Re-imagine, Meaning, Connection

(View Justin Yopp’s Ted Talk above)

I’ve shared before about the group of men I met in 2010, about six months after Lisa died.  Two psychiatrists from UNC formed a grief group, Single Fathers Due To Cancer.  I apprehensively attended the first meeting.  Four years later our monthly get togethe’rs subsided, replace by annual reunions.

The grief I felt ten years ago next month, seems far away.  In fact, I have isolated it because it is grueling to go back.  The pain, the disbelief, the fear – I don’t ever want to feel that again.  It’s easy to isolate those feelings when you’re happy.

Recently, Justin Yopp, one of our group leaders, did a Ted Talk titled More Than Grief.  He shared our story, seven men who struggled together and, in time, moved forward.

I didn’t know at the time, but Justin was learning from us.  He works with those experiencing loss on a regular basis and listened very closely as the seven of us shared over this 48 month period of time.  Justin shares in his talk that he saw three distinct steps in our recovery from grief:

  1. Re-imagining – Justin describes our grief like a trip.  We were on the highway, moving forward, when suddenly the road stops.  The map says the road should continue, but it doesn’t.  Justin began seeing growth with each of us when we began to re-imagine what life might be again.  For a very long time, we recanted our loss.  For a very long time we lived in the here and now trying to figure out how to manage our day to day lives.  But slowly, conversation turned.  We began to dream again, to imagine another road.
  2. Finding meaning – Justin argues that when we began changing the focus from our loss to helping others, there was movement toward our futures.  When we were able to consider how our group, and how we as individuals, might help other men going through similar situations, it helped us heal.
  3. Connecting – Finally, Justin saw in us a connection that was rare.  We weren’t best friends, but we knew a heck of a lot more about these guys we saw just once a month than we did about folks we saw on a daily basis.  The deep and intense level of sharing was surprising.  This connection and ability to share was crucial to our healing.

What the seven of us learned, what Justin and Don our leaders learned, is that you can create new paths, and you can move forward.  It just takes work – and maybe a couple of other really good men.

The Race Grows Sweeter in the Final Lap

There is a show on Amazon Prime called Modern Love.  It tells all sorts of stories about love – dating, marriage, adoption, young love and the episode we watched last night was about love between two older adults.

It starts with a road race.  A seventy year old woman has her eye on this distinguished, very slow running, soft-spoken gentleman.  She finishes the race before him but waits at the finish line to engage this man she’s had her eye on for some time.

At their first dinner together, Margo tells Ken, I have respect for your 35 year marriage and your sweet wife Betty, but I think you might have room in your heart for me.

He did.

It’s funny to think about folks in their 70’s having crushes and starting over.  But not being as far from that decade as I’d like, it is less surprising than it might have been ten years.  Julie and I are Margo and Ken, minus a few years.

The connection between them is sweet… and funny… and electric.  They sit in bed snuggled tightly together at night.  They read together, have afternoon drinks in their garden, run, go to parties – eyeing across the room – clearly more interested in each other than anyone else.

It doesn’t take long for the viewer to realize there are two story lines in this show.  One is the building of their relationship.  The other is Margo dealing with the loss of her new lover.  It isn’t clear how much time they had together, but this touching love story wasn’t a long one.  It was, however, maybe the most powerful of the series.

As Julie and I sat in the den watching our TV, the tears just flowed.  As Margo shared at Ken’s funeral:

Old love is different – it’s more realistic. We had already been through many ups and  downs in life.  We had learned to compromise, survived loss and mistakes.  Yes, old love is different, and yet it is also the same.  Ken and I did everything that young people do – fell in love, traveled, planted a garden, remodeled a house.  He called me sweetheart and on nights when were out a party, we came home after and sat on the rim of the bathtub, flossing our teeth, and gossiping about the evening.  Every time we passed each other in the house, Ken made it a point to stop and kiss me or squeeze my shoulder or grab my hand (maybe because he was afraid he might lose one he loved again; I get that).  He and I often told each other we are so lucky. 

Young love, even for old people, can be surprisingly bountiful.

