Words, A Generous Gift

bathroom pic

Lisa did a good thing right before she died.  She wrote a very simple card to me telling me she loved me and that I had done all that I could for her.  She essentially said, “No guilt Danny.  No guilt.”  She told me to move forward in my life – to remarry.  Her exact words were, “You’re not good by yourself.”  Yeah.  She knew.

What a generous things for her to do.  Selfless.  Not surprising.

I have no guilt.  I have no angst about moving forward with my girlfriend, Julie.  I don’t know if I would have without the final check off, mybe so.  But it surely is nice not to question.

In a way, those who know they are going to die have an advantage.  If they choose, they can get their affairs straight.  They can share how much they love their friends and family.  They can help alleviate any feelings of guilt.  They can plan with their loved ones.

One would think that someone like me would fully be prepared to die.  I’m not scared to die, sometimes it is actually more scary to live in this world than to ponder death.  But I don’t think I’ve done a great job of planning for what could come.

Do my kids know that I absolutely adore them?  And not in a general sort of I love you way.  Do they know why I love them, individually?  Do they know what I think is most wonderful about each of them?

At some point over the past year or two, my parents wrote a letter to me just to let me know they are proud of me.  It’s framed in my bathroom (my favorite room in the house).

Do those I work with understand their importance in my life?  How they’ve stretched me and made me grow?

Am I vocal enough with Julie about my feelings for her?  Danny Tanner is not always easy to love.  I come with a lot.  I am thankful she’s in for the long haul.

Have I thoughtfully thanked all those who stood by me in my darkest times?  The ones who tossed my up on their shoulders and carried me when I couldn’t walk myself.

Oh, they’ll get their reward in heaven, but wouldn’t it be nice if I took the time now to let them know that I haven’t forgotten – that I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

I hope I don’t die tomorrow.  I am not prepared.

 

46

Bailey Ham 3

Lisa would have turned 46 on Monday.  The girls and I have chosen not to spend a ton of time remembering mom on the anniversary of her death, but rather to more officially celebrate her life on her birthday.  The casual remembrance typically includes Diet Dr. Pepper, Kanki Japanese Steak House and happy memories.  I don’t love Dr. Pepper, but on April 18, I drink.  I don’t love the Skanky Kanki (my nickname for the establishment), but on April 18, I eat.

We laugh and talk about her on a regular basis, so this isn’t a particularly difficult or odd time for us.  It is, however, a time to stop and reflect.  To answer questions.  For me, a responsibility to ensure her legacy lives on.

On Sunday I was invited to speak to an adult Sunday School class at my church on how to support those dealing with difficult situations.  Prepping to teach, I pulled out a stack of cards I received when Lisa died.  Although cathartic, and perhaps important at times, not necessarily a happy way to begin a fresh weekend.  Looking back, it is sort of amazing how you tend to forget the intensity of the pain experienced during that time.  It’s also shocking how quickly you can revisit the emotions with a small reminder.

One friend wrote this quote in the card she sent two months after Lisa died:

“The fullness of a person’s life is measured not in years, but in how he lived … there are rare people in this world who engage life at a different level – a deeper level than the rest of us.”

Although I’m sure that quote gets tossed around at many funerals for folks who die before 60, and although I believe it to be true, I wonder what really constitutes engaging in life at a different and deeper level.  As I poured through the notes near the top of my stack, there were a few that struck me.

“It sounds trite to say she was ‘unique,’ but she really was.  She was driven but not overbearing; she was kind but not patronizing; she was firm but compassionate.”

“(Lisa) has inspired me to be a better mom, friend, volunteer, Christian and worker because of how she lived her life.”

“Was there anyone in Raleigh she didn’t know?”

“One of my favorite memories of you and Lisa was when I visited the Y on one of my days off.  I will never forget walking up and seeing you and Lisa on the roof … I still wonder how the two camp directors were able to pull off tanning for an entire day and still get paid for it.  Who was in charge of camp?  You and Lisa were a great team!”

“She was such a force of nature.”

“I was a friend of your mom’s in college.  She was one of the first smiling faces I saw at our sorority.  From that moment on, she made me feel welcome and included.  As you know, that’s just how she was with everyone… making you feel comfortable.”

“My lasting image of her is seated on the Capon Springs stage, surrounded by all of the Capon kids, leading them in song.”

“She was an extraordinary person – someone who I remember trying to emulate as a teenager.”

“She was such a natural leader and full of such positive energy!!”

I believe that Lisa did engage life at a different level.  I don’t think she tried, I just think it was natural for her.

It doesn’t come as easily for me.  But I do think that her death has pushed me to intentionally and strategically work to live more boldly.

