The Deep Dark Rabbit Hole

I was listening to a podcast tonight.  A friend sent me the link four months ago.  It sort of got lost in my inbox.

It was about a woman who had been through the same sort of tragedy as I.  Her husband died two and a half years ago.

She said some really good stuff.

She talked about the fact that she was a perky, positive, happy person before her husband passed away.  The interviewer asked her if she lost that.  She said, “No.  I have it.  I just continually walk by this deep, dark rabbit hole that I know I can fall into at any given time.  But when I do, I climb to the top and someone grabs my hand and pulls me back out.”  She talked about how before she avoided boredom and sadness and anxiety, that she spent her life running from those things.  And now, she embraces those emotions.  That she now understands that those emotions allow her to live a more full life, to be more understanding and compassionate than she ever thought she could be.  She sort of implied that the harder emotions compliment the happier ones.

She described how her life has taken a disastrous, tragic, beautiful turn.  How contradictory.  Can sadness really bring about beauty, strength and fulfillment?  Isn’t it supposed to break you down?  Isn’t it, by nature, the killer of joy?

If done right, I believe that going through massive loss, heart wrenching grief can give you insights, can help you view life, can help you personally grow in ways that you never  could have before.  In so many ways, like the interviewee, I am unrecognizable to myself.  I am not the same man who lost his wife five years ago.  I feel more deeply, the bad AND the good.  I have more hope for what lies ahead, in this life and the next.  I am less uptight and fearful about the future.

Utter sadness and despair is awful.  It hurts like hell.  It can take you to some very dark places.  And then, after the worst is over, it can turn you into something whole.  Something that is deeper and richer than you could possibly have been without it.

Top Ten Things I Learned on Sp

Miami Family

Number 10:  Don’t make spring break plans with a 17-year-old.

So, DJ had spring break plans well in advance of spring break.  But then they feel apart, or they seemingly fell apart.  So she reluctantly agreed to go with her sisters and me to Miami.  And then the day AFTER I booked the plane tickets, three weeks before spring break, her plans resolitified.  Errr.  Naturally, she worked it out so she could do both as she is the master of not missing anything.  Especially things that are free for her.

Number 9:  There’s lots of fanny in the City of Miami.  (How do you try that little booger on at the store?  Do you just buy it and hope it fits?  Or do you actually put it on and return it to the rack if it isn’t flattering? By the way, it isn’t flattering.)

butt

Number 8:  All three of my daughters can change into a bikini without ever being naked.  It’s like Houdini.

Number 7:  Sometimes it’s the kids who tell the parent to turn off the TV.  We didn’t turn it on once on the trip, and we put our phones in the middle of the table when eating out; both suggestions from my children.

Number 6:  It is conceivable to go broke buying virgin daiquiris.

Number 5:  A nice Jacuzzi in a hotel room is a lot more fun with your wife than your kids.

Number 4:  Some people put their bathing suits through their paper shredder.  I’m not sure why.

shredded

Number 3:  When you have a family text message, watch out what you write, especially if Michelle is in your family.

Text from dad while riding in the front seat of a taxi to his daughters in the backseat:

This cab driver has the coolest name I’ve ever heard, Axel Bucheaux.

Loudly from Michelle:  “Who the heck is Ax-L Boo-shocks?”

Number 2:  Some Speedos should not be worn by some men.

Number 1:  Three days away with your kids is INCREDIBLE!

Quick Change

black sabbath

It was like a Laurel and Hardy film.  Slapstick.  Lucy and Ethel.

Last Wednesday I woke the girls up as I normally do.  They don’t like fanfare.  I simply go into the room, turn on one lamp and yell out some silly, made up gibberish, “Boodi boodi,” or “Ep non duppi duppi,” or whatever combobulation of syllables happen to enter into my head at the gosh awful hour of 6:30 AM.  I am incapable of forming coherent sentences before 8 AM and even then I’m slow.

On this particular day, DJ fell back asleep.  I didn’t realize it until she darted by the kitchen bar at 7:43 with the crease of her pillowcase still embedded on her left cheek.  She was dressed in the same clothes she was wearing the night before when I last saw her – light gray yoga pants and a pink t-shirt.

Apparently, not long after she got to school she remembered she was to stand up in front of a group of people for some presentation.  She was specifically told she should wear something nice, and not have dried droll on her face.

