Sunday Post 29: The Loss of Innocence

I started a journal the week Lisa was diagnosed.  It will be a significant part of the book I’m slowly trying to piece together. 

I was reading through some of my entries recently and ran across this short paragraph dated 9/21/10:

It’s 11:36 pm – I was headed to the shower.  Got a glance of myself in the full length mirror.  Stopped.  Grabbed my journal.  Looking at myself, what do I see?  Who am I now?  Who am I becoming?  I see – greater strength than ever before, physically stronger – emotionally stronger; a man who looks every bit of his 45 years here on earth and that used to not be the case.  A man wearing an old pair of reading glasses found around the house – maybe my grandfather’s.  A hollowness deep in those big brown eyes; maturity and newfound wisdom; a lack of innocence; deeper creases surrounding the mouth.  Look deeper, deeper, what do you see?  Perhaps a stronger faith growing within.

The phrase that whacks me in the head as I look back on my writing is “a lack of innocence.”  Can a 40 plus year old man have an innocence about him?  I used to.

I was having a conversation with a friend this week and she said, “You lived a charmed life.”  She was right.  And I’d like that life back.

I had no idea how deeply someone could hurt.  I couldn’t comprehend loss or grief.  I didn’t know what it was like to truly be scared or anxious or to have a mind that raced so hard you could not stop it.

But accompanying this loss of innocence is a loss of judging others.  And perhaps it brings with it a deeper understanding and empathy for what people may be going through.

I didn’t mind being innocent.  It was kind of nice.  But maybe having to face the realization that life is tough has really made me a better person in some ways.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all gain that wisdom, that acceptance of others and desire to know what someone might be facing before making assumptions?  And wouldn’t it be nice to figure that out  without going through hell here on earth?

If I had it to do again, during my first forty years I think I’d try harder to love others for who they were and try more earnestly to understand them.  You never know the baggage people are carrying.  Circumstances can change folks; they certainly changed me.

Sunday Post 27: The Full Moon

I’m not sure why, but I was recently thinking about the people who helped shape my life.  Two years ago I started working with the kids at church on Sunday night.   I went into it with some hesitation.  Frankly, I thought it was going to be inconvenient.  But Lisa had worked with the kids at church for years and I sort of felt like it was my turn to  do something. 

Instead of inconvenience, what I found was that I really looked forward to spending time with these incredible youth.  I developed some great relationships with the kids and I loved it when they came up to me on Sunday mornings to give me a little grief!

I distinctly remember leaders at my home church taking the time to mentor me through some pretty tough years. 

 I once had a youth director at church named Doug.  I thought he was the coolest person I’d ever met.  One day my dad asked me why I’d taken a shower and yet my wash cloth was still dry.  “Doug told me he doesn’t use a wash cloth.  He just takes the soap and rubs it on.”  I’d changed my entire grooming habits based on a two-minute conversation with this man.  My dad was unimpressed.

I specifically recall one church trip in middle school.  Doug drove us to Camp Caraway somewhere in the middle of North Carolina.  Unfortunately, I’d just discovered mooning.  My buddies and I spent the entire weekend conniving on how we could moon the girls on the trip without being seen by an adult.  We stayed in a huge cabin with four large rooms that sprang out from the den.  On the front of this building was a very long porch.  After lunch that Saturday we heard Doug ask the leaders to stay at the dining room for a quick meeting.  I had the fellas hustle back to the cabin, rushing in front of the girls. 

When these unsuspecting gals walked up the path, they were greeted with 25 bare butted, raging hormonal, middle school boys.  We made sure they got a solid view of our tails and then celebrated our lunar victory for the next 24 hours. 

It was a lot of fun.  Until we got home and Margaret Sneedman told her uptight mother that we’d mooned people off the church bus on highway 421.  My father, being one of the ministers at the church failed to see the humor in our antics.  Doug, on the other hand, was pretty cool – another reason I loved the man.

I saw Lisa touch kids through  her work with the children’s choir at First Presbyterian.  One year when we were absent a children’s minister, she just decided to run the program herself.  She spent the entire year on Jonah – the culminating event was an hour long musical based on the whale tale. 

I can’t count the number of guys that Jesse influenced while working at Camp Sea Gull when he was younger.  I run into guys all the time who can still remember some of the incredibly funny things he did that made a huge impact in their lives.

