Saturday, June 23, 2012

Caps for Sale

Last week Cooper and Katie participated in half-day camps at the private school attached to the church where I work.

They each had teachers they'd never met before and will likely never see again. So I was faced with the  big question: Do I tell their teachers about Steve or let it go?

I decided to let it go. For Cooper, it's rarely an issue. He's less likely to talk about Steve, and at almost 11 he's a capable spokesman and advocate.

For Katie it's tricky because so much of life around her reminds her of Steve, and she's eager to share. But Katie would spend only 15 hours in the class, and her teacher had her hands full with 12 new students, and sometimes I just want to appear, well, normal, I guess.

Katie's camp was "Imagination at Play," and every day there was a different theme around which crafts, snacks, books and games were centered. Teddy bears on Monday, bugs on Tuesday, pajamas/camping on Wednesday, monkeys on Thursday, beach on Friday.

On Thursday, Katie's very kind teacher pulled out Caps for Sale to read to the group.

Katie interrupted before she could begin. (This is the moment when the teacher may have preferred I say something in advance.)

She said something like, "This story is good but it makes me a little sad. My Daddy used to read it to me almost every day. And he died."

The teacher told Katie that she was very sorry. She led the class through a prayer for Katie. And with Katie's permission, she read the story.

Katie, just 7 and a day, proved herself a capable spokeswoman and advocate. I asked her after the fact if she would have preferred I have said something to her teacher in advance.

She shrugged her shoulders. "No, I didn't mind."

(I have not attempted to read that book aloud since the first time I tried after Steve's death. Katie reads it on her own now, whenever she chooses.)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Father's Day presence

Katie's birthday falls within a week of Father's Day every year. This is a good thing, as we're so wrapped up in celebrating her special day we don't wallow in missing Steve. (Really, we don't often wallow. But it's kind of a fun word to say.)

Today, for the first time since 2006, I hosted a child's birthday party at the house. The last one was Cooper's fifth birthday, a big shindig with adults and children; we grilled out back and entertained for hours. One of my favorite photos of the four of us was taken by Betty on the front porch that day.

July 2006
Six sweet girls came over to help celebrate Katie turning 7. (In years past, I would have invited more, but my re-entry into birthday parties at home necessitated a small crowd.) The theme was loosely based on one of Katie's favorite book characters, Junie B. Jones.

I wallowed a little bit this morning as I was baking Katie's cake (lemon because Junie B.'s favorite dessert is lemon pie, and Katie thought lemon cake was close enough), wishing that Steve were here to take over for frosting and decorating the cake. It was one of his great hidden talents, honed by years of practice at the Ann Arbor Baskin-Robbins.

I didn't attempt anything fancy -- just a plainly frosted cake with whimsical candles as chosen by Katie.

Katie before the party, with cake and Steve candle 
Even without an expertly decorated cake, Steve's presence was part of Katie's celebration. As I often do on special days, I wore Steve's wedding band on my right hand. We set out the special Steve candle for the party, and I lit it when I lit Katie's cake candles.

Tyra and Katie
(If you look closely, you can spy that July 2006 photo on the mantel.)
Katie blows out seven candles plus the Steve candle.
And when Katie laughed, she laughed with the same gusto and wild abandon that her Daddy was known for.
Katie's laugh is contagious.

(Big thanks to Betty, who cooked and served dinner, including spaghetti and meatballs -- Junie B.'s favorite meal. And to Liz, who made Katie a fresh lei to wear -- in honor of Junie B.'s trip to Hawaii -- and helped the craft table run smoothly. And to Naida who stayed and helped, too.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

There's no handbook

There's no handbook on how to handle some of the situations Cooper, Katie and I encounter in life without Steve.

A couple of weeks ago, a co-worker at my new job emailed me to ask for my address and my husband's name. (She's getting married soon.)

I wrote back with my home address and my best attempt at a lighthearted way to address the Steve issue. Something like:

My sweet husband's name is Steve, but he passed away in 2009. He no longer receives regular mail. =)

I thought the smiley face might soften the news a little. And I think Steve would have appreciated the "regular mail" bit.

Last week a few friends came over to help empty contents of three rooms. (Remember the February 2012 flood? We had carpet replaced in all the affected rooms. That carpet was defective. It had to be replaced, which meant we had to move everything out again. I have good friends.)

One friend's son, who we've known for a couple of years, definitely post-2009, wandered around the house for a bit before asking Katie, "Where's your Dad?"

"He's in heaven," she said, barely moving her eyes from a Crashbox episode on television.

Our little friend was incredulous. He looked to me for confirmation. I told him that Cooper and Katie's dad had died, sadly, and that he is in heaven.

Yesterday another co-worker and I were walking together. She asked about Cooper and Katie's camps this week. Cooper is at a science and engineering day camp; Katie is at a creative problem solving program. This led her to ask about their interest in science and math, which led her to ask about my husband.

"What does your husband do?" she asked.

"He passed away about three years ago," I said, feeling terrible that I'm having to tell her this news, knowing that it's going to make her uncomfortable even though I'm not at all uncomfortable talking about Steve. "He was a hospital administrator with an English literature degree who was really creative and really good at math and science."

This is the truth: I am thankful that Cooper and Katie aren't known to everyone as the kids whose dad died. I am thankful that I'm not instantly recognized as a young widow. I am thankful that we have not stopped growing, laughing and living because Steve died.

But every now and then I sort of wish that someone would circulate a memo in advance of meeting us -- just to ease the discomfort for the other folks.

What would be even better: Steve here with his witty lines and sarcastic, slightly self-deprecating humor. If only he could coach me.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Third-annual Stephen Damm Memorial Award

Last night I helped to present the Stephen Damm Memorial Award to Dr. Lauren Phillips, a graduating resident in the UT-Southwestern neurology and neurotherapeutics program.

Dr. Lauren Phillips
Dr. Phillips was co-chief resident in the program and was recognized with multiple honors for her work. The Stephen Damm award is given for excellence and compassion in patient care.

Back in 2009, our friend Dr. Shilpa Chitnis worked to have the award created. She and her husband generously fund the cash stipend.
Liz was my guest at the graduation dinner and took this photo of me and Shilpa during the presentation.
Dr. Chitnis spoke briefly last night about Steve -- his diagnosis and the way he lived until he died, his courage and strength. She called him one of her heroes.

I continue to be inspired by Steve's legacy. He's one of my heroes, too. And, gracious, I wish he were here. Can you imagine how tickled he'd be by an award in his name for such a noble cause? He'd also get a kick out of the endearing, quirky sense of humor on display when a bunch of neurologists are gathered.

(You can read about the 2010 award here and the 2011 award here.)