Sunday Post 5: The Pinnacle of Despair

Posted by Danny

Does anyone like February?  As I struggle to get through this month, I’m thankful Lisa didn’t die in April.  February already stinks – why not maximize the suffering?  It seems that much of the progress I’d made with my grief has flown out the door as we approach the one year anniversary of Lisa’s death.  I can write about Tupperware, but my mind is on her.  I’ve turned off the car radio this month – too many memories.  There are memories in the den, memories in the bathroom, there are even memories in the refrigerator – her favorite stir fry sauce right there on the door next to the Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls.  Magazine articles take me there; the newspaper takes me there.

I was reading the News and Observer yesterday and was drawn to an article entitled Talk, don’t just treat, docs say.  As I read, I was reminded of our visit to UNC Hospital last February for a second opinion.  I picked up my journal and opened to my entry on February 12, 2010, less than two weeks before Lisa died. 

2/12/10

Went to see Dr. Goldberg at UNC yesterday for a second opinion.  I think what he told us was:

1) Your cancer is very, very serious, aggressive and unique

2) There is not a lot of hope for long-term

3) You have few options

4) Prepare for the worst

Lots of tears yesterday.  Held hands with Lisa in bed, cried and talked about the future – sadness and fears.  I’m so scared; I’m so very sad.  I think I’ve been in shock since September.  Lisa is still on significant pain meds.  In some ways maybe that is easier for all of us – perhaps keeps the intensity of emotions down.  She says she has the easy part – sleep, some sedation – if she dies she’s done with it all.  She says I have the hard part – putting the pieces back together and carrying on.  I’m not sure if she’s right.  I guess it really doesn’t matter.  It’s just hard all around.  In writing, it seems that hard is not a strong enough word.  It is so much more.  The prep work for an emotional colonoscopy – I emotionally ache – to the depths, deep, deep depths of my soul.  I don’t know how much more is in me – is it like boogers?  You just make more?  Or a glass of water that eventually is empty?

I’ve had many hard days over the last 18 months.  The hardest was this visit to UNC.  It was the day that we, together, had to face her impending death.  We’d both had thoughts about her dying.  When one of us wanted to talk about it, the other would dodge the issue.  This time there was no dodging.  We both heard the same thing at the same time. 

Our doctor at Duke was so emotionally attached to Lisa and me that she could not bring herself to give up hope.  Dr. Goldberg was an outsider to our situation.  He felt a responsibility to be honest –

Lisa sat in a chair, black stretchy pants and a white zip up sports jacket.  Her fanny pack of pain meds and her husband by her side.  She had her pad with questions she wanted answered.  I had mine, the proven scribe.  He said, “You’re young.  You have kids.  You need to prepare.  Your last hope is chemo. With your platelets this low, it is very dangerous.” 

Lisa asked, “What if the chemo doesn’t work?” 

He responded, “Your time is limited.” 

“What does that mean?”

“Months, maybe weeks.”

I remember the look on her face.  She sort of laughed with tears in her eyes.  “Well, I think it’s good that your being candid.”  And she changed the subject.  I looked out of the window.  A cold but sunny day.  And yet the fog in my mind allowed zero visibility. 

As direct as he was, I still don’t think it truly hit me that Lisa would die.  I still have a hard time believing it today.  Looking back on it, I don’t believe there is much that could have been said to prepare us for what was to come.  However, I think that day may have been a turning point for Lisa – she may have fully come to grips that this was the end. 

Not me.  I wrote what I heard that day, but still had full faith that she would be spared. 

My grief counselor recently asked me why I thought God would answer my plea for her survival and not all of the other requests that he gets on a daily basis.  My response?  “Because I’m Danny Tanner.”  She told me that grief is the great equalizer.  I liked it better when I thought I was special –

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30 Comments

  1. Mom

     /  February 13, 2011

    Another first. Firsts are hard, aren’t they? It WILL pass and you WILL wade through. Love you.

    Reply
  2. Helen LaVere

     /  February 13, 2011

    You ARE special, Bruce – as was Lisa. I continue to be amazed at the strength of your entire family and your willingness to share. It seems God often asks much of special people.

    Reply
  3. Satya

     /  February 13, 2011

    For each tear shed, for each word read, for each thought of dread, grief flows outward until there is eventually none left.

    The antidote is action, and that appears to be what you are progressing with, even in the tiny steps and setbacks. You will notice that in the moments of elation that begin to enter your life, becoming a child again with your children and throwing yourself entirely into it as though still a child, the intensity of the grief will be eventually shorter lived. God Bless.

    Reply
  4. Wow, Bruce. I think this is the most powerful thing you’ve ever written. Sorry, I know that’s of no solace whatsoever, but I also can’t help feeling that if you have this gift inside you, then you also have whatever gift it takes to get through this.