I’m certain that most everyone has had people who invested in them when they were young.  Shoot, I still have folks helping me grow up.  I hope I can begin to give back a tiny fraction of what was given to me.  In twenty-five years, wouldn’t it be nice for someone to say, “That Danny Tanner sure was cool”?

Sunday Post 23: The Best Summer of Our Lives

I used to struggle to use all of my vacation days.  I guess you could say I was addicted to work.

It wasn’t that my employer didn’t encourage me to take my time – they were very supportive of me using my vacation days to recharge.  It was that I enjoyed what I did and was driven to do more.  I think I got a lot of strokes at work.  Having an incredible fiscal year or raising more money to help kids through the Y motivated me to do more. 

I remember working all weekend long and sometimes multiple weekends in a row.  It’s as if I thought things would fall apart if I wasn’t there.  How could they survive without my input?

What I gained at work, I probably lost at home.  Perhaps my overriding commitment to working harder put barriers between my children and me.  The truth was the more time I spent at work, the less time I spent with them.  And I know that I often put work before my marriage.  I’d work late or bring my computer to the bedroom.  Speaking from experience, that is not helpful in the romance department.

But over the years, I found myself spending less time in the office and more time with my family and friends.  I’ve seen the view from my office window 20,000 times.  I’ve only seen Old Faithful once.  I spend about ten days a year on the beach, I’d like to spend more.  Tonight I sat with some of my best friends in a backyard – just eating, laughing and talking.  What a beautiful, beautiful view.

The year Lisa was diagnosed with cancer, our family went to Disney World, Yellowstone, Topsail Beach, Lake Gaston and spent a romantic weekend in New Bern.  We sat on our screened in porch countless times and ate dinner with friends.  In August when our last summer vacation was complete, I said, “This was the best summer of our lives.”  That was two weeks before we found out she had stage 4 colon cancer.

It wasn’t the best summer because I’d spent more hours in the office or because I’d made more money.  It was the best summer because we’d spent time together – and with our family and friends.

I work hard.  I bring value to my job.  I enjoy what I do and I want to leave a strong legacy at the Y.  But more importantly, I want to make sure that when I die, whenever that may be, that the previous year has been the best of my life.

Sunday Post 20: Would you do it again?

Tonight as I was putting Stephanie to bed, and with tears in her eyes, she asked me, “Dad, if you had known that mom would get cancer and die, would you  have still married her?”

It’s interesting what the kids think about – especially at bedtime.  I wonder if she’s pondered that question before or if it just came to her tonight.

“That’s easy,” I replied – my eyes beginning to fill like hers.

“I would absolutely have married her even if I’d known she as going to die from cancer.  There are two reasons why.

First, your mom gave me the best 18 years of my life.  I would not trade those years for anything.  We laughed and had so much fun together.  And loved each other so much.  I’d never experienced that sort of love before.

Second, your mom and I had three amazing girls and you wouldn’t be our Stephanie if you weren’t made up of half me and half your mom.  You’re special because of the parts of us that make you up.  I wouldn’t trade you for anything.”

And my answer is true.  If given a choice – turn in the happy memories and be pain-free or keep the memories and suffer – I’d pick the latter any day.

Sunday Post 20: An Acre of Bed

Posted by Danny

I miss her the most at night.  I think that’s why I stay up so late.  I just can’t bring myself to go into that room and face the night alone.

When we added on to the house about five years ago, we were excited to build a new master bedroom.  It’s a nice room with built-in bookshelves and a large walk in closet.  Lisa got 2/3 for her clothes; I took what was left.  Most of her things are still there, although I moved them to the back so I could have the prime real estate.  Sometimes I’ll pull  out a dress I never really liked and put it on the dining room table.  When my parents come to town, they know to take those things with them.  I’m not sure where they go – not sure what they do with them.  Not sure I want to know.

I used to complain because she left a ton of clothes on the chair in the front of the closet by her dresses.  By the end of the week, it was like a Grand Garment Teton. 

Now I stack my clothes there.  Yes, Mr. Clean has his own Teton.  Maybe I just can’t stand the sight of the bottom of the chair.  I’d seldom seen it before.

After construction began on our addition, we walked in the uncompleted space and began to measure for our furniture.  Lisa said that she didnt’ think we’d ever be able to fit a king size bed in the new space and wondered if we should build out another four or five feet in case we decided to get a bigger bed.

“No” I insisted.  “I don’t want you that far away from me.  I like to hear you breathe.”

There’s no breath now.  The warmth of her body is gone.  Often I don’t even pull the covers back on that side of the bed – it’s more like a single that way.

