Sunday Post 127: Through Their Eyes

For the past three years I have dreaded dropping my kids off at sleepover camp.  In fact, when Michelle said she just wanted to attend a one week camp this year, I jumped on board fast!

“That is fine with me!  Maybe Daddy and Michelle can do a special little trip while your sisters head off for a month.”  That’ll fix ’em.  I’ll take her to Disney World – we’ll see what they choose next year.

Lisa went to Camp Seafarer as a kid, and I work for the organization that owns the camps.  I know it’s a great experience in so many ways – independence, leadership development, new friendships – but four weeks away is a long, long time.  The house just seems so quiet and empty with them gone.

But this year, something was different.  For the first time since Lisa died, I was able to see through their eyes.  Instead of focusing on what I was going to miss, I was able to see what they were going to gain.  They were so excited!  They talked about friends they couldn’t wait to see, camp songs they wanted to sing and the skills they were going to master before coming back home.

DJ is a counselor in training this year and was fortunate to be chosen to work on her favorite activity, sailing.  Stephanie ensures me that she will achieve her Sunfish Master, a difficult certification for a kid who never sailed until last summer.

Both planned their outfits and shopped for their needed camp items.  They were quite independent in their quest to prepare for their journey.

And their dad, for the first time since I’ve been in charge of dropping them off on my own, was able to look beyond the dread 26 quiet nights and instead live vicariously through their joy.  My excitement for them took away almost all of my angst.

I wish I’d do a better job of stepping back and putting myself in their shoes.  Too often over the past three years I’ve been so wrapped up in my own selfish thoughts that I’ve missed seeing and celebrating the happiness of those around me.

I hope I’m beginning to make that transition – from selfishness to selflessness.  Check with me in three more weeks, I should know by then.

Sunday Post 119: Fear of the Greatest Joy

A friend of mine is up and moving her family to Nashville this summer.  She has a great job opportunity and has thought about this major decision for quite some time now.  She’s making the leap!  Significant and difficult change.  Scary.  I really respect her for taking the plunge.

I don’t like to plunge.  I find it more comfortable to sit on the side of the pool.  It’s warmer.  It’s comfortable.  I know what it feels like outside of the water.  What if I jump in and it’s too cold?  What if it’s too deep?  What if I get water in my ear?  If I don’t like it and have to get back out and dry back off.  It’s much, much easier to stay on the deck.

I wonder if some of my fears have been magnified since Lisa died.  I guess that’s normal.  Once you go through a tragedy, there are going to be scars.  But I think there is potential to lose out on life if I don’t figure out a way to put my suit on and dive on in.  

I fear loss.  What if I get too close to someone and they leave or die?  I’m scared to death I’m going to lose again.  I’m not sure I could weather that storm.  It’s too painful.  I can’t face it.

The sad thing is that the greatest joy of my life came from a deep, deep dive:  finding Lisa.  As bad as it hurt to lose her, I’d go through it all again for a single day together. 

There are a lot of things to be scared of – it could be loss, it could be change, it could be putting yourself in a new social situation – my grief counselor once told me to take Salsa lessons (I didn’t).  Maybe it’s a job, leaving the comfort of something miserable.  It could be going back to school, moving to a different city, or trying out for A Christmas Carol!

A lot of us have faced hard things; might be time to tackle another one.  Could be missing out on another greatest joy.   

Sunday Post 112: Facing My Nemesis

When you go through a major loss, simple things can become significant challenges.  For me, weekends, especially Saturday nights, became my nemesis.  I could face Monday through Friday with work and the kids’ school schedule.  I was busy, on the go.  I’d get home, feed the kids, help with homework, put them to bed and the exercise – maybe hit the sack at midnight or 1.  It was manageable.  But the thought of a full day, or worse the entire weekend, with the possibility of time that wasn’t crammed full of activity was overwhelming.

I feared the pain I’d experience if I stopped.  When my mind wasn’t maxed out, when my hands weren’t busy, the grief set in.

Saturday nights had been our nights.  Lisa and I would plan time with other families or get a sitter and have a nice dinner out, just the two of us.