    I wish I had the words you need to hear the pull you through February 24, but I think you have them yourself. Just know my thoughts are with you.

    Reply
  5. Aunt Susan

     /  February 13, 2011

    Bruce, you have made so much progres, but the 24th will be awful, but you will get through it. You are awesome and have done so much with the girls. Really,
    God made a choice for you, and as much as you don’t like it, you are the best. I know you are raising 3 terrific girls, and one awesome Uncle. I am postive that Lisa is with you and guiding you, and rolling her eyes at the same time.
    Lot of love to all of you.

    Reply
  6. ThunderBear

     /  February 13, 2011

    Do not ever doubt that you are special. Folks can see it in the way you live your life, the way you love those girls and the way you give other folks hope and joy. I don’t think I’ve ever met as fine a gentleman as you Danny Tanner. It was obvious that Lisa sure thought you were special. Your talents and gifts are truly a blessing to us all. I stand in awe of your truth and sincerity and willingness to share. To be a man who has lost so much your ability and wanting to reach out to others to share your experience is nothing short of incredible. Thank you.

    Reply
  7. My mother passed away of breast cancer when I was fourteen years old. It’s been over ten years since she died, and it is something that stays with you for a long time. But it’s ok. No matter what was said beforehand, there is nothing to prepare you for when reality hits.

    People tell you to do different things. People wanted to see me cry, people wanted me to talk about it. Only you can handle grief in your own way. Do reach out for help when you need it. I would deal with it in different ways. Sometimes I would cry spontaneously. A memory would hit and I would start bawling. It’s also good to talk about the good times with family. I was really young when my mom died, and I learned way later in life more about my mom than I did when she was alive. I learned about her college stories, things she was doing when she was growing up, that I was too young to know or understand.

    With your daughters, you can tell them stories when they grow up about their mom. It’s very inspiring and now, she lives in you.

    Right now, since it’s only been a year, allow yourself to grieve, talk when you need to talk, cry when you need to cry, and know that it’s ok. It’s completely ok to be feeling this way. The pain will get easier to manage, and you will be happier again. Although, the memories that right now seem so hard to manage, in the future WILL bring a smile to your face. You will be able to talk about these memories openly and be happy.

    Take care, ~e

    Reply
  8. Faye Humphrey

     /  February 13, 2011

    You are so special and I am sorry you are having to relive this. They say time will make it better. I don’t know as I have not walked in your shoes. I do believe in prayer, however, and I will be praying for all of you. Keep the faith.

    Faye

    Reply
    • Danny Tanner

       /  February 13, 2011

      I do believe time will heal and it has already to a great degree. At times though, grief takes you and tosses you back a few months. I think especially anniversaries.

      Reply
  9. Barbara Rogers

     /  February 13, 2011

    You ARE special, Danny!!! I learned once that God chooses very carefully those to whom He sends the heaviest burdens and trials. Through their experiences He imparts to them special wisdom and depth of caring needed to ease the pain of others who must go through tragedy. You are being used of God to reach out to and touch so many people who are questioning Him. I pray for God’s continued strength for you.

    …He knows He can trust them to share from their own experiences to ease the pain of others.

    Reply
  10. *Hugs* You can do this.

    Reply
  11. Bettie Shipp Rabb

     /  February 13, 2011

    Just thinking of you and holding you close in thought and prayer…you are an amazing man…I’ve known it since we were in high school and I dragged you to my senior prom (probably against your will!)…anyway, love and hugs to you…

    Reply
    • Danny Tanner

       /  February 13, 2011

      I still have the pic in my red tux coat! I can’t believe I wore that.

      Reply
  12. Katie Martin

     /  February 13, 2011

    I didn’t see a lot of Lisa after we did “A Christmas Carol” together. But in the weeks before she was diagnosed, we ran into each other almost everywhere. Target, the Salvation Army soup kitchen, the grocery store….She even apparently whizzed by me on Six Forks Rd. one day when I was trying to carry an inebriated, napping homeless man out of the middle of two lanes of traffic. I received a very confused call from Patty Mercer a few minutes later who said “Lisa Ham just called and said you ran over a man on Six Forks.” I said that I had not run him over, to which Patty replied “No- Lisa’s pretty sure that you did.” We laughed and laughed about that.
    The point is – Lisa is everywhere – even when you don’t see her. I see her loving arms around your family through your writing, and the support from the people that read it. From my own experience, loss doesn’t get any easier – it just gets different. Thank you for keeping Lisa so close to all of our hearts.

    Reply
    • Danny Tanner

       /  February 13, 2011

      I clearly remember Lisa telling me that a friend had run over a homeless man on Six Forks Road! I’m glad you didn’t get any time!

      Reply
  13. This is powerful, powerful, more than you know. You have a strength to acknowledge and talk about this grief, which most people avoid and skirt around. I pray for some comfort for you and the fam, a little sun on a cold day 🙂

    Reply
    • Danny Tanner

       /  February 13, 2011

      Thank you Tori. Better day today – we’re going to be alright. Just socks you sometimes.