I do not want someone to spout out some quote at my funeral simply to fill up a 15 minute homily.  With Lisa, the remembrances were true, sincere; all who knew her could nod enthusiastically.  I’m learning later in life, but I think that losing Lisa has given my daughters the gift of living at a deeper level much earlier.  To watch them is as their mom is a beautiful thing.

Six and Counting

bruce and Lisa

It’s beautiful to remember the happy.

Six years ago today, our wife, mother, daughter, and friend died.  I want all who knew her, especially my girls, to remember the good stuff.  And there was plenty!

Her fingernails were impeccable.  She used gel.  It coats your fingers with some fake substitute for your claws, and it costs a fortune.  She argued that they last “forever.”  I don’t know what forever she was referring to, but in my book a couple of weeks does not constitute a lifetime.

One time the two of us cooked Thanksgiving dinner.  I thought the neck bone stuffed in the turkey’s cavity was his penis.  She didn’t know any better either.  We burned everything, except dessert which was grossly under-cooked.  Cheesecake soup anyone?  I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.

She was a sale shopper.  Problem was that she’d buy a blouse at a “great price” with no matching bottom.  When she died, I found countless items of clothing with the tags still on.  I’m sure she would have worn them, eventually.

She gave our girls wings.  When we dropped DJ off at four week camp for the first time, my daughter teared up.  I ran to the car to get the heck out of Dodge.  Lisa, on the other hand, gave her words of encouragement and distracted her with new friends.  “I am nurture,” I explained to my wife on our way home.  “You, you give them courage.”  I had done my job, she had done hers.

Fortunately, all got some of her bravery genes.

She insisted on matching dresses for the kids when they were younger.  In one Christmas photo, when DJ was about 9, she stood behind Santa in a dress that made her look like a prairie child.  It didn’t matter.  The whole family blended so well.

She once stood me up on an early date in our courtship.  I was so stinkin’ mad.  But apparently not mad enough.

We spent our first weekend together hiking on Grandfather Mountain, I flossed at the apex.  And she still married me.

Our honeymoon got cancelled on the night of our wedding because American Airlines pilots went on strike.  I’ll never forgive those greedy mongrels.

She once bought a rug for DJ’s bedroom that cost so much she never divulged what she paid.  To this day I do not know.

She built relationships with everyone she came in contact with.  She was as close to our babysitters as she was to her college roommates.  Her hair dresser was a confidante.  Those at work called on her to approach their boss, because he loved her to death.

She enjoyed a bit of gossip and was the last person to walk out of the church on any given Sunday morning, because she was talking.

She was a leader in our community and could organize a thousand high school kids, a Junior League Committee or a kitchen drawer with ease.  But she seldom lifted a finger until the day before a deadline.

I fell in love with her on a canoe at Camp Seafarer.  She got to me.  There was just something about that Lisa Tanner that I couldn’t shake.

I am thankful for the years we had.  I am thankful for these beautiful memories.

95%

It came early this year.  Generally, it’s two weeks out – like clockwork.  I begin to well up when certain songs come on the radio.  I get a pit in my stomach when I look at family photographs.  I long for what could have been.

I think the anticipation of the anniversary of Lisa’s death has been magnified this year.

Last fall I found some old pictures on my computer that I thought we had lost.  They captured the Tanner family from 2005 – 2006, four years before she became sick.  I recently uploaded them to Shutterfly and have been working to order prints and create one of their memory books.  It’s a task you should only have to do as punishment for a terrible crime.

Keeping up with family pics was not my job – until 2010.  Lisa held that responsibility, along with most of the other things I currently do that are unrelated to my work, tickling kids or putting them to bed.

I’ve dug through these pictures for two weeks, there were over 1,000:  beach trips, Disney World, The Grand Canyon, birthdays, Halloween, huge smiles at Christmas, a shot of the two of us dressed up for a night out.  I keep thinking, we had no idea… absolutely no idea that cancer was about to kick our asses.  If we would have known…

If we would have known, what?  What could we have done?

Ab-so-lutely NOTHING.  We could not have done anything except lived those last few years in fear.

This past fall I was told by someone that I hadn’t written a new chapter in my life.  That I had to put the past behind me.  I thought that was a ridiculous statement, proud of what I’ve accomplished – astonished at my fairly happy demeanor, blown away by my three daughters’ blossoming, excited about the new things in my life.  But maybe, in a way, this friend was right.  Or maybe, you do move on but in a different sort of way.

I will never, ever, be the same.  I will never fully get over my loss.  Perhaps those who have not experienced what I have aren’t able to fully comprehend my inability to slide through February unscathed even after significant time.

