Musical Memories

Dixie Chicks (2)

Several months ago, DJ texted me to inform me that the Dixie Chicks were playing at Walnut Creek Amphitheater in Raleigh on the night that she and Stephanie would be returning home from overnight camp.  I don’t think she asked me to buy tickets; she told me.

I know a ton of their songs, but perhaps the most widely acclaimed, Wide Open Spaces, was released in 1998.  That was a year after DJ was born.  It was also around the time that we purchased a brand new forest green Honda Odyssey minivan with a CD player right in the dashboard.  We had hit the Big Time!

Our oldest child sucked her pacifier to the beat of Where’s Your Trouble and Cowboy Take Me Away.

In the 90’s, I was not a fan of country music.  I was more Earth, Wind and Fire than Miranda Lambert.  But my wife, she liked country, and she made sure that her daughters did too.

As songs were played last night, DJ and I had a ride down memory lane.

When the much slower song, Top of the World, came on, my oldest reminded me that I did not like the tune.  “Remember dad?  You would always fast forward this one.”

“It’s depressing.”

“But I loved it!  When mom was in the car, she would make you play it.”

“I don’t specifically recall.”

Toward the end of the song, there is a long pause.

“And every time we got to this part, you would press the skip button.”

“It’s a long pause, I’m sure I thought it was over.”

“And then I would cry and mom would make you rewind so I could hear the end, which is the best part of the song.”

“I still don’t love this song.  Makes me want to cry.”

When they played Stevie Nick’s Landslide, I was reminded how Lisa and I got into a feud about whether they were singing the word “older” or “bolder” at a certain point in the song.  I did not recall this dialogue either.

“Dad, it was a big deal.  You were both insistent that the other was wrong.”

Isn’t it interesting what kids watch and remember?

Of course, I was too cheap to purchase good seats for the concert so we were on the lawn in beach chairs.  But I was glad.  The view of the open sky was amazing that night, and there was one star that shone regardless of where the clouds moved.  I think I know why.

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.

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.

Taking It In For Two

Bailey at commencement

As wonderful as special occasions can be, I still find them hard.

For some reason, I can head to work each day without incident.  When Lisa died, we stopped eating dinner at the table and moved to the bar in the kitchen.  Ironically, I was the one who insisted on the table.  I think I like the Leave It To Beaver image of a man, me, sitting at the head looking out on all that I had – my kingdom – beautiful wife, three charming daughters and a nice backyard with very green grass.  Stools at the bar seemed to solve my emotional food disorder; even sleeping in that bed alone has become comfortable to me.

But toss in a high school graduation, a wedding or a funeral and I resort back.  Not necessarily to her death.  I harken back to what should have been.  She should have helped address the graduation announcement invitations.  She should have OK’d the white dress.  She should have read over DJ’s last speech to the school as Student Body President.  She should have been behind the camera lens, at the Apple Store picking out her college computer; there when grandpa gave her his old MINI Cooper – her character building Subaru in the junk yard.

As my beautiful senior walked down the brick pathway through the Grove at St. Mary’s School, I leaned over to my sister-in-law, “I feel like I need to be watching for both of us; like I need to be Lisa’s eyes too.”

It’s unfair to me to have to carry the emotional insecurity of sending my kid off into this big world alone.  It’s unfair to Lisa not to see her daughter soar.  She’s missing the tough parts and the glorious.

And I get it all.

Visiting the Dead

Sometimes I dream about having the opportunity to talk to Lisa, if only for an hour or two.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could communicate with our loved ones who are gone?  Just an hour a month – or a one week reunion once a year like our family’s vacation trip to West Virginia each August.

I can envision the rush to get to the annual destination, the desire to be there as early as possible to maximize our time with the ones we don’t frequently see.  The hugs.  The laughter.  The recounting of stories that occurred throughout the year.  The asking of advice for the future.  A long embrace at the end of the week, knowing it will be 358 days before we would see each other again.

Before Lisa died I asked her, if there was an option to do so, to come visit us when she got to heaven.  She told me she wasn’t doing that.  “I don’t want to be stuck between here and there.”  Seemed like she had spent some time thinking about it.  “When I go, I’m not coming back.”

Last night I was laying by Stephanie right before bedtime.  We started talking about Lisa.

“I still miss her,” I confessed.  I then shared my desire to communicate with our deceased loved ones on a regular basis.

“I want to talk to her.  I wish she was here, on earth.”

Without hesitation, Stephanie said, “She is.  She’s inside of me.”

Sometimes kids can see things that we, as adults, cannot.

I think God sort of works like that too.  I’m often narrow in my ability to view His world.  I don’t want to be, but I am.  I’m unable, or unwilling, to see blessings, opportunities, solutions right in front of my nose.