I feel like I’m sleeping on an acre of land –

She is so far away. 

Hold your spouse tonight.  Listen to her breath.  Snuggle.  Revel in your cramped quarters. 

Take advantage of every second you have together.

Sunday Post 19: What do you say?

I have often had people ask me what words were most helpful to me as I was going through the most intense times in my grief.  I hear that each person grieves differently, so what might be comforting for me, may not be for others.  I’d also like to stress that no matter what was said, the fact that people were writing, calling or dropping by our house was incredibly helpful to me.  Even if they didn’t know what to say or even if they said “the wrong thing”, I felt loved and supported by all.  And I read each card, word by word.  It took me months, but the messages each hit me in a significant way.

Suggestions on what not to say:

  • “This is God’s plan.” – It may very well  be, but His plan sucks right now.  And I don’t understand it.  And I’m not convinced maybe He didn’t accidentally take the wrong person – maybe an angel is being fired or something due to this HUGE mistake.  So…save the discussions about God’s plan for a year or two down the road when the griever can see that life can and must go on.
  • “Don’t question what God has shown you.” – That may work for some.  For me, God had some explaining to do.  And when I get to heaven (some of my closest friends might say if, not when), I fully expect a face to face with a step by step outline of His rationale.  Folks going through grief deserve to question – give them that chance.  Don’t make them feel less Christian by making them feel that asking is inappropriate or shows a lack of faith.  As I’ve said before, I think God wants us to question.  I’ve felt closest to Him when I’ve honestly put it to Him.
  • “May God continue to bless you has He has over the past six months.” – Really?  You consider discovering cancer, struggling through the battle with a horrible death a blessing?  If that’s the case, how ’bout He blesses you a while and gives me a break.  Yes, God has definitely been with me and my family over the past year.  And yes, I still have a number of blessings.  But in the thick of things, not feeling those.  Remind me of all that I have a few months down the road when I’ve felt sorry for myself too long and need a good kick in the butt.
  • She’s in a better place. – She may be, but I am not.  I’ve explained “The Hawaii Theory” which supports the she’s better off notion.  But our house and family were a pretty good place here on earth.  The griever needs to say that first, and if they do feel free to jump right in a support that line of thought.

Here are a few excerpts from notes that really meant a lot to me.  This one was written to my girls:

Dear DJ, Stephanie, and Michelle,

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.  I have no doubt that each of you has the best parts of her to now carry on.

This sorority sister of Lisa’s, who I don’t even know, was brave enough to share a special memory of Lisa.  And she captured one of Lisa’s greatest gifts and shared her remembrance with my girls.  It meant a lot and I’ll make them read it again in ten years.

Here is another really neat way to approach grief:

It’s hard to know what to say as I’m sure your pain is very raw and anything I write is not going to heal you. 

Admit you don’t know how to help.  Don’t try to provide answers, there are none.  Another acquaintance simply shared “I want you to know that we care.” 

And this one was perhaps one of the most meaningful message of all.  It was from a pastor’s wife – one who admitted that she too was hurting and did not understand:

Yesterday morning I came home from sharing coffee with friends, only to learn of Lisa’s death.

I have no words.  I am truly sad.  The questions that rise up, the sense of unfairness, the lack of understanding – all these remain, at least for me. 

If  a minister’s wife has questions, if she feels a sense of unfairness, maybe it’s ok for me to feel that way too.

Finally, I spoke briefly at the start of a road race last year in Lisa’s memory.  The proceeds from the race were going to Duke for colon cancer research.  I said to the crowd of 1,000 – “What happened to my wife is unacceptable.  We must do something about this.”

A friend followed up and said she was proud of me and specifically cited several of the comments I shared that touched her.  I think part of the reason I’ve been able to handle this emotional load is that there are so many people out there encouraging me and lifting me up in prayer.  That is really important for my healing.

And above all, just do something to let the family feel your love.

And by the way, if you ever know of someone who is struggling with loss and you think I can help in any way, please let me know.  I’m certainly no expert and am still in my journey, but I’m eager to help as others have helped me.

Sunday Post 18: No Ketchup?

On our cruise two weeks ago our ship stopped in Haiti.  It wasn’t the Haiti I pictured in my mind.

The vessel pulled up to a brand new doc on an private beach on the Nortern Side of the Island.  As we meandered down the pier I fully expected Mr. Roarke and Tattoo to greet us with a lei and a mixed drink.