Yet, only I can ensure that I’m not stuck, unable to move forward with new relationships and experiences with real joy in my heart.

Occasionally I teeter between thriving and shriveling up.  Weird, these incongruent worlds.  Ninety-five percent of the time I’m ready to tackle the world, completely pleased with how I’ve grown, excited about today and the future.  Five percent of the time I’d like to curl up in the corner of the closet.  The wound fresh again.

It’s been nearly six years.  I am grateful for the 95%.  It’s been nearly six years, why isn’t it 100?

Halloween, Gone?

DJ and Stephanie, Halloween, many years ago

DJ and Stephanie, Halloween, many years ago

Interestingly, Halloween is one of the toughest times of the year for me.  It is odd which days become peppered with melancholy.

Christmas and Thanksgiving, although bitter-sweet, bring family together.  My girls are home.  We see grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  Happy stories are relived and new memories are created.  Although I miss Lisa, I revel in the time with other loved ones.  Yet Halloween, which was orchestrated on Dellwood Drive in typical Lisa Tanner fashion, has simply left a void.

She was the one who decided we needed to have a neighborhood gathering each year before trick or treating.  The handful of kids on the block would parade from one end of the street to the other with pizza as their prize for completing the eighth of a mile hike.  Mrs. Eckles, an elderly woman who lived at 1417, pulled a 1950’s lawn chair to the curb and cheered us on as Cinderella, the Ninja Turtle and Hannah Montana proudly waved to the slight crowd.

Mrs. Eckles, like Lisa, is gone.

Ghoulish tunes and the Monster Mash played in the background on our front porch, the same CD repeated from 5pm until 9pm without ceasing.

Our early years left Lisa at home with Jeana, our neighbor, drinking wine in rocking chairs as they handed out treats.  The dads set out with PBR and wagons, stopping halfway at a friend’s house for our annual trick or treat potty break.  Hauling that three kidded wagon up Elvin Court, a cul-de-sac with a rapid descent, took more strength than bench pressing 200 pounds at the gym.

We had few rain nights over the years, but the one I remember was miserable.  An hour in I wondered to myself why I ever had children.

This year was my first kidless Halloween.  DJ is a college, trick or treating on Embassy Row in DC.  Stephanie had friends over to watch scary movies – dads not needed to protect anymore.  Michelle was invited to a friend’s house, a more appropriate trick or treat partner for a newly turned 13-year-old.

There was no music on the porch, simply a large bowl of candy and a sign that read Only take two or I will find you.  Of course, some bozo emptied it out about an hour in I understand.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy this Halloween.  I had dinner with a friend and then met others for grown up conversation.  But man how times have changed.

I’m sure there would have been Halloween voids even if Lisa had lived.  We would have had to develop new rituals.  It isn’t likely I would be pulling around three teenagers in the Radio Flyer.  And yet, that realization is meaningless to me because I didn’t get that chance.

Someone hurts a little deeper on Veteran’s Day, which is an easy one for me.  It could be black Friday stings for the daughter who spent that day at the Factory Outlets with her mom who is no longer here.

I think sometimes grief magnifies the things that were most special to us about the ones we’ve lost.  Often it is something that we never considered would hurt us at all.

Five Years and Counting

My first visit to a grief counselor was in March, 2010. She was cool, full-time counselor and part-time yoga instructor. I sat on the couch embracing an aqua Pier 1 looking pillow, protection from the questions she might ask.

I was there for grief, but clearly she’d bring out more. Trudy was going to force me to dig deep, to explore myself, my fears – ones I’d buried underneath my marriage. In many ways, Lisa was my security blanket. Now I was exposed. Nothing to cling to. Nothing to hide behind, except the pillow.

I hurt so deeply.

“How long will I feel like this?” I asked.

“It takes most people five years to feel completely whole again.” She didn’t sugar coat.

“That’s unacceptable. I can’t feel like this that long.”

She explained that my grief would not be as intense for five years, but that it could very well take a long, long time to move forward.

Yesterday marked the five year anniversary, and Trudy was right. I do feel whole again. Looking back, it seems like so much has happened over the past half-decade. But in many ways, it doesn’t seem so long ago that I first met my counselor.

Time goes slowly when you look forward but it seems fast when you look back.

I remember three things Trudy told me that could help to speed up my healing:

1) Lean on those around you

I was a master at that. I let folks support in any way they were willing. At times I told them what I needed. All stepped up to the plate.

2) Lean into your grief

She told me not to run, to allow myself to feel it. To cry. To talk it out. Not to hold back. Again, a tip I conquered.

