Sunday Post 165: A Second Chance to Live

I was at a conference last week in San Antonio. It was for YMCA staff and volunteers who raise money as part of their job. We do a lot of that – most Y’s use the support to help kids in need attend Y camp and tutor programs.

This year, we had a keynote speaker who really made me do some thinking. Her name is Amanda Lindhout, and she if the Founder of the Global Enrichment Foundation. Unfortunately, she landed in a position of remarkable philanthropy not because of something good. No, she was actually kidnapped when in Somalia to photograph a refugee camp. She was held by teenage terrorists for over 400 days in horrible conditions while enduring significant torture.

Her Canadian parents worked for a year to raise the $1.5 M ransom to free their daughter. She finally returned home – but not as the person who had left 14 months prior.

I suppose in this situation, most people would have holed up, filled with anger and fear. Amanda didn’t do that. Instead, she realized she could be bitter and resentful or, she could look at life another way. She spent countless hours thinking about her captors. She came to the conclusion that their actions were driven out of desperation – out of a lack of hope and opportunity in a country that is bombarded with war.

Her response was to start anew. So, she started a foundation that would support the people of Somalia, bringing them food, education, and hope. Instead of hatred, she found hope and love.

On my trip I also heard of another woman who had lost her husband many years ago. Her children are grown. She has nothing left. She is alone.  She is still struggling with sadness and questions.

What gives some the strength to move forward while others are unable to put their life back together after trauma?

It’s Easter. Whether you believe Jesus is the Son of God and died for our sins or whether you don’t, there has to be a lesson in the story shared throughout the New Testament. Jesus was hung on a cross and killed, and his sacrifice, his horrific death, brought about peace and hope for people for centuries.

Whether the Son of God or the victim of violence – whether suffering extreme personal loss or the fear of death, we ultimately all have two ways to respond. We can crawl under a rock and quit. Or, we can get help and work toward a new beginning – one that perhaps does more good than our first one.

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.

Sunday Post 146: Please Celebrate Me Home

It’s Thanksgiving, and I am thankful.  But I can’t say that there weren’t a handful of times this past weekend that I didn’t get that lump in my throat.  Some of you are familiar with it.  It’s directly connected to the wound – the one that pierced your heart a while back.

It’s pretty much in remission, but not 100%.

It hit when we first gathered around the table for the feast, a hard swallow kept it in.  Then again when I glanced at her picture, sort of on purpose, sort of not.

The Christmas music is playing on the radio now.  Cheesy Kenny Loggins say to celebrate him home.  I got no idea what that means but the girls and I belt it out like we do.  Problem is, home isn’t a place.  It’s not the nice painted brick house where we raised our girls.  Not the porch where I sit to enjoy a cup of coffee.  It’s not the dining room table where we gather for family meals.

It’s not even my parent’s house nor hers.

I guess she was sort of my home – my home base at least.

It feels a bit weird when you’re running hard and you realize that your destination no longer exists.

We’re all doing well.  We’ve recreated life.  We’ve done so in many wonderful ways.  But home?  I’m just not 100% sure where that is anymore.

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

Sunday Post 129: I Prefer Married

You’d think after 3 years I’d stop finding stuff that surprised me about being a widower (I still can’t believe that is an adjective that can be used to describe me).  I just realized that I am not involved, in the least, at DJ’s school.  I guess I’m not really involved in Stephanie and Michelle’s school either.  But because I know a lot of folks there, I sort of feel like I have an in to what’s going on.  But with DJ, I am clueless.

Lisa did that.  Although she worked, she also helped with the PTA, assisted in the kids’ classrooms, gave the teachers a break at lunch, and sometimes drove for field trips.  In the process, she met other parents.  Those relationships led to connections for me.  She did the same thing at the swim club – she volunteered for swim meets.  She met other moms.  She signed me up to be a timer or a kid-pusher.  I felt a part – because of her.

Last week I cancelled our pool membership.  We never go anymore.  I don’t know anyone there.  I just found myself sitting on a lawn chair reading a magazine, missing Lisa.  Why pay $200 a month for that?  I can miss her in my own yard for free.