Margo’s words rang true for us.  We have had our own ups and downs.  We have loved before.  We have had hope.  We have lost.  We have grown.  Our life maturity has led us to an honest, real, and different sort of connection.

Many couples meet later in life.  I think many also reinvent their relationship as time goes by.  My hope is that all have the opportunity to experience mature, honest love.  It takes a lot to get there:  pain, suffering, loss, and a few hard knocks.  But if you’re open and willing, if you pour in, you might receive in beautiful ways.

Merry Christmas!

From the Tanner house to yours – hope your Christmas is wonderful!

Second Chance

This was the tenth Thanksgiving without Lisa.  I realized it on Wednesday as the girls and I drove to my parents’ house in Fayetteville.

That first year was unbearable.  I told my dad we could not eat at the dining room table.  I could not fathom sitting there without her by my side.  When we arrived, he had indeed set that table.  I refused to sit so the entire family picked up plates and resettled in the kitchen – some at the table, some at the bar.

Even butterbeans reminded me of her.

I don’t like to revisit the pain.  It’s a dark place for me.

What I’m most thankful for this year is second chances.  I’m thankful that I was able to move again after years of paralysis.

Not everyone gets that chance.  Some don’t have the good fortune of accepting the loss and having the strength to find their new selves.  Some can’t get over the hurt, the betrayal the world cast on them.  Some aren’t able to find what I have – genuine happiness in a new partner.

My girls too have found happy again.  They are thriving, each in their own way.  Perhaps the greatest gift I can give them is to be solid myself.  I hope that my example of pulling out of the hole, of giving new life a chance, will enable them, regardless of what they face in their futures, the ability to dig out themselves.

I don’t take my second chance for granted.  I thank God for the people who have been put in my life – the ones who tossed me ropes and ladders and flotation devices not so long ago.  I thank God for bringing Julie into my life at the exact right time – at a time when she and I were both ready to take a leap from tough to happiness.

It’s not easy.  Sometimes grief is more comfortable.  It can be very secure – you know your role.  You don’t have to move.  Sitting is much easier than running.

But had Julie and I not trusted again, had we not been willing to leap, I can’t imagine what life might be.

I hate I went through loss.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I am thankful I jumped.  It was the second hardest – and yet, the most exhilarating of my life.

 

Oh My Grumbling Stomach

My motivational calendar

And then he starved to death.

My blood sugar is high.  My cholesterol is high.  I don’t sleep well.  And I just got rid of a bad case of toenail fungus.

A nightly phone call from my bride to be often goes like this:

Julie:  “Hey honey, what are you doing tonight?”

Me:  “Eating Toll House cookie dough.”

Julie:  “Hmm.”

Did you know you can buy a tub of that stuff for $5.65 from the Food Lion?  No baking needed.  Just a spoon and a willing mouth.  I have both.

Julie wondered if we made a slight adjustment in our diets, perhaps we could reset our systems, clean up my bloodwork, and get her to her fighting weight before the holidays.  We had exactly 30 days between our last parent weekend and grandma’s Thanksgiving dinner.

“Let’s try Whole 30,” she suggested.

“What is that?” I inquired.

“It is a thirty day plan that helps cleanse your system and reset your relationship with food.”

“I like my relationship with food!  I eat what I want when I want.  The food just lies there in the box until I call upon it to meet my needs.  It’s extremely uncomplicated unlike a lot of my other relationships.”

Whole 30 bans breads, pastas, sugar (including cookie dough), dairy (did you know cheese is considered dairy???), beans, peanuts and alcohol.  I live on Wheat Thins (banned), cheese (nope), red wine (uh – oh) and cookie dough (OF COURSE NOT).  This was a nightmare waiting to happen.

My problem is that I am very determined.  All Julie had to say was, “Well if you don’t think you can do it…”

She knows I can’t back away from a challenge.  “Besides,” she reminded me, “you can have all the vegetables you want.”

Oh.  Yippee…

The first sixteen days I was golden.  Well, not really golden, but at least a slight shade of yellow.  I will admit one night I had to brush my teeth and take an Ambien to keep myself from driving to the gro to pick up the dough.  The urge was significant.  But I set up a star system to reward myself when I saw success.  A red mark for following the diet.  Green for a workout.  I like praise, even if only from myself.