3) Find new interests

I’ve tried. I wish I had more, but I’ve discovered writing, acting with my kids, and I’ve ventured into dating and spending time with some really cool people. I’ve got some work to do on this one though.

There were two other things I found important in my journey. One was to keep busy, especially in the beginning. I think it could have been easy to sit in bed and watch TV. Fortunately for me, having kids did not allow that.

The final piece of my healing puzzle was building a stronger belief in the long-term future. Having faith that I will see Lisa again has given me the ability to enjoy this life more fully. That may sound counterintuitive. Maybe it’s like an upcoming vacation. Enjoying day-to-day life is easy when you know that you have something really exciting to look forward to.

So many people hurt for so many reasons. My hope is that they will find tools to move them forward. The darkness can be suffocating, but with hard work and time, there’s a whole lot of light to find.

Have We Said Enough?

Valentine’s Day, 2010, was ten days before Lisa died.  Although it’s been five years, cupid brings back vivid, vivid memories.

In many ways, it is my hardest grief day of the year.  The reminder that it is coming is blasted everywhere I turn:  on TV, in the grocery store, billboards – even Jiffy Lube has an oil change coupon special for your sweetheart!

The last dinner my girls and I ate with Lisa was on Valentine’s Day.  Of course we didn’t know that would be the case, but deep down, maybe we had a hunch.

It was an odd evening.  Lisa and I were trying so hard to be happy for three excited kids.

Yeah, yeah, it’s Valentine’s Day!  Candy, candy!  Love in the air.  Ignore the fact that your beloved mother in the seat beside you is hooked up to a morphine drip and dying from cancer.

As difficult as it is to face this annual reminder, February 14, 2010, ended up bringing me the greatest gift I ever received.  It gave me what I needed to take the steps  to put my life back together.

It was this day that prompted Lisa to write me a note.  Although I knew my wife loved me, she was not one to gush.  But this note encapsulated her feelings about me.  The last sentence she wrote was:

You are the husband, father, soul mate and friend that I want – never been another.  I love you very much.  Lisa

If I died tomorrow, I wonder if the people around me would know how I feel about them.

I have a buddy, Steve, who occasionally texts with the message, “I love you.”  When I see him, he says the same.

Another dear friend, Brad, and I hug and share the same sentiment.  His wife occasionally rolls her eyes at our mushiness.

I pick on people who mean a lot to me – just ask those in the offices next to mine at the YMCA.  Do my co-workers understand how much they mean to me?  I spend more time with them than any other friends and often more time than I spend with my family.  Do those at church know how much I look forward to seeing them each week?  Can the girls see my love through the nagging?

I’d like there to be no question in the minds of those who mean the most to me.

I’m not sure why it is sometimes so hard to express love.  It makes us squirmy and uncomfortable.  I’ve been the recipient of unfettered expression.  Lisa and I were given that chance.  Had she died in an automobile accident, that would not have been the case.

I have lived the past five years with a lack of guilt or regret about my relationship with my wife.  She let me know I was what she needed.  And yet, at times I still struggle with sharing how much I appreciate and care for others.  If it is tough for me, I imagine it might be even harder for those who have not experienced the joy of knowing that someone you loved so much loved you so much in return.

Sunday Post 178: I Can Almost Hear

Lisa recorded our voice mail greeting at some point long ago. Over four years later, I had not recorded over it. So if you called our house, she would greet you.

However, after years of going out of my mind with Time Warner Cable, I decided to go with a new carrier. After I made the decision, I realized it would mean our voicemail greeting would be deleted. I’d have to re-record.

We worked hard to preserve Lisa’s voice, saving it on every phone and computer the family owns. And now, if I want to hear her, I just pull it up on my iPhone or Dell and listen.  Sometimes its just nice to hear.

A while back my minister talked about the importance of voices. Someone referred to your voice as your thumbprint on the world.  Man, I wish I could still hear those who are gone.

I imitate my friend Trey but I long for that slow southern drawl. He died in a car wreck several years before Lisa.

I lay in my bed the other night trying desperately to remember how each of my grandparents sounded. I almost could – my Grandmama Tanner’s laugh, Granddaddy Tanner telling me, “You have a hole in your head boy.”  I could see my other grandmother’s face – she was by me on the bed.  But I couldn’t quite remember her voice.

It’s like the inflection is there, rolling around the outskirts of my cerebrum, but I just can’t pull it out.

What a shame.

I get used to pictures, but I always had to brace myself when I phoned the house.  Not in a bad way, but I had to be ready.  Sometimes her tone would bring a smile.  Sometimes it would bring longing.

