The Listener

Judy Bright Photo

Have you ever met someone who listens to you?  Like really listens?

Judy Bright, my other mother, did just that.

I wish I had her skills.

Sometimes when I visited her house, typically once or twice a month, I’d make a commitment to ask her questions before we broached the subject of Danny Tanner.  The conversation went something like this:

“Judy, how is your health?”

“Danny, we’ll get to that.  But first, I have a question for you.”

An hour and a half later, about the time our conversation had to end, we’d move back to the topic of her.  She’d share for a minute or two, and then, the conversation would end with a hug and a kiss and a promise to talk more about her at our next visit.

Oh she shared bits and pieces about her life during our time together.  But that was secondary – to add to the conversation, not the primary focus.  I was the primary focus.

Judy was more interested in others than she was in herself.  Admirable.  Unusual.

We would grab lunch periodically.  She was the queen of using condiments to visibly guide me through strategy to help me get through the problems I was facing.

“Danny, now you’re the Sweet and Low, and (pick the person I’m having a tough time with at the moment) is the salt.”  She would then move the condiments around the table as we strategically worked through the problems bringing the mustard bottle or sugar packets in for supporting roles as appropriate.

Judy was one that freely said, “I love you.”  Not just to me, but to everyone she loved.  And she loved a lot of people, deeply.

She was a person who made each person she came in contact with feel like he was the most important person in the entire world.  We all thought she was our “other mother.”  We all felt special in her presence.

She encouraged and challenged us all to be more than we ever thought we might be.  She had more confidence in me than I ever did in myself.  She gave me the gift of self-confidence.  She gave that gift to others too.

Judy passed away last Thursday after an 18 month battle with colon cancer.  She was 72.  It breaks my heart to lose people like this, good people in a tough world.

At the end of many meals at Camp Seafarer where Judy was the director for many years, she would give a closing charge to the eight hundred campers and staff.  She would say, “You know what to do,” and the campers would respond, “Now let’s go do it.”

In her absence, I think that’s what she’d want us to do.  She has taught us well.  Now, we must just go do it.


Our Facetime Friend

It started in October.  A guest joining us a night or two each week for 30 minutes or so.  Now, she’s here almost every Sunday – Thursday night, for hours on end.

I don’t know when she gets here although on many evenings, I’m the reason she leaves.

After dinner, Stephanie heads upstairs to her room to begin to slog through her homework.  She’s a smart kid in a school that is extremely challenging.  Kimmy is in most of her classes.  They “study” together most nights from 8 – 11 PM, sometimes later.

Kimmy’s head is perched on Stephanie’s phone screen lying in the middle of the bed night after night after night.  It’s an app called Facetime, I think.

Often, they don’t talk.  They’re doing their own thing.  When the occasional question arises, they are there to answer.

I pop into Steph’s bedroom perhaps in my boxers.

“Dad, Kimmy’s here.  Put your pants on!”

I run away in shame holding my hand over my groin in case.

I might bustle in with a piece of juicy information, “Sarah’s mom told Sarah’s dad that Mrs. Phiserdine’s daughter was drinking on Friday night.  Do you know anything?  I promised Phil I wouldn’t say anything so mums the word!”

Too late.  Kimmy was hiding under the quilt.  I hear them giggle as I walk back down the stairs.

The other day I came in to unload some laundry.  I walked over to the bed.  It was empty.  Well, almost.

Hello Mr. Tanner.

I looked up.  Gabrielle?  I’m here.  I’m ready to go.  No.  No.  It’s Kimmy.

“Hello Kimmy Gibbler.  So nice to see you tonight.”

Stephanie’s in the shower.

“Yes.  I know.  I live here.  How’s school?”

It’s good.

“I’m just gonna go back downstairs now…”


When I hit Stephanie’s room late to unpack the day and encourage sleep, we often get into our best conversations.  I often look down, and Kimmy is with us.

“Don’t worry dad.  I muted her.  She can’t hear anything.”

“She’s sitting here, and she can’t hear anything?”

Stephanie turns her off.

“Aren’t you going to say goodbye?”

“Nah.  Usually one of our phones dies.  That’s when we stop.”

There is no official goodbye.

I pick on them, but I sort of think it’s nice.  It’s company and friendship, the 21st Century kind.  Technology can be relational.

Boys’ Weekend!!


My daughters HATE it when I refer to time with my male friends as “boys’ night” or “weekend with the boys.”  Perhaps they would prefer Old Man Gathering.

Toss us a bone!  Let us be boys on occasion.

So the fellas and I hit Charleston, SC, a few weeks ago to get away and act like we were 19 again.  Only this time we didn’t need fake IDs.

We stayed in a VRO, Vacation Rental by Owner.  It was a beautifully renovated three bedroom Charleston style home nestled between a brothel and a crack house.  I think that’s why the price was right.