Maybe I should just spend more time with Stephanie.  She sure does have a way of enlightening.

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.

48 Hours

Problematic suitcase

Michelle is going on a two night trip to the mountains with school.  She will be gone approximately 48 hours which, coincidentally, is the same amount of time it took us to pack.

It went like this:

“I have nothing to wear on this trip!”

“You have three dressers and a closet full of clothes.”

“But none of it is right for this trip.”

“You are going to the mountains for school.  You wear yoga pants, t-shirts and a coat!  You have all of said items.”

She looked at me as if I could not possibly understand what was going on in that little mind.  Her look was warranted.

She began digging in her middle drawer and pulled out a pair of black pants made of stretchy material.  “I’ll wear these  on the way down.  Actually, could you check the weather?”

“By all means Vera Wang.  It’s going to be 65 tomorrow, 63 on Thursday with possible rain and only 47 on Friday.”

“Then should I wear these pants instead?”  She held up a different pair of black stretchy pants.

They are both black; they are both long.  They are twins.  How can one override the other?

“Those appear to be much more appropriate for the climate.”

“I’m going to try them on.”

“Don’t you wear those often?”

“Yes.”

“Then why are you trying them on?”

“I need to see how they look with my tennis shoes.”

“I bet they look the same way that they did last Saturday when you wore them with your tennis shoes.”

She ignored me.  She then pulled out multiple white t-shirts as possible matches for her black pants.  I would have chosen the one on the top.

She then repeated the process with her jeans, a pair of crop yoga pants and a pair of leggings.  When done, she put one pair back on with her sweatshirt and a rain jacket.

“AHHHH,” she grumbled.

“What’s wrong now?”

“This stupid coat does not match my tennis shoes.”

“Actually, blue and pink go well together.”

“No.  They don’t.  And look, when I zip it I look fat.”

“You have two t-shirts and a sweatshirt under it.  Jimmy Walker would look plump in that getup.”

“Who?”

We then went to the attic to pick out a suitcase.  The Vera Bradley bag in her closet would not work.  She was afraid she was going to have to carry it too far.

“I want the one with the wheels.  The one with the pink polka dots.”

“It will certainly match your rain coat.  But I’m not sure about your tennis shoes.”

“Your suitcase does not have to match your tennis shoes.  You’re being ridiculous.”

“Oh.  I’m being ridiculous?”

“Yes.  And weird.  And don’t write about this!!”  She brushed her hair back with her hand, “I’m tired of being famous.”

I don’t think she was serious.  Well, about the last part.

Sunday Post 192: So Embarrassing

halloween

I know that at times I embarrass my children, but usually it’s intentional.  Nothing makes me happier than to walk out of the house with a teenaged daughter wearing black socks with my tennis shoes.  Yeah, in some circles that’s in…but only if the socks have the Nike swoosh on the side.  I got my swooshless socks from Walmart.

I revel in their pleas for parental normalness.  My office elevator has had rails on the back wall and mirrors from ceiling to floor.  When a kid and I enter, I prop both feet on the rail and break out in song!  “Dad, you’re so weird!  Stop singing Prince in the elevator!  Someone’s gonna come in here!”

It’s actually very cool.  You can see your performance from a bird’s eye view if you keep your eyes lifted up.

But the embarrassment is on my terms.  Not theirs.

On Halloween, I worked to get home at a decent hour.  DJ and Stephanie had an event at their school so I was prepared to trick or treat with Michelle.  I knew that my door to door days were waning, but I thought I had at least one more year.

As she put on her costume, I readied myself.  I put on a sweater, jeans and made a sign for our candy dish on an index card:  Please take one or two, we’ll be home shortly.  I taped it to a long pencil and stuck it in the middle of the M&Ms and Starburst Fruit Chews.

I put a can of beer in a koozie and called up to my 12-year-old Oreo, “You ready to go?”

She came downstairs and eyeballed the situation.  She was clear in her words, “It’s a little embarrassing to have your dad trick or treat with you.  I mean, I’m old enough to go by myself.  Ellen is only 11, and her Mr. Young said she could go with me – alone.”

Unfortunately there was no one around to remove the dagger that had been pierced through my heart.  I stood there, bleeding, pondering my options.  I knew it was time to let go.

“You got your cell phone?”

“Yes.”

“Dellwood Drive and Elvin Court ONLY.  If you want to go further, I’ll come meet you.”

“Thanks dad!”  She gave me a hug.

As she walked away, I yelled, “Be home by 8.”

I slowly walked into the kitchen and removed the help yourself sign.

It’s more fun to watch your kids grow up with your spouse. Fortunately Jesse dropped by and chatted while Michelle galavanted across the neighborhood. I wonder if they’ll be home for Christmas.

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

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