I don’t know what I miss most – seeing, touching, or hearing her.  She was a talker, man could she move those lips.  Sometimes I’d wish she’d stop chatting everyone up after church and just get in the car – I was hungry!

Now I’d give anything to stand behind and wait.  If only to hear her one more time.

 

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 169: Dear Sarah

I received an email last week from Sarah. She’s a mom with a chronic illness. At some point in the future, she will need a liver transplant. If she doesn’t get one, she won’t make it.

In the correspondence, Sarah told me she was trying to live each day to the fullest. She shared that she was beginning to preserve her thoughts for her husband and daughter – just in case. She then asked me if there were things I would suggest she do now in the event she isn’t around ten years from now.

It made me stop and think.

As I pondered my response, I put some thoughts together on what I’d do differently had I known ten years in advance that Lisa would die.

 Dear Sarah,

 It sounds like you are approaching your life in a strong and courageous way. Of course, our situation was dire from the start, but I can’t tell you how inspiring it was for our family to watch my wife fight with a positive attitude. She never felt sorry for herself (at least outwardly), and she kept hope until the bitter end. Her strength and optimism made it so much easier for us. She didn’t spend the last six months of her life crying. She laughed and lived, what a blessing for us.

 You have tons of time! Enjoy each minute – and when you live to be 90, you will have maximized every minute which most of us don’t do.

 I think that we did some things very well. Our memories of Lisa, our ability to talk about her with humor and warmth are all wonderful. The girls and I laugh about her often. There are, however, a couple of things I would have changed had I known she would die so young.

 1)    I would have taken more pictures. Lisa was our family photographer so we have plenty of family photos but just not that many of her. I wish I had great snapshots of Lisa with each of the girls. I wish we would have captured her expressions, the ones I can’t see anymore. Occasionally I find a pic tucked away somewhere. But there aren’t enough. There aren’t close ups. She hated close ups of herself. 

Sometimes I want to see that face – and my memory only captures a bit of what we shared.

 I work hard now to capture those casual moments with the girls and me. They will have plenty of photos of me and I’ll have pictures of them that will be with us for life.

 2)    The last weekend my wife lived, she scratched short notes to each of the girls. She was so sick at the time I had to do some of the writing for her – she would talk, I would scribe.

 I wish she had done more writing or video taping to share what she wished for the kids. I’ve heard of moms who died who left notes for their kids to be read on special occasions. We don’t have that. We can just imagine what she might have said. That may not be something you need to do now, but in the future you may want to consider leaving a written legacy for your kids.

 3) Finally, for me, there have been hundreds of times that I wish I had known more about what she would have done in various situations. How would she have dealt with dating, prom, hurt feelings by the “mean girls,” buying expensive shoes, when to allow my teenager to drive out-of-town by herself. I wish we would have talked more about heaven and what she, what we, believed. I knew, but not enough.

You’re on the right track. I don’t have regrets of how we dealt with her death. I just wish we would have focused more on our marriage, taken advantage of opportunities to travel as a couple or a family, realized that the afternoons we drank a beer on the beach were special and not something that would come to an abrupt end. I wish we would have made more fires in our outdoor fireplace, maybe held hands more often. I do miss her hands.

I think everyone should do a better job of thinking about life as if it was precious and not going to be here forever. If we’d all do that, we’d all be a lot happier in the long run.

Danny

Sunday Post 157: Four Years Ago

It was four years ago tomorrow. Seems like longer. In many ways I’ve done more in the past four years than I did in the first forty-four. That’s actually sort of pathetic.

I don’t have the intense feelings of grief this time. There are a few, but it doesn’t feel like someone is stomping on my chest.

What I have noticed every February for the last four years, is that I find myself in a fog. It’s like I’m walking around in a card board box.

I’ve struggled to focus, like a fly on horse poo. I’ve missed a few appointments – one where I put the meeting in my calendar starting at 10 PM, not AM. The girls’ winter break snuck up on me. Didn’t line up child care until two weeks out. That’s not typical for me.

On Saturdays I usually conquer the world. Lately, I’m fine to sit. I’m not really doing anything – I guess I’m just thinking, sort of day dreaming.

Sitting – how uncharacteristic of me.

Knocking out push ups is a nightly activity year round. Right now each one feels like a mammoth undertaking.

I do find myself reliving that last week of her life. She in the hospital in her blue, cotton robe. Those last few days were painful.  Scary. Wish I could dismiss them. Unfortunately, they’re etched.

My buddy reminds me this is my month – “It was like this last year too Danny, remember?”

“Yeah, I do.” Hunker down. It’ll be over soon.

  • Tanner Tweets

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 11,935 other followers

  • Past Posts

  • Contact Us