The beaches were white, the water was clear.  There was parasailing, a huge zip line, a market that was clean and well-kept.  Our kids spent an hour in the lagoon climbing up gigantic blow up slides and trampolines.  The grown ups lay single file on comfy beach chairs that were arranged by locals on staff.  We gave them a couple of dollars for their assistance.

At lunch, we stood in line for a Royal Caribbean feast:  grilled chicken, hamburgers on fresh made bread, several salads and corn on the cob.  All was good… until they ran out of ketchup.  How can you serve a hamburger with no ketchup?  As many times as they’ve served this meal over the past year, certainly they have a good read on how many packets of ketchup they need to serve the passengers.  Needless to say, I was annoyed.

I stood and waited – for ten or more minutes.

“It’s coming sir,” they promised.

“This is ridiculous,” I murmured under my breath.

This was ruining my lunch – I couldn’t believe they didn’t have ketchup.

Finally a brave gentleman stepped in front of the buffet line.

“We are out of ketchup.  I am very sorry.”

Unbelievable.  UN-BE-LIEVABLE!

I went to join the rest of our group.  I wasn’t the only one who craved the condiment, but clearly I was the most upset.

I had started on my oriental salad when Michelle walked over.

“Dad, do you see that boy over there?”

“Where?”

“He’s on the other side of the fence.  Why is he waving a plate in the air?”

I glanced up, intending to take only a slight break from my chicken.  About 100 yards away stood a dark-skinned boy, he looked about 8.  He was Michelle’s size. 

Royal Caribbean had done a good job of hiding the fencing and barbed wire that kept him out.  It was painted dark green and there was a large barricade and a paved road between the shelter where we sat and the 8 foot high fence.

As I froze and watched, this boy lifted his shirt and began rubbing his stomach with his right hand, his left still waving the plate in the air.

“Daddy, I think he’s hungry.  We need to help him.  Can I give him my food?”  Michelle was visible concerned, her eyes big – her desire to help immense.  But there wasn’t a way – the barricade too thick, a security guard policing the area.

He’d have been satisfied with a ketchupless hamburger.  Why wasn’t I?

Sunday Post 17: Our Mothers

When you have a significant loss, it takes a village to fill the gaps.  Happy Mother’s Day to all of our “moms”!

  • To Doctor Walker who gives dad guidance on our physical ailments without a Blue Cross Blue Shield copay.
  • To Darcy who served as DJ’s Elder Sponsor at church this year.
  • To Aunt Susan who reads our blog daily and leaves encouraging comments for dad.
  • To Mrs. Horton who takes care of Michelle EVERY Monday and guides dad on clothes purchases to keep us in style.
  • To Mrs. Strickland who picks us up from afterschool, coordinates DJ’s National Charity League events, and teaches us how to water ski.
  • To Mrs. Dixon who dad can call and invite us over on a Saturday night when he’s a little bit down.
  • To Aunt Sallie who’s moving all the way from Boston to live near us and help be our other mother.
  • To Mrs. Vebber who has so much style and is an encourager for our family – especially dad.  She’s says we’ll be ok.
  • To Mrs. Bond who has us over to dinner and who our dad can call for absolutely anything – from needing a kid picked up and fed to bragging about his accomplishments at work.
  • To Mrs. Thompson who brings us food every single month.
  • To Mrs. Fields our chauffeur AND piano teacher.
  • To Mrs. Bilodeau who helps us finish our homework afterschool and brings us cool dresses when they get too small for Davis Ann.
  • To Mrs. Todd, our snack provider and office buddy.
  • To Ms. Kirstie, the best and most encouraging dance teacher in the free world.
  • To Mrs. Gwaltney who is always available to bring DJ home on Tuesdays, even at the very last-minute.
  • To Mrs. Sanders who brings Michelle lunch for a special treat and sometimes home for a playdate.
  • To Mrs. Balentine, DJ’s special bud.
  • To Charlotte, Francie, Kim and Susan who remember our birthdays with a card in the mail and who took dad on college friends’ “girls weekend” last year!
  • To Beth and Sarah who take care of us, ALL of us, at church.
  • To Mrs. Carmichael who helps to remind dad about stuff that he should be doing.
  • To Mae, with her 70-year-old, 5 foot and 1/2 inch self, who washes 10 loads of laundry every other Tuesday and sews our Y Indian Princess patches on our vests.
  • And to Nana – who picks us up every Thursday, also does a mountain of laundry, takes us shopping and last week to get shots (now that’s a good mother).