At the beginning of week two, when I reported to my competitor that I’d lost eight pounds, my partner in crime was not happy.

“You have to eat more!  Your goal is NOT to lose weight!  Your goal is to clean up your blood!”

I was actually eating more food than I had in decades.  But it’s hard to take in 2,700 calories a day when all you can eat is bib lettuce and salmon.  It’s truly amazing how much you can eat when you put the right things in your body.  All day long I’d nibble with three big meals in between.  I felt like a grazing cow.  And yet my weight was falling off.

On day 17 I headed to Vancouver for a work trip.  I knew I was in trouble when I got to the restaurant with my co-workers and the three appetizers on the table were:  pizza, bread, and chips with guacamole.  Julie was with me but had stopped at the bathroom before we sat down.  When she arrived at the table, I looked at her longingly, “We have a problem…”

She looked down the table.  She could see flour in my thought bubble.  We took the day off – and then headed straight back to cauliflower and broccolini the following night.

As I write, we have eight more days to go.  And actually, with our infraction, we’re doing the Whole 29.  The creator of the diet says that if you break the diet you have to start over.  If she thinks I’m heading back to day 1 after 16 successful days of wheathinlessness, she’s can think again.  I challenge her to eat cookie dough 29 days in a row… not as easy as it might seem.

I do think this experience is changing my relationship with food.  I have greater respect for spinach, am finding an odd attraction to boiled eggs, and I don’t think I’ll be upset if sourdough only shows up on special occasions.  But cookie dough – un, still can’t get her off my mind.

Just Tolerating

I continue to be enamored with flying. Not the act of flying. It’s what you go through to get from destination A to destination B that I find utterly unbelievable.

My infatuation dawned on me as I began putting my clothes back on after going through security this past week at O’Hare airport. The woman in front of me stood right in front of the conveyor belt and fully got dressed, blocking my four containers of personal items, while she buckled her belt and tied her shoes.  You don’t do that!  You quickly grab your stuff and move away to a bench to regain your composure!

EVERYONE is at the airport!  As I waited for the plane, I noticed a couple.  He had purple hair, a tiger tattoo on his forearm and those huge holes in the lobes of his ears.  His traveling partner, who he was holding hands with, seemed, by her dress and head frock, to be Amish.  I am surprised, yet thankful, they found each other.

I discovered a corner, right in front of the China Kitchen, in the food court to eat.  God bless the woman serving the customers.  In the amount of time it took me to gobble up a turkey bagel and baked Layes, she told no less than 30 customers that they could have two meats, rice or lo mein, and a spring roll.  Do the math.  That’s is like 480 rice or lo meins in an eight hour shift.  I could not work at an airport.  All these people going on vacation, all day, every day, right in front of your face while you’re hashing out lo mein requests with purple haired, Amish people.

When I arrived at O’Hare two days before, the airplane taxied so long I thought they had decided to drop me at my hotel before delivering the other passengers at the terminal.

But on this day, I was so glad to head home that I didn’t even flinch at the broad shouldered guy in the middle seat beside me who, before I even got on the plane, took BOTH armrests.  That seems unreasonable to me.  He’s obviously addicted to pull ups.  Unhealthy.

Before I put my phone in airplane mode, I always text my kids and Julie to tell them I love them.  This is code for I think this plane could very possibly crash and I want you to know I love you in the event I don’t get home tonight.

I then plug in my headphones and shuffle my downloaded Spotify playlist.  But I have a major fear that others around me can hear my music.  I take an earphone out multiple times just to be sure.  What if pull up man knows I’m listening to the boyband, One Direction, singing Steal My Girl?  What would he think of me?

I try to sleep but there’s nothing to do with my head. I want a drink but then I’d have to pee.  The narcoleptic woman in the aisle seat across from me is snoozing, with her mouth gaping open, before we even take off.  That makes me so mad I want to shove something right between her upper and lower incisors.  It would take me three Ambien, a sleep number bed, my loose elastic boxers and a long, hard Monday to sleep that well.