Pondering her options, she walked into her student government adviser’s office and noticed an open Fed Ex package on the table.  It was an off white dress with bright birds printed all over.  This teacher is a bird nut, and DJ had found the dress online and suggested her favorite teacher make the purchase, “It looks just like you!”  The teacher had indeed followed her suggestion and ordered the item.  Unfortunately it did not fit, so she had it on her desk as a reminder to toss it back in the mail.

DJ grabbed it and headed to the bathroom.  It was an inexpensive outfit, DJ figured she could pay her back.  Unfortunately, it was awfully short on my 5’8″ daughter, more blouse, less dress.

Being an all-girls boarding school, she ran to a friend’s dorm room and nabbed a pair of tights to help cover her booty.

DJ’s car is similar to a Wal-Mart.  Along with cheese puffs, there are a plethora of shoes to choose from.

As she headed into her important meeting, she got a text, from Stephanie.

I forgot to dress up today!  I’m supposed to eat lunch with an important man who supports the school.  Do you have any clothes in your car?

DJ responded.

Meet me in the bathroom after 4th period.  Find some shoes.

Stephanie did.

At noon, DJ entered the bathroom in the bird dress, and Stephanie entered in sweats.  Three minutes later, DJ came out in Stephanie’s pullover; Stephanie was in the fowl frock.

One girl stopped Stephanie, “Did you and your sister wear the same dress today?”

When lunch ended, they met again to return all items to their rightful owners.

My brother and I didn’t enjoy this sort of wardrobe co-opt.  I was in a collard Izod; he was in a  Black Sabbath tee.  Neither appropriate for an all girls leadership event!

Another Hot Rod Tanner

wheres-the-beef

I remember it being a bit traumatic when DJ got her license.  She drove so slow and so close to the right side of the road that I considered getting a second job as a mailman.  Sitting on the passenger side of the car, I could have easily delivered the mail on our route to school, church or the grocery store.  It would have given me something to focus on other than just how quickly I might die.

Now, it has come time for my second daughter to drive.  Yes, Stephanie, all 5’1” of her, is taking Driver’s Ed.  Whew!  Perhaps even scarier than the first.

Although I have yet to warn my coworkers, we have spent some time practicing in my office parking lot.  I can’t think of anyone I’d like to take out at the current moment, but I’d suggest any of you fellow Y employees reading this be kind to me.  We’ve only practiced on weekends when those dudes in the office down the hall are the only ones still at work.  The ones who invented steel kidneys, or some medical miracle, and who are making a bazillion dollars a year.  But if you miff me, I might put her behind the wheel at 5 PM on a Monday when you’re scurrying to your car.

Other than working to help her remember the difference between drive and reverse – she’s going to have to master that – my biggest concern is how close she has to pull the seat up to get to the steering wheel.

When Stephanie gets in the driver’s seat that I’ve been occupying, it looks like a three-year-old who puts on her 6-foot-four father’s business suit.  She can’t even reach the gas pedal.

She proceeds to use the automatic adjustments to raise the seat to maximum height and shift it forward until you can’t fit a baseball between her chest and the steering wheel.  Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, at 7’ 2”, would have plenty of leg room sitting behind her in the backseat of my 2007 Acura MDX.

She kinda reminds me of the Where’s the Beef lady from the 1980’s Wendy’s commercials, or my mother.  All petite.  All requiring me to contort myself when entering an automobile after they’ve driven.

Stephanie will whip around the parking lot and then jump out of the car leaving me to readjust the seat when I take back over.  I try to squeeze in, my head touching the sunroof and my knees tickling my ear lobes.  It’s kinda like leaving the toilet seat up.  Geeze.

Oh well, I guess it’s inevitable, we’re going to be on the road soon.  So be on the lookout for a silver SUV with Rhea Pearlman behind the wheel and a very anxious father on the passenger side.  Rest assured, I’ll make sure the car’s in drive before hitting the highway.

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.

91 Useless Hours

 

gossip_girl_poster1

I am done.  I’m moving to Florida.

Can you imagine living in Boston?  I mean, why, why, why would you choose to spend your life, or even 45 minutes, in a place that feels like the Siberian Tundra?

Over the past three weeks, my children have missed more school than they’ve attended due to inclement weather, and they have also watched more TV than imaginable.