Thirty years ago, the location could have been interesting, but this time, we didn’t focus on connecting with our neighbors.

The great thing about being 50-year-old boys is that we now have the money to dine at really nice restaurants and pay for top shelf liquor.  The bad thing about being 50-year-old boys is that the dinner gives us gas and one drink pretty much seals the night.

There were a ton of cute women prowling around downtown at 11 PM.  They were about the same age as DJ.  Oooooo.  I wonder if they could tell we were older.

We had a great time watching TV shows like Naked and Afraid, walking by the crack house at 1 AM, ogling women and pulling each others’ fingers.  Oh, and we qualified for the AARP discount at lunch.

The best of both worlds.



Birthday Buddies in Bow Ties!

The day after Lisa died, I sent an email to a group of friends asking them to meet me in the church fellowship hall thirty minutes before her Memorial Service.  I told them we would save seats for them up front in the sanctuary and that they would all walk in together, united.  I wanted to be able to look over and see those I knew would usher me through the intense shock and pain I was experiencing.

I also told them that they were the ones, like it or not, who were stuck with me, that I needed them to stand by me until I got my feet back up under me.

I think I underestimated their sticktoitiveness.

Last week, on my fiftieth birthday, five years after Lisa’s death, this incredible group of friends threw me a surprise party.  They rented out the second floor of a bar and filled it with the people in my life that I love the most.  When I walked up the steps, there they were, this incredible group of folk, who genuinely care about me.

It sort of blows my mind.  I haven’t been as good to them as they have been to me.  Man, am I blessed.

This past week, I was in Greenville, SC, speaking to a group of YMCA staffers.  After my talk, a woman came up to me with tears in her eyes.  She said, “I’ve heard you speak before.  I just want you to know that I keep you and your girls in my prayers.”

Maybe that’s why we’re all doing really well!

As I write, tears well up from my gut.  They aren’t tears for loss.  They are tears of knowing that I can never repay what has been given to me.

When praying, I sometimes struggle to remember those around me who hurt.  I forget the guy I met with a few weeks ago who recently lost his wife or the high school buddy who has been diagnosed with cancer.  They roll through my head on occasion, but I don’t have the same level of persistent, perpetual care that others have had for me.

My friends and family could write the handbook on caring for those experiencing grief.  For them, it isn’t a short story.  It’s an epic novel.  They’ve been working on it for five plus years.  I have this feeling that it will go unfinished.

Sunday Post 172: Before the Dance

When I was a kid, the entire neighborhood hung out at our house. I think this occurred for two reasons:

1)      My parents were cool and embraced a gaggle of kids tromping through our garage and back yard.

2)      We didn’t have too many other options.

The Martins owned a funeral home and that spooked those of us not in the business of dead. Mr. McDonnell had been in Vietnam, and he ran his house like a marine platoon. If Tracy didn’t get home in time to feed Viking, their horse sized greyhound, he’d put her butt on restriction for a week.

Mr. Mask was a principal, and no one was interested in that. Glenn Fair’s parents were older and perhaps agoraphobic ’cause we lived in that neighborhood for seven years and I only saw his mom once.

There were the Appletons who were very nice, but I’m fairly certain they were high a significant amount of time.

In the summer, the kids would congregate in our garage, sometimes before my brother and I even got up from the breakfast table. My mom would check on us periodically throughout the day and fairly regularly would bring out homemade popsicles. They’d melt faster than the candles at the Christmas Eve service – we had red Kool-Aid stains on our arms from June – September.

I want my house to feel like the home I grew up in. I want my kids and their friends to be comfortable coming over and hanging out.

Last week Stephanie finished middle school. She’s been at St. Timothy’s School for nine years. It’s a significant milestone for her – and for me too.

The school sponsored the eighth grade dance tonight. I’ve made it a habit to check in about a week prior to a big event to see how the pre-event social scene is stacking up. Sometimes there’s an invitation from another kid to get ready together at their house. Sometimes not.

When I think one my kids might be stuck flat ironing their hair with me or asking me if a particular pair of shoes looks good with a chosen dress, I start to panic. It’s then that I begin inviting kids to our house.

A babysitter was at my house late one afternoon when a pack of kids were coming over for a sleepover. She said, “My mom would never have allowed me to have a big sleepover.”

I guess that not all parents feel this desire or obligation to be a hub. But for some reason, I prefer it.

Maybe it’s because I never want my kid to feel left out. Perhaps it’s because I know Lisa would have done so. It could be I just saw it modeled and monkey see, monkey do.

It is really one of the easiest things I do – it cost me a couple of pizzas and some ice. But the return is a connection to my kids and to their friends which is priceless.

Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and Braids: Amazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful: Click here. And thanks

Sunday Post 130: The Tried and True

I think this is the 6th year for Adult Weekend at Lake Gaston.  There are four couples and me who diss our kids for about 36 hours just to spend time together.  It’s a bit Big Chillish – minus the funeral.

We typically water and jet ski, tube and surf.  This year, however, we primarily talked; we had a lot of catching up to do.  We don’t see each other like we used to.  Although our kids initially brought us together, they’re all moving in different directions.  It just makes it harder to connect quite as often.

Each lake season seems to bring less watersport and more mouth movement.  Only two fo us tubed this year and after only five minutes, we’d about had enough.

“Jon’s gonna jerk my back out if he doesn’t slow down.”

“He’s clearly trying to kill us.”

At one point four out of the five men were asleep in lawn chairs on the dock.  The women looking on, lamenting their future.

It’s sort of pathetic.

But these friendships run deep.  They aren’t built on frequency of visits nor are they reliant on our children’s schedules or desire to hang out with us.  Nah, we’re past that.

We’re not the same politically; we all go to different churches; our career interests are varied.

Sometimes two or three of us get together without the others, and that’s okay too.  Typically one has run into another and the communicate chain continues.

Our love and connection runs deep. They’re the first ones you call if you have something too big to handle on your own.  You know they’ll come through – even if it’s not Lake Gaston time.

I’m fortunate to have this group – they’ve stood by me through some difficult days.  My hope is that everyone has their go to’s – the tried and true, the ones who’ll stand by you even if it’s not the easy thing to do.

It takes work and commitment to grow these connections, but the payoff is incredible.

Sunday Post 101: Astounding Love

The Healing Tree

The Healing Tree

In December of 2009 as Lisa was headed to surgery to remove her large tumor, some friends of ours did a really special thing for us.

They felt like a lot of people would want to support the Tanner family at Christmas.  Rather than encouraging folks to help in their own way, these friends put together a coordinated effort to do something that would be both meaningful and lasting.

Our first two elves came by our house in early December. They delivered a small Christmas tree full of lights, an angel for the topper and a beautiful hand-made tree skirt with our name embroidered across the front. They told us they had delivered our “Healing Tree” and that ornaments would soon follow.

Over the next four weeks, we received over 200 packages in the mail or on our front porch.  In each one, there was an ornament. With each ornament, there was a story – a story of how that person was connected to our family.

An English tea cup

An English tea cup

One English woman at Lisa’s work sent a teacup because Lisa always picked on her about her accent. A college friend tied string to a matchbox car van – a similar vehicle to the one they drove to Florida one spring break.

Some sent small framed photographs from years past. DSCN7380Lisa worked in fundraising and one lady made up a tiny rolodex with a fake listing of capital campaign prospects.

The creativity was impressive. The deeper meaning for us brought laughter and tears.

Putting up ornaments this year was not nearly as emotional as years past – until I opened the Healing Tree box. Every item I touched had such significance.

It’s not just the loss of Lisa that I feel when I think about that tree, that’s only part of the emotion.  Equally touching is the reminder of the love that was shown to our family during that most difficult time and my lack of ability to repay those who gave so much.

When you are so fully surrounded by love; when you know how desperately people hurt for and with you; it is a beautiful thing. I’ve seen compassion every day of my life, but never had I so personally experienced it in such an overwhelmingly large dose.

I am not thankful for my loss, but how fortunate I am to have experienced that astounding love.

The Smarties Star - sent to us by a college roommate who apparently ate a few of these with Lisa at UNC

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 (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.

Girls’ Weekend (plus Danny!)

Posted by Danny

It’s 10:17 on Saturday night. I am in a king sized bed in the master suite of a beautiful mountain house in  Montreat, NC. USC is beating Notre Dame 24 to 17, it’s the 4th quarter.  On the floor below me are four forty-year-old women.  Asleep.

Lisa’s best girlfriends from high school have an annual girls’ weekend to reconnect and recharge.  Two years ago, they were slated to travel to Boulder, the home of one of the Fab Five.  Lisa’s diagnosis prevented that trip from occurring.  Instead they quickly rearranged their schedules and kidnapped my wife a week or so after we found out she had cancer.  It was important that she had that time with these Steel Magnolias.  It would be her last.  

Each of these women spent time in Raleigh while Lisa was sick.  One is a Nurse Practitioner – she emailed and called throughout Lisa’s illness offering guidance on her medical issues.  Another drove from Charleston one week to give me a break when I just couldn’t push any harder.  Two still stay with me when they’re in Raleigh – cook a meal and coach me on life.

About a year ago, one of the Fab called, “Danny, you know the fall Girls’ Weekend is coming up.”

“Oh, is it that time again?  I imagine it’s going to be hard this year.”