Lisa controlled our social calendar.  “We’re going out on Friday with the Smiths.  Wear khaki’s and your navy jacket.”

“Who are the Smiths?  Do I know them?”

“You’ll recognize them when we get there.  He’s bald – first name is Jack.  You manned the mechanical bull at the school carnival with him last year.”

“Oh yea.  The time you signed me up for a two-hour shift without my permission.”

“They needed help.  I knew you’d just be standing there.  Didn’t hurt you did it?  And, you made a new friend.”

“Who?”

“Jack Smith.”

“Oh.  Yeah.  Jack.”

Yes – she volunteered, built our relationships, set our social calendar and even told me what to wear.  Now I have to sign up – I hate to sign up!  And what’s worse is now I have to do it on-line through some “Sign Up Genie.”  By the time I get around to volunteering, there’s nothing left but taking out the garbage after the event is over – a one man job no doubt.  No friend there.

The school functions stink without a spouse.  She was always there for me.  I always had someone to talk to.  Now if the conversation ends with the person I’m chatting with, I’m alone.  My crutch is gone.  I have to seek out some other poor soul or hover around the ham biscuits like I haven’t eaten all day.  “Sure am hungry.  No time to talk.  Gonna hit the food table… AGAIN.”  I’d rather have a root canal than attend a party without a spouse.

And yet, my kids miss out too.  My lack of involvement hurts their ability to get connected to other families.  My desire to avoid the social crowds without my security blanket keeps them from the family events – you know, the ones where you all pull up together and then your kids leave you until it’s time to go home.

I have to do better.  I need to join a committee; maybe lawn beautification or something.  I need to find another single soul at school who needs some party company too.  Maybe we can hit the carnival in tandem, serve punch together, man the mechanical bull.

I can do it.  But I sure do prefer married.

Sunday Post 118: Bliss

Happiness just used to be.  It was constant, almost never-changing.

Now it’s not like that.  Happiness is more tentative.

I guess it’s like having a permanent job versus being a temp employee.  With a full-time regular position, you have security.  You have benefits.  You know you’ll get that paycheck every two weeks.

As a temp, the minute the staffer returns from maternity leave, you’re out.  There is no retirement plan.  There isn’t any short of long-term disability insurance.  If you have a catastrophic event, you’re on your own.

Losing someone you love is sort of like that.  The stupid happiness is gone.  Yeah, it’s possible to laugh and enjoy life, but it’s never ongoing.  Once a day or once a week or a couple of times each month, something comes to mind that drags those feelings of unease right back up.  And the long-term future you’d planned – weekends out-of-town when the kids grow up, an early retirement, places we wanted to visit, all are gone.

I wish I’d have known when I was going through the endless years of bliss that I was going through the endless years of bliss.  When they’re gone, happiness becomes less easy and more work.  And yet, I guess I appreciate it more when it’s here.

Perhaps there is value in both.

Sunday Post 117: Love My Mom

I have such wonderful memories with my mom, and we’re still working on building more!

I remember her, as the preacher’s wife, sitting on the front row of our church.  Very few others would sit that close to the pulpit so we often had our pew to ourselves.  As a young kid, when it neared sermon time, I’d sprawl out, legs stretched out, thumb heading toward my mouth.  I’d plunk my head in mom’s lap.  She’d scratch my head.  Sometimes I’d curl up in a ball.  It’s as if I were in my own bed.  Wouldn’t wake up until she stood for the Doxology!

As a young teenager, I once coaxed my mom into running around the car with me at a stoplight.  I begged and begged, it was very in at the time.  She finally relented.  We pulled up, each of us jumped out of the car.  One lap around and I was back at the passenger seat.  Interestingly, my mom was nowhere to be seen.  As I walked to the front of the car, I found her laying face down on the pavement.  Apparently her red sandal high heels weren’t meant for running on gravel.  She ripped her hose and laughed and laughed.

