Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lights, camera, action

Faith Presbyterian Hospice -- the agency that helped Steve (and our family) in the last two months of his life and provided grief counseling for the year after his death -- is raising money to build an inpatient hospice, palliative care and counseling center.

Cooper, Katie and I were asked to help in a small way -- to allow a film crew in our home to capture our story for use in the fundraising campaign. I said yes, knowing how much the counseling services we received helped in our ongoing healing and grief process.

So two weeks ago (and just an hour after Cooper returned from a two-day camping trip), we opened our home to a producer and photographer, plus our grief counselor and Faith's marketing vice president.

They spent about five hours arranging lights and sound booms, capturing moments on film and interviewing all of us.

The producer interviewed me about Steve, his cancer, his death and how we have coped. She asked Cooper and Katie separately about their Daddy; they each spoke eloquently and honestly. I am enormously proud of their ability and willingness to express themselves. I love that their bravery might in a tiny way help other children receive the same kind of counseling support we received.

I've seen a draft copy of the video. I didn't cry during the interview or the entire filming process, but I cried for almost the entire five minutes of the beautiful video. I'll post it on the blog when it's available for public viewing.

Until then, here are the final words of the film, spoken by Katie:

"My Dad got a tumor in his brain. And normally when you get tumors in your brain you can get them out, but my Dad's tumor was too down deep in his brain, and his doctors couldn't get it and he died."

Katie during her interview

Saturday, January 22, 2011


When I started this blog more than three years ago, the idea was to keep friends and family members informed about Steve's condition. It was logistically easier to type updates in one place, rather than sending e-mails or placing multiple phone calls. My desperate prayer then was that we'd need it for a few weeks, discover that the mass in his brain stem was no big deal, and move on.

Over time, the Steve blog connected us with strangers. Friends of friends. Some other families affected by cancer or other serious illnesses. One woman found the blog because her own children are named Cooper and Kate (and we're now "virtual" friends who would totally spend real time together if we weren't separated by a few states).

Every one of those readers represented more prayers, more good wishes for Steve. I often told Steve that I wanted to encircle him with bubble wrap to protect him. Physically, that was impossible, of course. But every new blog reader became an extra emotional bubble.

Just before Steve died, a woman named Daria commented on the blog. I started following her blog and learned that she was battling metastasized breast cancer. She blogged every single day, with updates on her condition, how she was coping, how she was feeling. She was never maudlin or dramatic; she was matter of fact and honest.

Though she lives far away -- Edmonton, Alberta, Canada -- I feel connected. I've joined an international team of folks who have rooted for her and thanked her for sharing her journey. I've prayed for her for more than a year.

Early this morning, Daria died. Her husband Don writes, "I was by her side and was able to kiss her goodbye several times during the night and then watched her slip away quietly in her sleep."

I am thankful for technology that connects us, that widens a community to include strangers who become virtual friends and who remind us that every day is a gift.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Short story

While Katie and I were waiting for her piano lesson today, she shared with me and Jennifer how she explains what happened to Daddy.

"When people want to know what happened to Daddy, I say it's a short story. He got a tumor in his head. It was too deep in his brain and sadly the doctors couldn't get it out. Then he died. Now, if you wanted to tell about his whole life, that would be a long story."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The music is back, but the rhythm has changed

My Briefing column from today (also available here):

A silence has been broken in our home. For the first time in two years, music's playing in the kitchen.

When Steve was alive and healthy, there was almost always music playing in the evenings. He was the self-designated dish washer, eager to create order from the mess we'd make preparing and eating dinner.

He would plug his iPod into a little speaker next to the sink, press play and get busy.

He wasn't exactly efficient. He would wash a little, sing a little, rinse a little, dance a little. I could have washed twice as many dishes in the same amount of time.

But he had fun, and his happiness was infectious

The music would stay on long after the last dish was rinsed. His iPod's random playlist (M.I.A. to Coldplay to Lucinda William) was the soundtrack to our everyday nights of bathing children, folding laundry, reading books and e-mail, discussing the hours before and planning the hours ahead.

