Saturday, June 27, 2015

Prayers for our furry friend

Katie Margaret, a.ka. Margie, in early 2007
The weekend that we first met Margie was the same weekend that Steve developed Bell's palsy, which I'm convinced was the signal (unbeknownst to us at the time) that a tumor was developing in his brain stem.

Steve recovered from Bell's palsy about a month later. A month after that, we persuaded the Scottie rescue people to allow us to adopt Margie.

(Her original name was Katie Margaret, but we already had one Katie in the house. Having two Katies -- both exploring toddlers requiring multiple redirections -- didn't seem to be a good idea. So we dropped "Katie" and shortened "Margaret" to Margie.)

Steve and Margie were inseparable. When Steve was home, Margie was by his side or at his feet or in his lap. And that was before Steve was ill.

There are all kinds of factors that kept Steve alive for 18 months after diagnosis. Margie, no doubt, was one of them.

Margie and Steve in 2008

Our furry Margie, who we think is 10, just like Katie, hasn't been feeling 100 percent lately. She's quicker to start panting. She's less likely to pounce and leap.

So, I took her to our vet for a checkup. Turns out, after a series of tests, there's a mass growing on Margie's liver.

Oh. The tears I have cried about that mass of unknown origin. (We don't yet know if it's malignant or benign.)

On Monday morning, Margie will undergo surgery to have the mass removed. The operation has some risks, and the surgeon has warned me of the possibility that she won't survive the surgery. And if he determines that removing it could cause irreparable damage, he won't. 

Before Cooper left for our church mission/choir trip, I warned him of this possibility. The bus is scheduled to return to Texas late Monday, hours after the surgery. (Cooper leaves for a Scout adventure 36 hours after arriving home from Florida. One of my many prayers is that Cooper will be able to visit Margie at the vet hospital before he leaves for Louisiana early Wednesday.)

Katie cried nonstop for more than an hour yesterday, after I told her the details of the surgery.  

She cried more today. In between sobs, she said, "What makes this so much worse is that it reminds me of Daddy. The doctors couldn't take out his tumor, and …"

She didn't need to finish the sentence.


I sure would appreciate prayers for Margie and the surgeon plus our little family. 

Margie, February 2015, enjoying a rare Texas snowstorm

Monday, June 22, 2015


This is a simple photo with a dozen stories.

On the top row, on the left, is Cooper. He's joining our church youth choir for this week's mission trip to Florida. In addition to singing and speaking, he's performing a clarinet solo.

He's standing on the same altar on which he was baptized in September 2001.

The altar from which he tumbled to the ground when he was a mouse in a Christmas pageant in December 2005.

The altar on which he served as acolyte for more Sundays than I can count.

The altar on which he was confirmed as a full member of the United Methodist Church in May 2013.

Next to him is Jim McKee, a longtime church member, faithful volunteer and choir member. He's one of the brave souls who will chaperone our youth.

Jim sidled up to me yesterday after their rehearsal and said, "It's been a long time since I stood next to a Damm in choir." (Then he shared his Oreos with me. Jim's an all-around good guy.)

Jim and Steve were in choir together. Steve sang with our choir until his first hospitalization, in the days before we knew for certain there was a brain tumor.

Surrounding Jim and Cooper are children I've taught off and on for years in Sunday school and Vacation Bible School.

Directing that choir is Pastor Debbie Chapman, an ordained minister and gifted musician who ministered to Steve during some of his darkest days.

Not pictured is Grant Dermody, who is the accompanist on this trip. His family is our family. His sister, Haley (who celebrates her birthday today!), was our trusted summer sitter for four summers in a row.

Holy Covenant UMC has been my church home for 15 years.

Gracious, there is nothing like listening to your almost-14-year-old son sing from the altar of the place you call home, standing next to a friend who once sang with Steve, surrounded by other children I love, directed by a graceful friend, accompanied by a talented young man, sitting next to family.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
-- Psalm 98:4

Monday, June 15, 2015

Challenges met make us stronger

My column from Saturday's Briefing:

It is the last day of school. A group of girls splash in a backyard pool, less than two hours after the final bell, all worries of fourth grade washed away.
One of the girls is leaving the party. She stands on the deck, wrapped in a towel, chlorinated water dripping from her hair, freckling her toes.
We talk about fifth grade, possibly at a different school. She’s endured change before, on top of some academic challenges. She is reluctant to change again.
I love this child, and I feel compelled to offer advice and comfort at the same time.
“You’ve broken a bone before, right?”
Yes. In kindergarten.
“Did you know that when that bone healed, it became stronger? As bone repairs, it becomes a little thicker. I think people are like that, too. When we feel broken, when we feel challenged, and then we overcome the challenge, we are stronger. You have already fought so many challenges. You are strong.”
She hears me, but I’m not sure how much she listens. I understand. Such words are often lost when you need them most.
It is the day after the last day of school. I am in Seattle with my family — my son, daughter, father-in-law, mother-in-law and brother-in-law. We are celebrating my in-laws and their 50 years of marriage.
The last time I was in this city, memories haunted me at every turn. This is the route Steve and I walked to the market. This is the restaurant where we ate dinner. This is the statue upon which he sat and posed for a silly photo.
The last time I was in this city, I still felt broken, still raw from Steve’s death. I was happy to introduce our children to a city that we had loved before there were children, yet I ached for what might have been — an intact family touring the city together, both of us sharing memories of our first Seattle trip not long after we were married.
Now I am less haunted.
As I walked through Pike Street Market, stopping to admire peonies and sniff sweet peas, enjoying the moments in the moment, not comparing them to memories, I recalled that poolside chat from the previous day and realized: I was broken, but now I am stronger.
Am I completely healed? Nope. I’ve given up on a timetable. There’s no schedule that dictates when — or if — I’ll ever fully recover from the emptiness created when Steve stopped breathing.
Am I stronger now than four summers ago? Thank God, yes. Are there still challenges to overcome? Every day, yes.
When Steve died, I received many loving, sincere notes about grief. About being kind to myself. About finding solace in warm memories. About the miraculous healing power found in the passage of time.
I read every word. I’m not sure how much soaked in at the time. The words were there when I needed them most, but I was ill-equipped to fully digest them.
A friend of a friend faces a battle I know well. Her husband has been diagnosed with brain cancer. They have two young children.
My friend asked me to reach out to this mom. I have offered to listen first, to provide advice if asked. I offer with sincerity and yet guarded hesitation. My family did not get the happy ending that we prayed for. Our story isn’t what new brain cancer patients and their families want to hear.
I can coach through logistics, schedules, providers, insurance battles and more.
Most importantly, what I want this family to know, what I want every struggling child to know, what I want to remember myself is this: Being broken isn’t the end. Being broken is the prelude to strength.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@
Cooper, Katie and Tyra at the Pink Door in Seattle, last week