Another time, when I was in high school, we were in the car on our way to a southern Baptist covered dish  dinner.  Mom had me hold the Corningware pot of field peas, just taken off the stove.  She wasn’t known for her driving prowess,  and her short frame kept her from fully seeing at intersections.  The one at the corner of Marlborough Road and Village Drive slipped up on her that day.  She braked hard.  Scalding pea juice poured into my lap.  She got tickled.  I bit my lip to ease the pain.  Went home and had to pull down my pants to see if anything had melted away.

I can’t count the number of times my mother and I got tickled in church.  Weddings were the worst.  Once we were at a 3rd cousin’s wedding in rural South Carolina.  As the Kimball organ started playing Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady, we lost it.  The more I laughed, the more she laughed.  My grandmother was mortified.  We were used to it, this wasn’t our first.

I’m forty-seven, and I still call to chat.  I still want her opinion.  She’s my go to with problems.  Yeah, I love my mom.

As good as these memories are, my joy on Mother’s Day is hampered by the knowledge that my girls won’t get to experience that same connection with their mom.  They have some, but simply not enough.

Dad to the Princial’s Office

username-and-password-shutterstock

I got in trouble at school on Thursday.  I thought I was going to get sent to the principal’s office.  I deserved it though.  Didn’t do my homework correctly.

This is the story of my life, and I can’t figure out what’s wrong with me.  Why can’t I get this stuff right?

It started with the permission slips for Michelle’s fourth grade school trip to the beach.  There were several.  The problem was that you had to open the school newsletter, read the school newsletter, and then open Michelle’s teacher’s newsletter, at the bottom of the original newsletter, to find the link to find the forms to print them out to fill them out to send them back to school.  Once I had the link, I had to find the school website.  Once on the website, I had to open my personal excel spreadsheet that contains all of my passwords and user names so that I could indeed log in to find and print the forms.

Oh, my excel spreadsheet is password protected, by me (sneaky huh?).  If I ever forget the password to my password spreadsheet, I’m up “sheet” creek.

Michelle announced at dinner one night that she was the only kid in her class who had not turned in the forms and that they were overdue.  I wonder how that makes her feel?  Probably not too good.

“I didn’t see them in your Friday folder.”

“They weren’t in my Friday folder.  You have to print them out yourself, they’re on the school  website.”

I’m sure most parents have the login to their child’s school website memorized.  Mine is up there in the ole steel trap, along with my work login, my blog login, my personal email logins, DJ’s school’s login, my Orbitz and American Airlines logins, my Zappos logins, the login and password to stop my mail when we go on vacation and the login to two bank accounts and two investment accounts.  Not to mention my retirement account login, the HR login for work which is a separate software, the login info for the kids’ service club, the foul weather login for youth basketball in the winter, Facebook and Twitter and Instagram so I can make sure my kids aren’t posting inappropriate photos of themselves or cyber bullying.

So I got the paperwork turned in but forgot to have Michelle sign the behavior agreement form, which we had gone over, in detail, on our way home from dance one evening.  Apparently you did not have to sit or sleep with your trip “buddy” but you did have to know where they were at any given time.

When we arrived at school at 5:45 AM, I walked up to the school nurse to give her Michelle’s allergy pill.  I had already turned in the “official” typed up form that I easily found on the school website, well, once I got logged on.

“Hello nurse.  I have Michelle’s medicine right here.”  I was so proud of myself.  The pill was in a zip lock bag with the name of the medication, dosage, along with instructions for dispersing the pill and my signature.  I’d even written her name on the biggie with a black Sharpie marker.

“Mr. Tanner, can you read?” Nurse asked in a kind yet firm tone.

“Why yes.  In fact, I can write too!”

“It clearly stated on the medical form that you needed to have a doctor’s signature for any medication.”

“It’s over the counter.”  I had her!!!

“Signature for ALL medications, even over the counter.  It says so clearly on the form.”

“Geeze.  Even over the counter?”

“Yes.  And, the pill is supposed to be in the original container Mr. Tanner.”

“Not a zip lock bag?”

“No!”

“But it has her name on it, with a black Sharpie PERMANENT marker.”  We aren’t talking Crayola here.

“No, Mr. Tanner.”

“Awe.”

I should have just taped the pill to her chest.  It was tiny.  They would have thought it was a button.