“Yep…that’s why you’re going to join us.”

“I ain’t going to Girls’ Weekend!  There are a couple of things that preclude me from this group.”

“How about if you just come down for one night?”

“I can’t do that.  This is your time to reconnect – without the male influence.”


This is the second year I’ve gone.  

I’ve been on some weekends with my guy friends, but until last year, “Girls’ Weekend” was a mystery.

I sort of had a picture of what might happen here. 

Late night gossiping with lots of wine; a bashing of the husbands; perhaps we’d give each other pedicures; I feared a male stripper might appear.

Boy was I off base.

Instead of gossiping, I found listening ears interested in how I was doing and in-depth advice about raising my girls. And these women know what they’re doing.  They’re the real deal when it comes to parenting.

 There was no bashing of husbands, but four women who are clearly in strong relationships who share mutual respect with their mates. Relationships I can relate to because I had the same.

I think they spa-ed the day before I got here – so we took a nice long hike with beautiful views instead of painting nails.

And unless he’s showing up at midnight, I’ve avoided the male dancer two years in a row.  Although they did try to get me to sing a song from A Christmas Carol to which I responded, “Buy a ticket!”

And at 9 pm, each one started nodding off – perhaps a sign of how hard they work throughout the rest of the year.  Or maybe they’re just getting old.

A friend recently asked how to support someone who has lost a spouse.  I’m not the one to ask; call Lisa’s friends.  Apparently they’ve taken the course.

Stranded! (without internet)

Posted By Uncle Jesse

Danny has been making this face for a couple of days. I know he’s able to keep perspective, but it really is frustrating when the internet is down at the house. But help is on the way–sometimes we wait out an internet glitch, but this one has persisted for a couple days so Danny called a a service guy.

I already knew Danny wrote a lot more than I did on the blog. He reminds me almost daily. What I didn’t know was just how clockwork-regular his posting had been. We had people calling and emailing the house making sure everything was ok when Danny didn’t post on Wednesday! Yes, readers, we are ok. The internet has been down, but somehow we have survived. I had to spend more time in a Starbucks than I would have liked sending in an article on Wednesday night, and Danny may have to atone for the cursing he did when he realized he lost some of his work when it went out, but all in all we came through it unscathed.

Here’s what’s been happening this week:

Tanners back in the Capital

I bet DJ wishes she had her sisters in D.C. with her this time

DJ took a trip with the rest of 8th grade to Washington, D.C. (with a stop at King’s Dominion on the way home!).  The picture to the left is actually from our D.C. trip in January. DJ doesn’t have her phone with her, so she hasn’t sent any pictures from this trip. Funny story about that phone….

Apparently the students were asked to not take their phones, only DJ heard from others that some parents were letting them. She told Danny she wanted to take her phone just to call/text to check in at night. Danny told her he didn’t think she was supposed to but he would check with some other parents to see what they were doing. But the discussion was interrupted and Danny forgot what was finally decided upon.

When the phone wasn’t where Danny thought he had last seen it when DJ left, he thought perhaps she had taken it with her. He wasn’t exactly ticked, because he admitted they had never really settled the matter. But he wasn’t exactly happy either. I was actually kind of curious as to how he would handle. But then I spotted her phone in her room. What a kid.

Blue Streak

One thing I like about the girls’ school is the traditions they have and keep year after year. One of the best is Blue-White Day, where the school is split down the middle–half Blue, half White–and the two sides compete against each other in a series of activities. Then the points are tallied and one side reigns supreme for the year.

it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you gear up beforehand

From what I’ve been told, White had been dominant for a number of years. But last year we reversed that trend, when the 3rd-5th grade Blue team members rallied late for the win. I was actually in attendance; Stephanie was a little upset at the time that Lisa would not be in attendance as she had been for every Blue-White Day. The Tanner girls don’t win a lot of heats in the competition, so it’s nice to get a hug for the effort. I filled in for Lisa, who did her part by smiling down upon the Blue team (or maybe to point talliers).

Well, Blue kept it going this year with another overall win! Stephanie practiced her hula-hooping and did her best. DJ was on a Blue basketball team…and had a cool outfit. I actually was unable to make it to this year’s Blue-White Day because….

Working Man

I’m starting a new job Monday. Overall this is a good thing, but it’s been a bit of a tough sell around the Tanner house. Stephanie wanted me to come to Blue-White Day again, but I had to train at the new job. I won’t be able to substitute teach and be around the school quite as much. I won’t be able to stop by for lunch (I wouldn’t say this was a weekly occurrence any way, but I did drop in with some Panera from time to time).

But they’ve been happy for me, too. Stephanie told me she was proud of me when I told her I’d be on the radio every day.

Have a good weekend, Real Full House readers.

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