-who-are-family and friends  and neighbors and teachers and co-workers and acquaintances that consistently amazes me.

We've told Daddy stories. We've prayed for him daily. We've kept his memory alive. We've tried to keep the essence of Steve alive in this home.

It has been two years of living without Steve and yet still living with his love that never dies.

It has been two years of emptiness and joy, intertwined and sometimes inseparable.

May 2006

Friday, September 2, 2011

Associations and hope

I'm getting really restless at home. I'm sitting in the big comfy chair in the corner of my bedroom (it's where I do the bulk of my writing and editing), and I can't help but think about the Friday night two years ago, and then the Saturday night and the awful Sunday that led to Steve's final breath on Labor Day.

I've always been big on associations.

For example, when I'm at a certain intersection in Carrollton, I think of the night I was driving Jayshree after dinner and I turned right on red. With an arrow. She didn't see the arrow and screamed. That was more than 20 years ago, and I can still hear her sincere concern that I was leading us into disaster.

And when I'm on a particular stretch of LBJ in North Dallas, I think of the summer days that Melane and I would walk from our Farmers Branch neighborhood to Northtown Mall, on the other side of 635. We would cross on a pedestrian bridge. We'd stand in the middle and try to coerce truck drivers into honking their horns (we'd move our right arm in the universal symbol that means "please honk to entertain me"). That bridge is about to be demolished, by the way, and I'm sad that Mel and I didn't stand in the middle one more time. I don't think we've crossed that bridge since 1981.

Last night was Curriculum Night at school. It's when parents gather in classrooms to learn expectations from teachers for the year.

Two years ago, Jim and Betty were at home with Steve, Cooper and Katie. I hated to leave the house for that hour, but I also hated to miss an important night at school.

I walked to Bledsoe. An hour later, there was an awful storm outside. There was no way I could walk home in the driving rain and lightning.

Julia Brinlee, Cooper's first-grade teacher, drove me home. She had been Cooper's teacher when Steve was diagnosed. She knew how to read my face, knew when I needed a hug after school.

On this night, she parked in front of our home and prayed for Steve and our family. I'm certain that I cried. And then I ran inside to check on my most treasured loved ones.

Steve seemed to have declined even more in that hour I was gone. It was his final Thursday night on earth.

So, last night I attended two sessions -- one on first grade, one on fifth grade. I listened. Took notes. And thought of that night two years ago.

I also associate this time of year with babies. So many friends were pregnant with babies in summer 2009. I didn't send a single gift or card (that I recall -- details are fuzzy) for those precious babies, but with every birth I thanked God for new life.

Today our church family welcomes another new life: Matilda Grace, tiny daughter to Amy and Branden.

I've spent some of today crying, thinking of Steve and the pain he endured and long list of people who love and miss him. And I've spent other moments staring at a tiny photo of Matilda, posted on Facebook, thinking of the hope and promise of this new life and the long list of people who already love her.