We miss you  mom, but you left us in good hands.

Sunday Post 16: My Grandad, Spurgeon

DJ had to present her faith statement to the Session at church tonight.  I’m an Elder at First Pres. and had the priviledge of hearing kids share what they believe in years past.  It’s pretty powerful.

Last week, DJ and I spent some time discussing what she believes so that she’d be prepared for this important event.

As we talked, I began to think about what and who shaped my faith.

Being the kid of a preacher, I was at church more than not.  One Sunday when I was about 4, my grandparents were in town and offered to let me stay home with them instead of the usual routine of Sunday School and sleeping on my mother’s lap through the service.  My parents didn’t like the stay at home option.  Apparently when told I’d be heading with them, I stomped my foot and said, “Church, church, all I do is church!”

My preacher today wishes my attendance was such that I would have the right to say that now!

There were incredible people who molded my beliefs.  Some by making me run in a different direction!  Some simply through their actions. 

My grandfather, Spurgeon (if only I’d had a son to pass that name down to) or as we called him Papa, was a key to showing me, through action, what being a Godly man is all about.

At 9 pm sharp, in the middle of The Love Boat or any other show we might be watching, he would barge into the den reading passages from the bible out loud and would continue until my grandmother demanded he stop.  He seldom missed church and had a blind faith in the God he’d been taught to obey. 

He ran a small grocery store most of his life and fought hard not to open on Sundays when everyone else in town had made that move.  He refused to sell alcohol, which would have been lucrative business for him.  He sang hymns all the time and prayed before every meal.  I can see his unsteady hands and head, victims of Parkinson’s disease, bobbling as he bowed out of respect.

I think the greatest lesson he taught me was to be loving and kind to others.  Although he didn’t have a ton of money, if anyone came into his store hungry or in need, he would give them what they needed, sometimes to my grandmother’s dismay.  And he loved people.  Those who drove the rest of us crazy – and there were some interesting characters who frequented his establishment – he embraced.

He was a very, very good man.

I’m not sure that my actions are always consistent with the teachings of the bible or even with my own words at times.  I’m certainly not walking around the house singing hymns and I don’t often interrupt American Idol to read passages from the book of Isaiah.  I’m also not nearly as good as Papa at embracing those who are different from me.

I’m proud of my daughter and of the young woman she’s becoming.  And I am thankful for the community that surrounds her helping me teach the things that my family so diligently worked to teach me.

Sunday Post 15: The Hawaii Theory

In January 2010, a month or so before Lisa died, I was trying to figure out how God would allow this to happen.  I firmly believed that He had the power to step in and save her.  As I tried hard to wrap some logic around the fact that my wife would likely die prematurely  from this horrible disease, several senarios came to mind.  One I called the Hawaii Theory.

I imagined that I walked into our house and announced to the family that I had booked a surprise trip to Hawaii.  We’d be heading out the following week and were going to spend 10 days in paradise.  Everyone was excited at first and then DJ said, “Dad, does that mean I’m going to miss the school dance next Friday?”

“Oh, yeah – you probably will,” I replied.

“Then I’m not going to Hawaii!  I want to stay here.”

“Honey, I’ve paid for this trip!  It’s Hawaii!!!  We’re going to have a great time.”

“You are so mean dad!  You can’t make me go.  I really want to go to the dance.  All of my friends will be there.  Hawaii is stupid.  I DON’T want to go!”

“I’m taking your butt to Hawaii and you’re calling me mean? This is crazy!.”

DJ calls her friends,  “My dad is making me go to Hawaii – he calls it paradise, with the family and now I’m going to miss the dance.”  They all concur that I’m an unreasonable jerk.

But – I make her go.  And, she has a GREAT time.  She meets new friends and she even admits it is the most beautiful place she’s ever been.  

Her friends all go to the dance, and although they miss DJ, they end up having a pretty good time without her.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this is what happened with Lisa.  God, the dad, taking her to a place so much better than she, or we, could ever imagine.  Us, the friends, so ticked at Him for not allowing her to go to the dance with us.  But, in the end, she gets to be somewhere that is so much better than where we are.  And the neat thing is that one day we get to join her.

As I think of the incredible sacrifice God made at Easter, as difficult as it was to see His son suffer, perhaps He knew that they would end up together – in the most beautiful place ever.  A place that we can’t comprehend –

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