It was my favorite time with her, sitting in a booth at a nice restaurant.  A couple of glasses of red wine, good food.  Our opportunity to talk about work, the kids and maybe more importantly, our dreams.

If I didnt’ have plans on a Saturday night, plans that included other adults, I went into a tailspin.  Sadness set in.  I became consumed with my lack of social activities.  I watched Jesse head out with his friends while I sat home watching the Disney channel with Michelle.

For the first time in my life, I dreaded the weekend.  What had been my favorite day of the week had become my enemy.  I feared the sixth day.

Last weekend, Michelle had a sleepover, and DJ had plans too.  Earlier in the week I asked Stephanie what she’d like to do on Saturday, that it was just be the two of us.  Her eyes got big, “Dad, can we go see a movie together?”

“Sure baby!  We’ll grab dinner too.”

As we walked through the open sidewalk on our way out of the movie Saturday night, we began playing our favorite outdoor game, Step on the crack and you break your (in our case) grandmother’s back.  Our hands were locked as I worked to force her  onto the lines that connected the concrete slabs.  A security guard at the mall gave me a huge smile and waved his hand as an encouraging gesture.

I smiled back, and realized I wasn’t afraid anymore.  I wasn’t consumed with my weekend plans.  I wasn’t obsessed with over planning my down time.  I could actually just hang around the house, enjoying some down time, doing some things that I wanted to do.  I was content to just be.

At that moment, there was nothing I would have rather been doing than holding hands with my 12-year-old and enjoying that time with her.

It took three years and nearly 150 Saturdays to get here.  But I’ve beat him – that obstacle is behind me.

Sunday Post 105: Happy New Year

We went to the NC State/Vanderbilt bowl game in Nashville for the New Year’s weekend.  Take the outcome of the game out of the picture, and it was a really nice jaunt.

I’ve never really loved New Year’s Eve.  I think in middle and high school I usually spent the night with my parents and other family friends who had kids my age.  In college we spent multiple years following the Wolfpack around to bowl games in the southeast.  Once we were in Atlanta and a girl friend and I were walking down the street.  A homeless looking guy walked up to her and shoved his tongue in her ear.  I’ll never forget the look on her face.  It was one of the highlights of my life.

Although Lisa and I enjoyed having plans on New Year’s Eve, it wasnt that important to us.  We could grab dinner somewhere at 8 and be home snuggled in bed at 10 watching Dick Clark.  Now they’re both gone.

Like Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve screams in the face of those who don’t have a mate, or at a minimum a date.  Mother’s and Father’s Day is like that for those who don’t have kids.  That’s whats supposed to happen:  at 25 you get married, at 28 you have a kid.  And then they grow up and produce your grandchildren and you live until you’re 94 and don’t know your daughter from the nurse technician who changes your diaper and gives you a bath.

But that’s often not how it works.  It’s more likely that you’ll divorce, or you kid will struggle with alcohol or drugs or that you can’t have kids of your own.  And it’s likely, at some point in your lifer, that you’ll find yourself alone – or at least at a place you never dreamed you’d be.  It’s my turn now.  I’ll take one for the team.

Don’t get me wrong, my New Year’s Eve wasn’t bad.  I was with my kids and two other great families when Ryan Secrest ushered it in.  It was when I got back home – that’s when it felt a bit hollow.  The kids went upstairs, we needed some space after a nine hour car drive.  I glanced at our drooping Christmas tree.  It looked like it felt about like I did that night – tired and a bit lifeless.

Sunday Post 93: Avoiding the Vampire

I’m a chicken – always have been.  I have certain fears that I struggle to overcome.

One of them is needles.  I don’t mind a shot, but start digging in my veins for blood, and I almost keel  over.  In fact, I have before.  Yep, smelling salts followed by graham crackers and grape juice.

Embarrassing.

I don’t know why it freaks me out so much.  It really doesn’t hurt.  In fact, I had blood taken today – stressed out about it for an entire week.  When I got there, I did my usual warning to the phlebotomist,  “This is my least favorite thing to do all year.”

