Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dear Cooper & Katie ...

Cooper runs after Steve, who is holding Katie, on the coast in Gloucester, Mass., in May 2006.

Dear Cooper & Katie,

Today is Father's Day. I've learned, after trial and error, to not make a big deal out of today.

Last year may have been the hardest. We attended worship services at our church, and the message focused on Father's Day -- as it should. Katie, you sobbed through part of it, and Cooper worried about you, and I felt awful at the end of what should be a restorative hour.

Today we didn't go to worship services. We each went to Sunday school -- Cooper to his Confirmation room, Katie to her class and me to the Youth room, where I teach teens. Papa and Grandma will come over for dinner tonight, and we'll have good time without much hoopla.

Of course, I wish your Daddy were here so that you could spoil him and love on him and tell him how much he means to you. And he would do the same.

I know -- really, truly know -- that he is so proud of you. He is tickled that you both love music and play instruments. He is thankful that you love to read. He is proud of how well you get along (not 100 percent of the time but overall remarkably well). He loves how kind and compassionate and caring you both are.

One of the great things about your Daddy is how much he loved children.

In the last nine years of his life, he worked for Children's Medical Center, helping to make sure that children who live in poverty receive quality health care. Cooper, he loved to volunteer at Bledsoe, in your classroom, for parties and special dad days. If WatchDOGS had been around when he was alive, he would have been the first to sign up.

He absolutely doted on your cousins, Brooke and Molli. He loved being godfather to Sydney. He loved our friends' children, including but not limited to Thalia, Carys, Adam, Drew, Ty, Gavin, Reese, Tyler, Conor, Baylen, Connor, Noe, Amy, Will, the whole Dolphins team ...

As much as he loved all those kids, he was over-the-top in love with you two.

He cried at 7:07 p.m. July 3, when you were born, Cooper. And again at 12:34 p.m. on June 20, when you were born, Katie.

He marveled at your development. He would race me to the bathroom, so he could be the first one there for bath time. He loved reading aloud to you, whether it was Dinosaur's Binkit or Harry Potter. He told Cooper and Katie stories at work all the time.

It's really not fair that you are missing out on all these years without your amazing Daddy. At the same time, you both were over-the-top fortunate to have him as long as you did. (That's what I tell myself when I'm really missing him -- it doesn't always make me feel better, but it's certainly the truth.)

I don't know when or if Father's Day will ever be easier. I do know that if you're sad or lonely on this day, or if you feel like crying off and on, that's totally normal and expected and OK.

I love you, Cooper, and I love you, Katie, and your Daddy loves, you, too.

xoxo, Momma

Thursday, June 6, 2013


In the past week, three people close to me have lost someone to cancer.

Breast cancer. Pancreatic cancer. Brain cancer.

A friend has just been diagnosed with lung cancer.

We humans are fragile.

We are also strong, brave, resilient and full of love. It's our job to share those qualities as often as we can.

How can you help someone who is going through a crisis? Just a few ideas, culled from the strong, brave, resilient, loving folks in the life of the Damm family:

  • Let that person know you are available.
  • Ask: What do you need right now that I can deliver?
  • Offer to make a meal.
  • Offer to run an errand.
  • Give a gift card to a restaurant.
  • Send a letter -- a real letter -- and fill it with prayers and/or jokes.
  • Think of a book that inspires you, then share it.
  • Share a favorite memory of that person -- something he or she did to lift your spirits, make you laugh, make you feel better about yourself.
  • Ask: How can I pray for you? Then be deliberate in that prayer.
  • Become friends with your friend's friends. Make alliances. There is strength and creativity in numbers.
  • Be kind to others. Allow a crisis to be the perspective we all need to realign priorities.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Hero Angie

The list of family members, friends, loved ones, acquaintances and strangers who have been integral to the ongoing journey of this Damm family is long.

One of the big names on the list: Angie Williams.

Angie is the guidance counselor at Bledsoe Elementary. Her first year at Bledsoe was also Cooper's first year at Bledsoe. Of course, when he was in kindergarten we had no idea how essential a guidance counselor would be in our lives.

Cooper was in the middle of first grade when Steve was diagnosed with brain cancer. 

The Bledsoe family stepped up right away to offer support, help, services and love. Cooper's teacher, Julia, took care of him for seven hours each day. The front office was super flexible in receiving dismissal changes and dealing with other changes. And Angie started to build a relationship with 6-year-old Coop.

She would invite him to lunch in her office. They would play games. Sometimes he would bring a friend. 

Angie was never heavy-handed, but she was always available -- not just for Cooper but for me. I could always call her, e-mail or stop by her office to ask for advice or just talk through an issue. If she didn't know the answer, she would say so but always offer to find out. And she would always follow up.

A year and a half later, Steve died on Labor Day morning. Angie and I communicated that day about plans for Tuesday. Cooper was insistent on going to school. In fact, he had missed no days related to Steve's illness.

When we arrived that Tuesday morning, Sept. 8, a counseling team was assembled in the school conference room. A plan was in place for discussing Steve's death with Cooper's classroom. 

I will never forget sitting in Brae Williams' third-grade room, with Cooper's friends gathered on the carpet around Angie. She told the class that she had some sad news to share. Her voice broke, and she cried a little as she explained that Cooper's dad had died.

Her explanation was kind, gentle, age-appropriate and thoughtful of Cooper's feelings.

For the rest of the year, Angie would spend one, two or even three mornings a week meeting with Cooper before school. He completely trusted her. He knew that if he felt a wave of sadness, he could visit with Angie. 

Angie also offered resources to me. Once again, she was never heavy-handed. I, too, completely trusted her.

Katie started school a year later. Because Angie had already invested so much in our family, she already knew Katie, too. 

Katie is a much more obviously emotional child than Cooper. Her feelings bubble up quickly, and they're often intense. Angie has been unflappable in guiding Katie the past three years.

After seven years of excellent service to Bledsoe and all its families, Angie is leaving for a wonderful opportunity within the district. When we talked about her new job yesterday, I told her that I selfishly needed her to stay just three more years -- until Katie has completed fifth grade. I'm certain there are other families who feel the same way. 

Last year I asked for Cooper's advice for a child who had lost his father. His first response: "Well, he needs Mrs. Williams."

We are forever thankful for her service, compassion, sense of humor, plus her ability to juggle more tasks than she ever reveals. We are super proud of her and excited about her new job. She'll no longer be our guidance counselor, but she'll always be one of our heroes.

Cooper & Angie, last day of fifth grade, June 1, 2012