Tuesday, February 21, 2012


One of the defining characteristics of a blog -- at least this blog -- is that it offers snippets. This blog and the Damm Spot don't offer a complete picture of my life or Cooper's life or Katie's life. They are moments that I choose to share.

Sometimes I hesitate to share snippets because to the casual reader it could appear that everything is super sunshiney or that everything is gloomy all the time. In fact, life around the Damm house is mostly sunny with occasional cloud cover. Sometimes there are unexpected storms.

With that in mind, tonight I'm sharing recent moments when Steve's absence has felt heavier than usual -- small clouds in our mostly sunny world.

  • When praying for a friend, before, during and after her breast cancer surgery
  • When I gave Cooper his Arrow of Light, signifying completion of his Cub Scout journey
  • When I really listened to the lyrics of an Avett Brothers song and realized how much Steve would have enjoyed the words, how much we would have enjoyed discussing them together
  • When I watched Bottle Rocket the other night and wanted to laugh with Steve over some of the most ridiculously funny lines
  • When reading almost anything related to the 2012 presidential campaign
  • When sculpting 16 miniature dolphins with Katie for Daisy Scouts (Steve loved working with clay)
  • When the children and I woke this morning to a flood in their bathroom and continuing over the next six hours when I was dealing with the beginning of restoration of four rooms in the house
  • When sitting in Cooper's middle school orientation tonight

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's gifts

Steve and I were never huge Valentine's Day people. We celebrated, but nothing fancy or over the top.

Among our most memorable: 1993, when we got back together after a brief breakup (a story that alarms many of my friends). And 1999, when Steve was working in St. Louis and I was working in Dallas. I was a semifinalist in a Hallmark writing contest, earning roses and chocolate-covered strawberries for my Valentine. I flew to St. Louis to visit for the weekend and we took swing dance lessons.

Despite my ambivalence toward Feb. 14, when the person you are meant to spend your whole life with is no longer here on earth, the day can take on more sadness than a run-of-the-mill day.

Unless you're surrounded by a different kind of love.

Today I was spoiled. Flowers from Liz W. and Jim and Betty. Surprise dinner from Julianne. Card and gift from Katrina. Gifts from Cooper and Katie, courtesy of Aunt Ami, who was here last weekend and bought exactly what the kids asked her to get. Texts and phone calls and emails from other dear friends who know me well.

Plus, I was able to spend time in Katie's classroom, leading her Valentine's Day party.

And I am blessed with the very best perennial Valentine's gift -- the presence and life and light and love of Cooper and Katie. They represent so much of Steve and so much of Steve and me -- our values, personalities, quirks. And yet Cooper is his own young man, Katie her own girl.
Before school this morning

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cabinets and shoes and snoring

Today I attended a luncheon for widows.

(It was at a church that I do contract work for. I sat with my friend who works at the church and who is not a widow.)

I was not the target market. I can't say with certainty that I was the youngest widow there, but I can say that the tables surrounding me were filled with grandmothers. Who had perfectly arranged hair. And brooches. And apparently received the same memo to wear red or pink.

My hair was typically slightly askew. No costume jewelry. My clothes were blue and black.

I did listen to the speaker (not a widow), though. One anecdote made me cry.

She said that when she was newly married, she was attending a Bible study populated by mostly older women. Many were widows.

During one session she was complaining about her new husband and his tendency to leave open every cabinet door. His pathway through the house was clearly marked by open doors.

She ranted for a while.

Then one of the older women spoke during the study. She described similar frustration with her husband, who left his shoes throughout the house. She'd trip over them all the time.

Until he was no longer alive. When he was gone, she said, she would have done anything to see his shoes littering the house.

That's when I started to cry.

Steve would sometimes snore. Before he was diagnosed with cancer, this habit would exasperate me. If I didn't fall asleep first, I would have to bury my head under two pillows to soften the noise. If the snoring woke me, I would often nudge him to move to one side or the other, hoping that would stop the ZZZZZZs.

After he was diagnosed, this habit would soothe me. Because a snoring Steve was an alive Steve.

I would lie awake at night, listening to him snore, thanking God. I was thankful for another day that Steve was alive and for my good fortune in sharing life with him. I didn't know how many more nights we'd have left together. I knew that one day our room would be silent.

Today I would love to walk around a house with cabinet doors wide open and Steve shoes scattered in every room and the promise of snoring at night.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Cooper visited his future middle school today for an instrument fair of sorts. Fifth-graders were invited to try out all the band and orchestra instruments in order to make a decision about which, if any, they want to play in sixth-grade.

Cooper has planned to play trumpet for about six years -- long before Steve was sick. Steve played trumpet not just through college (where he was a member of the Michigan Marching Band) but continued to play occasionally at church.

Knowing how important this was to Cooper, I emailed the band director in advance, explaining that Cooper would be open minded about the options but that his first (and emotional) choice was trumpet. I thought better to warn her in advance than to have a breakdown in the middle school cafeteria.

This afternoon we headed first to the band section and then to the brass section. Cooper was the first person to try out the instruments.

He was able to play the trombone. He was really good at the euphonium. The trumpet? Not a sound.

The instructor was very patient, explaining the process to Cooper.

Cooper tried again, and very little sound came out.

The instructor shook his head. "You can't play trumpet." (He clearly didn't get the please-be-kind-about-the-trumpet memo, which I completely understand. He was one of many instructors working the tables. I'm certain that if he had known, he would have handled the situation more gently.)

I stayed quiet and waited for Coop's reaction. In typical fashion, he stoically nodded his head. His face started to turn red, and I could see signs that he was doing everything he could to not cry. (In turn, I was trying not to cry, no small feat given the general emotion of being on a middle school campus for the first time with your child who started kindergarten, oh, last week. And the sadness that always comes with milestones without Steve.)

The instructor went on to explain that the shape of Cooper's mouth and lips would make it difficult to work with a trumpet-size mouthpiece.

In the notes field by trumpet, he wrote "Nah."

He did encourage Cooper to consider the euphonium.

Cooper and I walked away from the table, toward the percussion section. I wrapped my right arm around his shoulder and told him that it would be OK. That no one will be disappointed if he can't play trumpet. That he doesn't owe it to Daddy to play the same instrument.

Percussion didn't go well. (Those screening exercises are difficult! I am now 100% certain that I did not miss a calling to be a world-renowned drummer.)

We waited for the woodwinds next. There were friends waiting, too. I found Chris, whose youngest daughter is moving on to middle school. We commiserate often about our babies growing up. And she knows how much Cooper wanted to play trumpet.

I shared with her the trumpet trouble.

Cooper didn't have much luck with the flute. But one try on the clarinet -- bam! It was a beautiful sound. The instructor remarked that he had "a good chin"and was impressed that he could hit a high C. He also did well on the oboe and bassoon.

Meanwhile, Chris returned to tell me that she had visited with the band director, who encouraged us to stop by.

She was wonderful with Cooper. She never mentioned Steve, just said that she understood why the trumpet was important. She asked him to try again, and he was able to make some noise.

She told Cooper that some people are naturally gifted at certain tasks. But that if we work hard, we can also do well at anything we try, gifted or not. She would totally support his trumpet choice, but he would need to know that he would have to work harder than most other trumpet players.

He and I walked around. He tried out the harp in the orchestra section. He thought about it, asked my opinion, thought some more.

We sat back down with the director. She and Cooper visited some more. And then he declared clarinet his first choice.

And he was genuinely happy, which is exactly what makes me happy and would have made Steve happy.