I say that in the hopes that if she is new, she’ll go find an experienced vampire to jab my inner elbow.

Her response today was, “Yea, that’s what everybody says.  You need to lie down?”

“Nah.”  Gonna take it like a man!

A friend of mine, who pokes people for a living, told me to cross my legs and to pick a random number and to start counting up by 7’s.  I hadn’t added twenty-one before it was over.

That’s not my only fear.  I’m scared of heights, closed in places (don’t put me by the window on an airplane – I need to be able to quickly access the exit), snakes, loss, hair on my back, and loneliness.  I do everything possible to skirt the things that make me uncomfortable.  What if instead I hit them head on?

I don’t think I’m going to purchase a box of needles and start digging them in my blood vessels.  But I could maybe do a better job of enjoying time alone, or putting myself out there in new situations.  I can always find something that keeps me from being in this house by myself.  There is always an excuse not to attend that school event without my wife.  Avoidance is easy, but it’s a band-aid.

There are a lot of things in life that need to be faced, not run from.  Half the battle is admitting what they are –

Sunday Post 90: Scared to Death

Before 2010, I didn’t spend a great deal of time thinking about dying.  I think in my younger years I was scared to death of death, I just didn’t think about it that often.

I’ve always believed in heaven, but I’ve got enough “Doubting Thomas” in me that anything not tangible is, at times, difficult for me to digest.

But before Lisa died, it just wasn’t on my mind.  Plus, I thought I was immune to tragedy – sort of felt like I was a “chosen one”.  I felt for others who had experienced bad things, but it really didn’t cross my mind that I, the Danny Tanner, would ever be stricken with a significant loss.  In fact, I was so sure that nothing would happen to Lisa that I sometimes joked about it.

“If something happens to Lisa, I’m taking a date to her funeral.  I can’t so this by myself.”

Not so funny now, huh?

It wasn’t happening to us, soo I just didn’t spend much time worrying about my demise.

Today is a bit different.

In the past two weeks, I’ve had business trips to both Akron and Boston.  And now I get a bit freaked out when I leave the kids to travel – especially on a plane.

I know that’s ridiculous.  It is much more likely that I’ll die in a car wreck on the way to work than to drop out of the sky over Hoboken, New Jersey.  And yet, I just can’t seem to avoid my wandering mind.

My maturity and spiritual growth has taken much of my fear of dying away.  I think Heaven is a wonderful place and the older I get, I know more and more folks who are there.  Can you imagine having the opportunity to reconnect with all the people you loved so deeply who have gone before us?

No, it’s not my fear of dying that stresses me out.  It’s actually the thought of my girls without me.

I’m sure they’d be alright.  They have a ton of people here on earth who love them and who would care for them.  But I just can’t help but to envision their shock and sadness if I didn’t come back home.  The thought takes me back to that cold day in February 2010.  I remember Michelle burrowed under my arm on the front row of our church as we sang familiar hymns to honor Lisa’s memory.

And then, I picture the same venue – only I’m in a jar on a table at the altar.

The thought of them enduring that service alone is a vision I’ll not soon be able to shake.  How much loss could they handle?

As a parent, it seems that often my fears are the same as they were when I was younger.  However, the motivation behind my anxieties has changed greatly.

In 1985 I was afraid to die, but it’s because I wasn’t sure what was beyond.  Today my thoughts are not sadness for me, but the burden for them.

Kids change you.  Kids change your perspective.  For me, kids instilled selflessness – something I desperately needed fifteen years ago.

Near the end of her life, Lisa said, “I’m not that upset that the girls won’t have me as a mother.  It just makes me sad that they won’t have a mother at all.”

I think I now understand what she meant.

If I Should Not Return

Posted by Danny

Psychiatrists from the UNC Lineberger Cancer Center asked me to assist them with a video to help oncologist better understand the dynamics of young families who are facing the death of their mother.  This is our story:

Sunday Post 74: The Dead Wives Club

Posted by Danny

Every third Monday of the month for the past 18 months, I’ve driven to Chapel Hill, NC.  I’m a NC State man, I’m not going over there to support the Heels.  That’s actually where I meet with The Dead Wives Club.  That’s not our actual name; however, it probably best describes the group.