And besides, if I do doze off the flight attendant invariably runs into my knee cap with the drink cart which hurts.  Apparently I spread my legs apart when I rest sitting up.

The guy next to me, with his elbow in my right pelvis, checks his email for work the entire trip home.  That makes us all look bad on a Sunday afternoon.  Why can’t he just pretend to sleep like me?

When I finally arrive back in Raleigh, I discover the airport authority has charged me $107 to park for two nights.  Geeze.

Airports have the largest number of people in the world just sitting around tolerating.  Tolerating, tolerating, tolerating.

One-on-one

Last night I got a text message from a co-worker.  She shared that a third grade boy at one of our after-school sites, a kid from a single parent family, lost his mother and sister in a horrible car accident yesterday.  He rode with them to school.  At 6 pm when our program closed, no one came to pick him up.  That was very unusual.  Then the news.  He spent last night in foster care.

He lost his mother and middle school sister and then had to, at least temporarily, go, alone, to a stranger’s house to spend the night.

I don’t know the kid.  I don’t know much about his situation.  Yet my heart aches for him.

This little guy now has to navigate life without the two people who were his foundation.  His world turned upside down.

I’m thinking about what must be going on in his mind today.

Two weekends ago I spent the day at Elon University with Stephanie.  It was Men We Love weekend with her sorority.  It was likely designed for dads but knowing not everyone has a dad, they broadened it to men.

We spent a little time with her crew at school, but mainly we had an almost full day together.  We laughed and laughed.  Talked about her future.  Talked a bit about mine.  Saw the better part of a football game and an acapella concert together.

I cherish the time I get, especially one-on-one, with those I love.  It might be the most meaningful of all.

None of us knows how many more days we have left on this earth.  Man, I want to spend more of it intentionally building connections with those around me.

That’s the important stuff.

A Mouse in the House

Michelle screamed as if she had stumbled upon a headless, dead man on a walk in the woods.  It scared the mess out of me.  But I’ll have to admit, I didn’t stop checking my emails because I figured it was a bug.  It wasn’t, but I was close.

Several weeks ago there were signs of a mouse in the house.  Teeny little mouse poppies on one of the upstairs bathroom counters.  How in the hell a mouse can climb a bathroom cabinet in the middle of a room I’ll never know.  But this one did.  And, signs show that he has been adding Benefiber to his diet.

To solve this problem, I put some of the sticky mouse traps throughout the bathroom.  These traps are like little cell phones but covered in a gooey adhesive.  When the mouse steps on one, he can’t move.  So he sits there until you toss him into the trash can at which time, I assume, he sits until he starves to death.  It is actually very tragic.

He never came back to the bathroom.  So I thought maybe he decided to go to the neighbors which was most fine by me.  They are retired and have plenty of time to chase mice.

But then, Michelle went to DJ’s room last week to steal gum from a pocketbook that was under her bed and discovered that our friend like spearmint.  Who doesn’t, right?

So this time I decided I’d do the more humane thing (oh, and I couldn’t remember where I put the unused sticky traps) so I purchased the traditional snap traps at the store on Sunday.  I assumed they would instantly break his neck.  I forgot about them… until Michelle shrieked.

Tonight she was getting out of the shower and heard a snap.  She was downstairs in .09 seconds.

I got to the room, the lightbulb by the door had blown out.  I stepped into the partially dark room with caution.  I mean, I’m brave and all, but still I don’t need a rodent running up my leg.  As I walked in, I could hear the poor fella hustling around – because his head was snapped in the trap but his bottom and hind legs were still mobile.  He was running around in a circle, with a massive headache I’m sure.

I swept him up with a broom and took him out to the trashcan for his final demise.

Now I’m not a huge animal guy, but I’m struggling here.  I can’t stand to think of this poor little guy, alone, thrashing about with my leftover bean dip and cotton balls with a piece of wood aggressively stapled on his head.

There just has to be a better way.

Exp. 9/14/19

I think the USDA is in bed with the chicken people.

