Sunday Post 106: It’s Not A Choice

Tonight I met with my men’s group – the guys who have also lost their wives to cancer.  There were only four of us.

We all struggle at times and with similar experiences, yet often on different timelines.  For some the holidays were tough.  For others, the wedding anniversary brought it all back – it was the day that no one else really celebrated.  Just their time.  In a way, that made it harder than Christmas.  I get that.

At the end of the meeting, I shared an email a buddy of mine sent me today.  I met him through the play, A Christmas Carol.  He’s a really neat guy and has become a great friend.

He was commenting on a recent post I’d written – the one where I said, “I don’t know how my story ends.”

He wrote:  As I was reading your blog, it struck me. I’m sorry about you losing your wife, but do you realize that if it wasn’t for your loss, we would most likely not know each other?  Would you have tried out for A Christmas Carol if Lisa was still living?

I know how you will finish the book.  For everything that has to die it brings forth life.  You bury a seed so that it can bring forth life.  Your ending will be LC instead of BC … Life after Cancer not just Before Cancer. The key word is Life because you are still living, and look at all of the new sprouts that have come up!

 A friend in the support group said, “It’s not a matter of choosing this new life over the loss of your wife.  It wasn’t a choice.  She died – period.”

The choice comes in what you do after she dies.

I am thankful for the new experiences I’ve had since Lisa’s death.  I am thankful for the new friendships I have made.

I always feel like when good happens that I need to clarify my happiness – “This is great, but I’d rather this not have happened and still have Lisa.”

Well duh.  But it wasn’t a choice.  Therefore enjoy the good, and enjoy guilt free.

Sunday Post 102: The Innocent

Today innocent children were shot at school.  Tonight I weep for their parents.  Tonight I hold my daughters close, a little longer snuggle time before bed.  I’m uneasy.  I can’t make sense of it. Selfishly I think, What if it happens to me?

I feel others’ pain more keenly than before.  This takes me back to a place I don’t want to go.

I wish I could describe the pain.  It is dark like the sky deep, deep in the woods.  It is vast like a canyon.  It’s a free fall with absolutely no safety net and no sense of when it might end.  It is alone.

It is the same questions endlessly consuming the mind, all centered around ‘why’ or ‘what if.’

It’s a fear of having to go back there with another loss.

I used to think nothing worse could happen than to lose your wife so young.  Today has proven that wrong.  This is worse.

This is not about me.  This is about them, their loss – their sadness – their unanswered questions.

And yet, to some extent, I guess it is about us all.

Merle Norman…

I wasn’t privy to the decisions about ear-piercing when Lisa was alive.  No, she was the one who made that decision.

Although she was Presbyterian and believed in baptism at birth, that was not her view on pierced ears.  There would not be a Tanner kid with piercings until at least a decade of their life had passed.  She thought it made them look too grown up.

When she was nine, DJ nagged her mom for a year for the lobe holes until finally, Lisa and her gaggle of women friends decided that ten was in and the countdown began.

I’m not sure how these moms came about that decision, but they unveiled their calendar as if they were the Misses Manners of preteen etiquette.  Not only did they determine the appropriate age for piercing, they also informed all involved as to the appropriate age for a Facebook page (12) and the point when a cell phone was needed (the start of middle school).  No one dared ask for an exception.  The Mother Mafia had spoken.  I believe they actually signed a treaty with one another and apparently a full on embargo would be imposed on anyone straying from the agreement.

When it was time for DJ to get her ears punctured, Lisa drove her to Crabtree Valley Mall and met another mother/daughter pair at the entrance to Merle Norman.  That is where Lisa had her ears pierced approximately 25 years prior.

DJ desperately wanted to wear earrings, but she also desperately did not want a hole punched in her ear.  She apparently sat on the piercing stool three times, chickening out as Merle approached with the lobe stapler.  Finally, Merle had had enough and kicked her out of the store.  DJ then threw the most massive temper tantrum my wife had ever seen right at the main entrance to Belk.  Lisa literally carried our ten-year old to the car and locked the doors because DJ threatened to jump out of the minivan and run back into the mall.

Stephanie’s journey toward earring mecca was very different.  She turned ten four months after Lisa died.  She reminded me that DJ got her ears pierced at age ten and asked if she could too.

I actually thought it was a law in Raleigh, and I didn’t want to break the treaty – so the two of us hit the mall quickly.  It was four months after Lisa’s death.

Sweet Stephanie was so excited!  Her father was so very, very sad.  As she patiently waited looking at her barren lobes for the last time in their handheld mirror, I fought back tears.  It was one of the first milestones I had tackled by myself.  What father takes his daughter, alone, to have her ears pierced?

I suggested the silver balls; her mother only wore silver.  She agreed.  There were tears that June night, but not from the kid.

Well today it was Michelle’s turn.  I had avoided the subject because I knew the costumer in A Christmas Carol frowned upon jewelry in the play.

“There were no piercings in 19th century England!” she announced last year as a warning to those who were bejeweled.

But when one of her best friend’s moms inquired about a joint trip to see Merle, I just couldn’t turn her down.   It’s sort of a rite of passage – one that can’t be denied.  So now my baby girl has her ears pierced.

I’m beginning to see something different in my daughters.  No longer are they 100% kid.  Now I see glimpses of young women.

I wish Lisa could see what I see – the slight changes coming month by month by month.

I will take it all in for her.

Sunday Post 92: The Birthday Blues

It crept up on me again.  I wasn’t expecting it.  I thought I was just overwhelmed – too much to do, too many details.  Both true; neither my problem.

Turning 47 wasn’t supposed to be a big deal.  We never much celebrated birthdays.  Maybe an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins – perhaps on the exact day, maybe earlier, maybe later.  It didn’t much matter to us.