Two UNC psychiatrists were bored and looking for something to study.  I’m not sure how they landed on us.  I think they ran across one of the dudes in the group not long after his wife had passed.  I imagine the conversation went like this:

Doc 1:  “How ya’ holding up?”

Widower Dude:  “Not so well.”

Doc 1 to Doc 2:  “Interesting.  Let’s study this.”

Doc 2:  “Got anything better?”

Doc 1:  “Nah.  Not really.”

Doc 2:  “OK.”

And that was the beginning. 

There are about 8 of us in the group.  All under 50, all with kids still in the house, all who lost our wives to cancer around the same time.  We gather in an office building – we eat, we share. 

The first year, we cried – a lot – one of the few safe places I’ve found where men cry in front of other men and it’s fine.  We all know each other’s pain and for us, tears are NOT a sign of weakness.

We’ve shared about our kids.  We’ve talked about guilt.  We each, at varying times, removed our wedding rings.  And we found that the lonely nights and the empty bed were difficult for us all. 

I really don’t think that we have that much in common.  We’ve only seen each other 18 times in our entire lives.  And yet, in a way, we know more about each other than we know about most of the people we run across on a daily basis. 

How is that possible?  I believe we can walk into the room and sense exactly what the other is feeling.  It doesn’t really take words.  It’s in the eyes.

Over our time together, we’ve seen great progress.  We’ve moved from discussions on dealing with our incredible losses to discussion about Match.com (no, not yet). 

I didn’t think I was a support group kind of guy.  I’m probably not.  But there has been something incredibly comforting about this oddly matched group of men. 

I’m not sure how long we’ll meet.  We each will move forward and perhaps outgrow the need.  But walking into a room of young dads who lost their wives to the same damn disease has been one leg of my healing journey.  And I’m thankful for that.

Annual Physical = Anxiety

Posted by Danny

I changed doctors about a year and a half ago.  I’d been seeing this guy for years, he’d touched me in so many personal ways, I felt an intimate connection with him.  But he couldn’t remember my name.  It hurt.  So I made a change.

My new physician’s name is Brian.  I like him a lot.  He’s about my age – I think he understands some of what I’m facing as a 46-year-old man.

Even though he’s a great guy, I was still dreading my physical last week.  I get excited about a massage, there’s a woman named Shelva in West Virginia who gives me my annual rub down at Capon Springs.  Her hands are like money!  But for some reason, I didn’t have the same level of enthusiasm about my family practitioner.  

I had worked myself up – I struggled to sleep the night before.  The anxiety of someone I didn’t know poking and prodding all over my body just about undid me.  The words, “Turn around and bend over – this won’t hurt a bit” kept echoing through my head.  I could smell the latex glove.

I woke up early.  I wanted to make sure I’d done all of my business before heading to the internal masseuse.  I cleaned extra well.  I wanted be his tidiest patient that day.  I can imagine some of the conversations he must have with his nurse after certain patients leave the office.  I didn’t want to be the topic of their water cooler talk.  And if I was, I wanted it to be good…”Did you smell him?”  “I sure did!  Like Old spice!”  “Un huh.”

We all know why there is mouthwash in the dentist’s bathroom.  If I was Brian, I’d invest in a bidet.

The nurse entered.  “Are you having any problems Mr. Ham?”

“Anxiety.”

“How often does this occur?”

“Anally – I mean annually.”

“The doctor will be here in a minute.”

She didn’t tell me to remove my clothes.  At my other doctor’s office, I had to disrobe by now – down to my boxers.  I don’t want to undress in front of him.  That’s so personal.

He enters, “I’m going to listen to your heart first.  Take a few deep breaths.”

He’s a big guy.  Athletic.  Look – at –  those – hands!

“Sounds good.  You’ll feel a little pressure on your stomach.”

He’s going for my pelvis.  It’s coming…

“Let’s take a look at your feet.  I see you have several planters warts.”