From now on, I’m going to do better.  I’m going to read every word of every newsletter, web site, email and document from all schools, teachers, camps, church leaders, piano teachers, dance instructors, basketball coaches, Service Club leaders, theater personnel, doctors or nurses, afterschool counselors, singing group coordinators, friend’s moms and the Gap.  I’m going to have to quit my job, but I’m going to read them all.

Sunday Post 112: Facing My Nemesis

When you go through a major loss, simple things can become significant challenges.  For me, weekends, especially Saturday nights, became my nemesis.  I could face Monday through Friday with work and the kids’ school schedule.  I was busy, on the go.  I’d get home, feed the kids, help with homework, put them to bed and the exercise – maybe hit the sack at midnight or 1.  It was manageable.  But the thought of a full day, or worse the entire weekend, with the possibility of time that wasn’t crammed full of activity was overwhelming.

I feared the pain I’d experience if I stopped.  When my mind wasn’t maxed out, when my hands weren’t busy, the grief set in.

Saturday nights had been our nights.  Lisa and I would plan time with other families or get a sitter and have a nice dinner out, just the two of us.

It was my favorite time with her, sitting in a booth at a nice restaurant.  A couple of glasses of red wine, good food.  Our opportunity to talk about work, the kids and maybe more importantly, our dreams.

If I didnt’ have plans on a Saturday night, plans that included other adults, I went into a tailspin.  Sadness set in.  I became consumed with my lack of social activities.  I watched Jesse head out with his friends while I sat home watching the Disney channel with Michelle.

For the first time in my life, I dreaded the weekend.  What had been my favorite day of the week had become my enemy.  I feared the sixth day.

Last weekend, Michelle had a sleepover, and DJ had plans too.  Earlier in the week I asked Stephanie what she’d like to do on Saturday, that it was just be the two of us.  Her eyes got big, “Dad, can we go see a movie together?”

“Sure baby!  We’ll grab dinner too.”

As we walked through the open sidewalk on our way out of the movie Saturday night, we began playing our favorite outdoor game, Step on the crack and you break your (in our case) grandmother’s back.  Our hands were locked as I worked to force her  onto the lines that connected the concrete slabs.  A security guard at the mall gave me a huge smile and waved his hand as an encouraging gesture.

I smiled back, and realized I wasn’t afraid anymore.  I wasn’t consumed with my weekend plans.  I wasn’t obsessed with over planning my down time.  I could actually just hang around the house, enjoying some down time, doing some things that I wanted to do.  I was content to just be.

At that moment, there was nothing I would have rather been doing than holding hands with my 12-year-old and enjoying that time with her.

It took three years and nearly 150 Saturdays to get here.  But I’ve beat him – that obstacle is behind me.

Sunday Post 110: What counts the most

Xmas at Disney, Ham Family

It may not be the big things in life that you’re most remembered for.  Three years ago today, my wife died peacefully at Duke Medical Center.  Last night, I asked the kids what they most remembered about mom.

It wasn’t her leadership in the community or the fact that she spearheaded the effort to build their new school.  It wasn’t her accomplishments at the Jr. League or the vision she shared on the church building committee.  What they remembered most were the small things.

“Mom always wanted to shop at Harold’s at the mall.  As soon as she was finished shopping, she’d take us to the candy store right by the escalators.  I looked forward to that every time!”

Sweet memories.  Sweet,  sweet memories.

She drank diet Dr. Pepper.  Her fingernails were impeccable.  Once she got addicted to Afrin – wouldn’t leave the house without it!

She’d only listen to one type of music at a time – winter often brought country, the summer was pop.  You didn’t even think about changing the Christmas station from November 1st on.

She was a stickler for tradition – chili and cornbread on Christmas Eve and the song “Almost Heaven, West Virginia” as we drove over the mountain to our August getaway at Capon Springs.

One of the things that they miss the most is her back scratches.  “Dad, you don’t have fingernails.  Mom scratched.  You give a nub rub.”

Instead of trying to change the world, maybe I should just grow my fingernails out and take more visits to the candy store.  In the end, maybe that’s what counts the most.

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.

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