For the first year after Steve was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, he continued to wash dishes. This time even more slowly, sometimes with breaks for sitting instead of dancing. But still with songs in the background and contagious joy in his heart.

The second year – as much as he had of it – was rough. He lost his ability to stand well or walk well and eventually to sit up at all. He reluctantly gave up washing dishes and the few other chores he'd proudly continued despite his condition.

When he stopped standing at the sink every night, the music stopped, too.

I don't think the silence was deliberate, though it certainly was symbolic. Our home took on a quiet stillness when Steve's condition became so obviously irreversible.

Our new soundtrack was the steady hum of an oxygen compressor.

In the early morning of Sept. 7, 2009, even that rhythm ended. The machine was turned off after Steve's final breath.

Since then, music has been spotty at best. Most of it is provided by Cooper and Katie, who both love to sing a cappella and have recently started piano lessons.

Very little came from me. For months I couldn't even look at Steve's iPod, much less think of turning it on. The most unsuspecting songs – from the likes of the Beastie Boys and Jane's Addiction and ZZ Top – would remind me of Steve singing in the car, singing in the shower, singing and dancing in the kitchen.

To celebrate our first Father's Day without him, I did compile two CDs of some of his favorite music – baby steps in my grief journey. We occasionally listen to his music in the car, and I tell Cooper and Katie why I selected each song – because it was a favorite his senior year in high school or was from the obscure indie band he loved in college or was his top pick from our shared favorite album.

Still, inside the house, the soundtrack has been mostly talking. Laughing. Intermittent crying.

Until last week, when I took yet another baby step in my circuitous grief path and started playing music in the kitchen – not from Steve's iPod but from mine.

I'm controlling how much I can handle. We're listening to a mix of some Steve songs, some beloved children's songs and even a few I've discovered since Steve's death. (Those are often the most difficult, symbolic of time moving on without him right here.)

I'm still avoiding some from our concerts and road trips together. It may be years before I can listen to a single note from "Was There Life," the song we danced to at our wedding and that Steve serenaded me with over our 15 years of marriage.

But there's music nonetheless.

I didn't make a grand pronouncement that first night, when I pushed play and let some music into the kitchen.

And yet when Cooper walked into the room and heard a few notes, he stopped, smiled and declared, "Now, this feels like family."

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

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A little reminder

A small detail from our front yard Sunday morning

Saturday, January 8, 2011


A fraction of the many moments I missed Steve today:
  • Shopping for Katie's dress for the Daddy/Daughter Dance (this year she'll go with her Papa)
  • Discussing with Cooper today's tragic shooting in Tucson, Ariz.
  • Directing Katie as she rode her new bike
  • Buying firewood at the grocery store (2 cubic feet of firewood is heavy!)
  • Cooking dinner
  • Tucking Cooper and Katie in for the night

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tri for Steve

The Run for Steve team invites you to Tri for Steve! Join us as we swim, bike and run in memory of Steve.

Cooper and some of his buddies will participate in the Historic McKinney Kids Kiwanis Triathlon.
When: 1 p.m. Saturday, April 30
Where: McKinney High School
What: Ages 6-10 will swim 100 yards, bike 2.5 miles and run half a mile. Ages 11-14 will swim 200 yards, bike 5 miles and run 1 mile.
Register: Click here (cheapest registration through March)

Adult friends and I will participate the next day in the Historic McKinney Kiwanis Triathlon.
When: 7 a.m. Sunday, May 1
Where: McKinney High School
What: 300-yard swim, 13-mile bike, 3.6-mile run
Register: Click here (cheapest registration before Feb. 1)

If you or your children want to join us, please e-mail me at to let me know you'll be part of our informal team. I can send you a link to online training plans for adults and/or children.

If you want cheer us on, please watch the blog for details closer to race days.