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.

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.

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 194: Another One Down

I’ve attended two funerals for young parents since Lisa died.  One was last week.

In both cases I sat on the front row of the church balcony.  I headed up there assuming there would be fewer people around in the event I become a blubbering idiot.  I have a bird’s eye view of those beneath who are struggling with their grief.

Yesterday I sat and watched another father on the front row, his daughter and son beside him.  And I return to that day.

It’s weird what you remember.  I was wearing my light gray suit.  I saw a former employee who I had not seen for years in the hall as we entered the sanctuary.  I grabbed her hand.  Another guy I work with was standing under the stained glass window half way down the aisle.  He had given up his seat for an elderly woman.

I remember Michelle on one side of me, Stephanie on the other.  I could touch DJ with my hand if I put my arm on the pew around my middle daughter.  I felt it was important for them to feel my presence, physically and emotionally, since their mother seemed so far away.  I enfolded the other two up under my arms, crutches to keep me upright.

We sang four hymns because Lisa loved music.  She used to say, “You don’t need to talk at my funeral, just sing.”  We did both.

I stared at the cross hung above the choir’s heads, What a mess you have made. I thought to myself.

There was no talk of the beauty of God’s plan.  We didn’t pick bible verses that would make it all seem planned.  We just  sat and ached, every single one of us.  Our minister hurt too.

Over and over and over I wondered how this could be.  It just could not be true.  I felt like I was at a movie watching someone else in pain, and yet clearly it belonged to me.

It broke my heart to see that father last Friday.  I didn’t hurt for me – I’m through the worst of it.  But to think of what he has to face: the fear, the loneliness, the open wound in his heart.  As a fellow human being, I simply ached for him.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could share the pain, if I could relieve him for two hours each week?  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  It’s his journey to walk.  We can stand by his side, we can help hold him up, but he and only he has to take the steps.  One     at      a      time.

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.

20 Cans of Tuna

can of tuna

Sometimes it is difficult to be my child.

Last Sunday I was working hard to be ready for our afternoon activities and for the first day of school which was Monday.  We had two covered dish dinner events – one for the girls’ mother/daughter charity club and one at church.

Lisa and DJ began participating in the National Charity League five years ago.  There are meetings, socials, and service projects, and mandatory expectations for participation.  When Lisa died, Aunt Sallie stepped up and filled the mother piece of the duo.  When Stephanie aged in, she joined too.

The kickoff picnic required a salad for the covered dish meal and canned goods to be donated to a local nonprofit.

Because I had to bring an entree to the church picnic that followed the NCL dinner, I decided to knock out a slew of ham biscuits.  I made about 50.

That morning I ran by the grocery store to purchase supplies to create my sowbelly delights and at the same time purchased 20 cans of food.  I was thoughtful enough to purchase tuna because the cans were small, easier for my delicate daughters to tote from car to picnic shelter.  I was on my A game.

At 4, I shipped DJ and Stephanie off to NCL and shortly thereafter made my way to church.  They showed up at 6 for their second dinner of the day.

As soon as Stephanie got out of the car, she ran up to me.

“Dad!  Guess what?”

“What baby?”

“Well, we walked up to the NCL picnic and went to put our Food Lion bags full of canned goods on the table with everyone elses’ stuff.”

“Yeah?”

“Everyone else was standing there with Target bags full of shampoo and toothbrushes.  Do you know why?”

“Ahh…no.”

“Because we weren’t supposed to bring canned goods!  We were supposed to bring toiletries.  Do you know how embarrassing it is to show up with TUNA when everyone else has Colgate??”

“What did you do?”

“DJ said to just put the bags down quickly and walk away.  It was humiliating!”

“Well I would imagine that if someone needs toiletries, they likely also need canned goods.”

“At our next meeting we are taking all of the stuff we brought and putting it in bags for the people in need.  I guess the bags will include toothpaste, a toothbrush, shampoo, conditioner, soap, deodorant, Q-tips and TUNA!”

She sort of grunted and walked away.

The beautiful thing about DJ is that she didn’t even bring it up to me.  She’s used to this sort of stuff.  No need to get bent out of shape.  With me as her father, it just is what it is.

 

Check the Tanners out in the September issue of Family Circle
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 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

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