Some guys rearrange their work or travel schedule to be home for the anniversary of their wife’s birth.  Not me.  Mine didn’t require it.

Lisa did throw me a party on my 40th.  She catered bar-b-q and hired a man to play his guitar in our backyard.  My father-in-law passed out beer on our front porch as our guests arrived.  My parents manned the kitchen.  Lisa and I worked the crowd – friends from all the corners of our lives.

So why the weepiness for me?  I heard the same song last week with no affect.  This week is different.

Maybe I was sad because Lisa never got her guitar player in the backyard.  She didn’t quite make it to 40.

Maybe it’s because I’m the only one still celebrating birthdays.  Maybe it drags up the anger and the frustration that the world just isn’t fair.  Why couldn’t we add her years to mine and divided by 2? 40 years for her, 80 for me – 60 for each of us.  That seems more fair.

No.  She didn’t get to celebrate 47.  She also didn’t get to pick out an outfit for the middle school dance with Stephanie tonight or quiz Michelle on her continents and oceans.  She didn’t get to read, with pride, DJ’s paper on the Iliad.  She didn’t even get to go on the Target run to buy the gargantuan package of toilet paper, giggling all the way through the store.

All of that is in a knot deep, deep within me – the anger, the frustration, the regret, the sadness.  Occasionally some of it comes out.  But not all.  There are parts of the wound that are so deep, they’ll never see the light of day.

Most of the time it won’t matter.  Mostly, it won’t be visible to the naked eye.  But a few will see, and me – able to compare now with then.

My day is over.  The cake is gone, and the knot tucked neatly beneath my spleen.  It’ll come back out; I just don’t know when.

Sunday Post 87: The Grief Relapse

This weekend marks three years since we learned that Lisa had cancer.  There are really only two dates left that without fail I will feel sadness – the Friday before Labor Day and February 24, the day she died.

I don’t typically burst out in tears anymore.  I have sad moments – watery eyes at times – but not the hard stuff.  But twice this week I had a grief relapse.  

It’s OK.  In a way, the release feels good.

As I approached this weekend, I looked back at my journal to see where my mind was one, two and three years ago.

September 2009

It’s cancer.

Fear, Sadness. What does our future hold?  It’ll be OK

Talked to Brad on the back porch – he said, “It’ll be OK.”

Talked to mom and dad, they said, “It’ll be OK.”

I don’t believe any of them.

September 2010

Not only do I miss Lisa, I miss US…She was my companion, my answer to the children leaving home – my Friday and Saturday nights and New Year’s Eve.

And now, my biggest fear, loneliness, stares me in the face – and for now, my biggest fear is winning.

September 2011

Today I began to see the sun again.  And today, I cranked open the car windows, all four of them, and the sunroof, and turned the volume of my stereo as loud as it would go, and I sang with all my might.  A woman with big hair in the car next to me looked my way – I’m sure she thought, “What’s up with that guy?”

And I thought of Lisa – but they were happy thoughts.  Thoughts of her cracking up when I sang all the words to rap songs on the way to Target.  Thoughts of her singing in the passenger seat not knowing that I was hanging on every word.  And I didn’t cry.  And I could breath again.

My grief counselor lost her husband many years ago.  She told me that there would come a time when I didn’t think of Lisa every day.  She was wrong.  Not one goes by without her face appearing in my mind.  Perhaps I’m reminded by a song or by an expression of hers now being donned by one of the girls.  Often I think of her right before I go to sleep – her side of the bed empty.

It doesn’t bother me to think of her each day.  I actually find it sort of comforting.  So I’ll not fight the memories; most are so very good.  I’ll be thankful for our time and thankful for my growth. 

I think the life I’m building has room for those reflections.

Sunday Post 86: Not What I Expected

My life – it isn’t what I thought it was going to be.  No, this wasn’t how it going to turn out.

I was going to get married, have children, be wealthy and own a beach house.  My kids would be beautiful and always respectful.  They’d be popular enough, make good grades.  I’d have a ton of grandchildren.  They’d call me something off the wall like “Hammer” or “Jayshon.” 

I chose a younger wife.  She was to die after me. 

But she didn’t.  And I don’t have a beach house.

I think a lot of people envisioned something different.

Who would expect their cute little toddler to turn to drugs as a teen?  Who’d have thought that the man they loved so much would cheat on her?  Lose a job?  Not me. 

Some never got married, probably not the plan at age 22.  Others couldn’t have kids.  A few lost a child or their spouse at an early age.  Deep depression and anxiety set in for a couple of my friends, and several have fought significant battles with physical illness.

What do you do with that?  What do you do with a life that didn’t meet expectations?

A friend of mine, who has been through the ringer, recently told me that she can’t wait for her future.  She said, “God has something incredible planned for me.  I can’t wait to see what it is!”  There was true excitement in her voice. 

She told me the same was true for me.

It’s easy for to feel like you’ve reach the mountaintop – that the best is over.  But I’m not sure about that. 

There come points in life where you have to reinvent yourself.  Maybe it’s when your kids go to college.  Maybe it’s when your wife dies.

When that time comes, it’s about having the courage to step out of your comfort zone.  Some get that courage from their faith in God.  Others feel an internal drive.  Some never do step.  They decide that it won’t get better – that the best is behind them.

I can’t let that happen.  I do think God has some great things in store for me and some even greater things for my kids. 

I may not climb the exact same mountain, but I think I can find one with an equally beautiful view.  That’s why I started writing.  That’s why I tried out for “A Christmas Carol” last year.  That’s why I’m going to the 10th grade parent dessert social on Saturday even though I’m probably not going to know a soul. 

It’s all uncomfortable.  It’s also all necessary for the ascent.

I”m not sure what the next mountaintop will look like.  But it’s got to look better than the valley.

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