He didn’t even look down there.  What’s up with that?

Now it’s recommended that caucasian men get a prostate exam at age 50. But I can do one this year  if you’d like.  It’s your call.”

My other doctor started those when I hit 40!  That’s not right.  Why did he do that?  I feel so violated.

“Uh, un, I’m good.  I would not like one of those.  Actually, my prostate is feeling in-credible!  Never felt better.  Healthiest prostate in Raleigh!  Everythings just fine with my prostate.  Got those warts on my feet, but my prostate is dandy, no warts there!  I’m thinking 50 is good.  Yeaaaaa, 50.”

I’m going to sue my former doctor.

The Vanishing Point

Posted by Danny

It was ego, sure male ego that made me do it.

Stephanie was invited to the lake with friends for the weekend and DJ, Michelle and I were looking for an equally exciting activity to fill our Labor Day hours.  As I pondered our time, interests and finances, I landed on a day trip to Water Country USA in Williamsburg, Va.  Not too close, not too far away and an outdoor experience (versus the indoor Great Wolf Lodge disaster from February) was all too appealing.  With some coaxing, Jesse decided to come along for the ride.

 The pinnacle of excitement for me came at 5:45, fifteen minutes before park closing.

We had walked by Vanish Point, a slide that takes off from a 75 foot tower nestled in the back corner of the park, several times during the day.  This was the description on the sign at the entrance to the attraction:   Get ready for the ride of your life on Water Country USA’s epic new drop slide: Vanish Point. Inspired by the point on a wave where water and gravity form a perfect partnership, this summit supplies a wicked wet way to drop out of sight.  You can step into a skybox where you fall down when the floor drops out beneath you.

Although I was curious, had Jesse not been there, I would have kept my 45-year-old, ground loving self at the bottom of that tower of terror.  But once he decided to take the plunge, my ego simply wouldn’t let me sit the attraction out. 

“I’m going, you in?”

“I don’t know, you know I’m not a fan of heights.  And the girls really need a father.”

“OK.”  He turned toward the long staircase.

“I’m in!”

We started the climb up the mountain of stairs.  My knees a bit wobbly from fear; Jesse and I tailed a gaggle of 9-year-old boys – excitement buzzing around them like bees on a honeysuckle vine.  Not only was I motivated by wanting to keep up with my brother-in-law, but there was also something motivating about this group of kids.  I could picture myself with Adam Fair, Jimbo Martin, the Mask boys and my brother – the Berkshire Road Gang – from my childhood.  If we’d only had the chance to conquer this challenge as kids.  Our closest adventure to Vanish Point was jumping off the dead tree stump in Adam’s yard with the sprinkler gradually dampening our bodies.  I had to do this for them.

The anticipation was palpable as we reached the staging area.  We were so high, I swear I could see Mt. Rushmore in the distance.

 An attractive college student in her bathing suit was at the helm.  One by one she loaded the boys into the Star Wars type tomb of doom.  My turn was nearing.

Jesse:  “Do you want to go first?”

Me:  “Yes, I need to get this over with.  Goodbye.”

She opened the door.  I gently pressed on the mechanical floor with my foot to make sure it was locked.  I knew within seconds it would fall out from under me, dropping me to what could be my death.  I climbed in – glancing at the lifeguard – a nice final image if this was the end.

“Cross your legs and put your hands over your chest.  And remember to lean back.”

I had entered an upright coffin, albeit a wet one.  

She closed the door.  The male guard at the controls glance toward me, my hangman.  I was guilty.  Guilty of stupidity.

Whoomp!  The floor vanished.  My body darted down like a missile heading toward Cuba, my stomach lodged beneath my tonsils.

I tried to open my eyes but the force was too strong.  Within seconds I was at the bottom, water permeating my body through every orifice I owned.

Stand up quick man!  Look cool.  People are watching.  You’re wet all over, they can’t see the tears.

And Jesse right behind.

“How’d you like it?”

An unconvincing, “It was great” fell from my mouth.

“Too bad the parks closing – we could do it again.”

“Yeah.  What a bummer.”

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