      Reply
  14. David M. "Summer Camp"

     /  February 14, 2011

    Bruce I know you wish all this could just go away…the need for this blog, your deep sadness, well-meaning friends and strangers praying for you, your daily…hourly…non-stop memories of better times shared with the love of your life. I’m sad for you. Extremely sad. Crying right this minute sad. But I know two things. 1… God didn’t make a mistake when He put it on you! Let me repeat this for dramatic effect (and hopefully to make you smile): God din’t lay all this on no chicken! He put it squarely on your shoulders. Knowing that you will come through it slowly but most certainly. This blog is evidence of that already. 2…I have seen it myself. Anniversaries and holidays will be tough for some time. But you will have a lifetime of happiness ahead of you. My dad died when I was less than 2 years-old. My mom, mother to six of us, lost the light of her world. But she made it. Daily, then weekly, then each year…for the past 42 of them. She has lived and loved and laughed more than most. Having never re-married she still misses dad. But that longing-for changed to a living-for. Living for her 6 kids. We fill in for Dad where we can. This evening I dropped by long enough to give her a Valentine card and a hug. It was from me. And it was from Dad. God picked her. And God picked you. In some fashion, years from now, I hope you will see it as an honor. Hang in there. My best.

    Reply
    • Danny Tanner

       /  February 14, 2011

      Pretty eloquent paragraph – I continue to ask why this happened to us. Grief makes you pretty selfish. But I guess I’m learning that I just have to suck it up and move forward. Not always easy – especially in February. But that’s our choice I guess.

      Reply
  15. Amanda and Jason Steele

     /  February 14, 2011

    Hi “Danny” – My heart breaks on reading this. I can’t imagine. I’ve been dealing with the loss of my dad this month and discovered that grief is a funny thing. You’re fine (in denial, really) a lot of the time, then someone will look at you the wrong way and you start sobbing, or your kids are fighting and you do something stupid like throw your shoe across the room to get their attention. It’s so hard. And it’s especially hard, I think, when well-meaning friends say ‘you’re such a trooper,’ or “you are such a good example,” etc. But we both know we don’t want to be a good example, and we don’t want to be the trooper. We really might just want to stay under the covers all day. But the Lord gives us just enough strength to get out from under the covers, doesn’t He? My mom keeps a blog too: http://www.suescoggins.com

    Much love and prayer to you and your girls.

    Amanda and Jason

    Reply
    • Danny Tanner

       /  February 14, 2011

      Thank you for sharing your mom’s blog. Although I hate that she’s going through this, there is solice in knowing that there are others who can deeply empathize.

      Reply
  16. Karl Owen

     /  February 14, 2011

    Hi Danny –

    I know just what you mean, being a month behind you. I think I am doing well, keeping it together, and then a song plays on the radio, someone uses a phrase Susan favored, or almost anything sets me off, and I go to tears.

    I remember when we heard the words “it’s time to start hospice care,” and the way it took the wind out of our sails and forced us to confront impending death. Telling our children was even worse.

    Once again I am grateful to you for sharing, and for reminding me that I am not the only person going through this. February (and March, for me), will pass and we will still be here.

    Karl

    Reply
    • Danny Tanner

       /  February 14, 2011

      It is tough but I can see light at times…just not a lot in February. Both of us will get through this but as you know, it’s not going to be easy all the time.

      Reply
  17. My Mom died of cancer a year ago this past Dec. So I have had all the “firsts” there. She went too quickly for me, diagnosed while I was with her in Oct. I was her chauffeur a lot of the times, since I was unemployed, I was available.

    I think this is a good outlet for you. I didn’t have that then. I might rant and rave a little on mine now, if I go off topic.

    Every good gift is given from above! We are allowed to go through our times of struggle. We can tough it out and persevere through it or give in to our circumstances. I think I see perseverance in you! If and when you fall let those who love you help you back up, they will! Let them know your burdens. They are there for you. You have your support around you, I can tell, use it.

    MAN HUG BRO!!

    Reply
  18. Lynn Moss

     /  February 15, 2011

    Danny Tanner, you ARE a special guy. AND wonderful. And most of us have no clue what to say or do as you wrestle with this deep, deep pain, except to let you know that you and your family are never very far from our thoughts and, more importantly, from our prayers.

    Reply
  19. Miss Dilday

     /  February 17, 2011

    Danny, I love you, sorry I’ve not written you a word before. Hang in there you’re a great
    guy and friend. I loved all those times at the lake and beach, I can still see you
    getting up on those skis, everything in place. I know you are a great dad, Lisa was a
    beautiful person, felt like she loved us as much as you. God bless you, Your 1st
    second Mom.

    Reply

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