Last weekend we bought chicken for Julie’s son Will.  The next weekend he called to get her recipe for chicken strips.  Julie told him to check the expiration date on the biddy.  It was like five days ago.  She told him he had to buy new meat.

What the heck?  We’re all gonna go broke if we have to toss out every semi-expired breast we purchase.

Most of the time I freeze my meat and pull it out the day before I cook it.  When you freeze, it can last for years!

But seriously, five days past expiration?  It’s gotta still be good.  That is simply a ploy to get you to buy more chicken.  I feel certain Mr. Perdue’s lobbyist is behind all this.

I told Julie Will could just heat those little boogers up a bunch and that the heat would kill the salmonella.  We both assume there is likely some level of disease in a refrigerator in an apartment rented by four, male, juniors in college.  When I was that age and my parents came to move me out of my apartment at NC State University in May, my mom found a small Tupperware container with “tuna salad” she’d sent back with me after Christmas.  It didn’t really look or smell like tuna at that point.  I was surprised she recognized it.  But maybe it was the container she found familiar.

Doesn’t heat kill germs?  We wash our dishes in a dishwasher that gets real hot – which gets our silverware clean!  We eat off of forks in restaurants that have been in any number of mouths.  I think it would be interesting to follow the life of a Golden Corral spoon.  I bet we’ve eaten from the same utensils as our co-workers and neighbors and never even known it.  I bet I’ve shared a spoon with Oprah!  But she doesn’t care – because they killed my germs with…HEAT!

I have mustard that has been part of our family since the 90’s.  It’s still as spicy as the day I brought it home from Treasure City.  And it expired before my second child was born (she’s a sophomore in college).

When I suggested to Julie that maybe heating the meat would kill the germs, she wondered if the USDA hadn’t already thought of that and suggested I call them to share my idea.  I might.

Until I get the chance to give them my thoughts, just cook, cook, cook!  I’m sure it will be just fine.

High Deductible???

Year-of-the-high-deductible-health-plan

I’m cramming!  Cramming in every medical appointment that I can possibly think of.

My work’s fiscal year is October 1.  That is also when our medical insurance renews.  I have a high deductible health plan.  That means I pay out the wazoo until I hit the deductible.  Then I’m golden til the next year.

It works well if your entire family contracts Ebola.  It is less useful for the sniffles.  I had never met my deductible until this year, and I was strategic about it.  I had shoulder surgery on Oct. 4, 2018.  I met my deductible in the first week of the plan year, and I’ve seen every doctor in town since.  I have had major back issues and taken care of them – or at least tried.  I’ve had my shoulder rechecked to ensure all is well.  I tackled my toenail fungus last November, and I’m thankful to report it is gone – WHOOP WHOOP!  I’m sure I picked that up in the Y shower.  YUCK.

I saw a counselor to make sure I was mentally sound – still in question, but it was good to talk some things out.  I had a colonoscopy and an endoscopy and an ultrasound of unspeakable parts, just in case.  I talked to my doctor about my poor sleeping habits, saw a sleep doctor and am on a drug to give me rest.

All this and I have three more weeks to go!

I’m hitting the chiropractor again, getting my ingrown toenail sliced open and perhaps steroids shots in my back.  The only thing I hate worse than physical pain is financial pain.  I gotta get it all in before my plan goes back to ground zero.  October 1, its back to suffering.  I do not plan to go to the doctor again unless I lose a limb – or two.

If I have a prescription, it shall be filled, this month.  I don’t care if I need it or not.  I might get pink eye again… at some point in the future, and there is one refill left on those little drops!  Maybe I have an anti-nausea suppository refill.  I better check.

I may get Botox, pectoral implants and see if they can do a bladder lift by the end of the month.  I don’t even know if that’s possible, but I might as well ask.

I’ve been overlooking issues for years simply because I don’t want to spend so much stinkin’ money on medical care.  I don’t like to go to the doctor, but I also don’t like fungus on my toes.  I’m not going back for some time, so I guess I’ll invest in some heavy duty flip flops.  And fellas at the Y, would you please do the same?  I’m finally clean here!

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