As busy as my oldest daughter seems to be, we recently calculated the number of hours she has spent watching the TV series Gossip Girls over the past few weeks.  I believe it to be about 91.  NINETY-ONE hours.

Can you imagine what could be accomplished in that amount of time?

Extreme Home Makeover could do an overhaul of your entire home, demolish and rebuild, in 91 hours.  You could fly around the world in a Boeing 747, TWICE, and have enough time leftover to play a round of golf.  If she moved quickly, 91 hours might even be enough time for DJ to fully clean up her room.  Well, the way it looks today, that might be pushing it.

DJ, Stephanie and Michelle don’t just watch a single show.  No, all three log-on to Netflix and watch television series.  Like from show 1 to show 200 – or more!  Michelle is addicted to Gilmore Girls.  Both of her sisters have completed that epic and have moved on to others.

They are now asking me to upgrade our Netflix account so that more people in the family can watch different shows at one time.

Guess what?  That ain’t happening.

Well, unless all four of us get trapped in this house for another 24 hour period.  Come to think of it, Netflix may be the only reason someone in this foursome is not dead yet.

 

Building Character, One Ugly Car at at Time

Subaru

Thankfully, but not surprisingly, DJ has been accepted into several institutes of higher learning.  She is waiting on two more replies and waiting on financial assistance packages.  Her wise father has communicated that he will NOT pay $60,000 for a private school when she could get an equally good education for $20,000.

We’re taking bets.  These are her current options:

UNC, NC State (Go Pack!), Furman, University of South Carolina, and Elon.  Still haven’t heard back from American and George Washington.

I will have to say DJ is a fairly strong writer, but even with her talents, writing ions of essays was a struggle.  I was the proofer, for grammar and spelling.  I didn’t write the dang things and yet I thought if she sent me one more to wade through i was gonna bust a nugget.

Thought I’d share my favorite:

I have a twin. Well, not like a biological twin. This twin does not look like me. This twin does not have the exact same birthday as me either. We were both born, or created, in 1997.  That’s as far as the physical resemblance goes. I have a 1997 green Subaru station wagon. It is the ugliest thing I have ever seen, and yet it has become a part of me and my high school career. My Subaru defines me, sort of.

 The car has been in my family for many years. My grandmother bought it brand new and drove it for many of her middle aged years. It was then passed on to my aunt who drove it from Boston, MA, to Raleigh, NC, on a regular basis. Then, it was my turn. I begged my dad to trade in the car for another one. I offered to help pay for a newer vehicle with the babysitting money I’d been saving since 6th grade.  He refused promising it would “build character.” At first I was beyond embarrassed to be seen anywhere in the trash can on wheels.  But the more I drove it, the more I realized that with the right attitude this car could be the coolest in the St. Mary’s School parking lot. I began to joke around calling the car my “baby,” or my “twin,” or the “soobs.” My friends soon caught on, and in short time I had taken a disaster and created a masterpiece.

 On the first day of eleventh grade, I drove to school and parked next to all of the shiny convertibles, jeeps, and SUVs. Instead of feeling like I messed up the status quo, I thought, “their cars don’t stand a chance.” Everyone that passed by marveled at the “soob,” as if it had been transformed into a corvette.  But it wasn’t the car that had been transformed, it was my attitude.

When I acted like the Subaru was a gem, so did everyone else. It became the car my friends and I drove to our late night runs to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, even when there were other wheels available with better speakers, seat warmers, and sunroofs. Rarely do I admit that my father is right, but having that car did build character. It also built friendships, inside jokes, memories, and of course some great Instagram pictures as we posed goofily on its roof.

 I have learned so much about myself from that little car.  I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Although she has already started complaining, in just a year or two, it will be my turn to pass down the good ole’ Subaru to my little sister.  I predict she will learn just as much from my baby as I did.   She’ll learn that material items aren’t everything and that your cool comes from within.

 You grow up in many ways.  In my family, one rite of passage is driving my grandmother’s old car.  My aunt got through it as have I. I hope that my two younger sisters get as much enjoyment and grow as much from the experience of driving the “soob” as I have.

 

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.

Who Is To Blame?

frustrated-customer

I left Time Warner last summer because that company is run by Satan’s angels.  When I tried to sever ties with them, they would not let me go.  It was like Jim Jones in Guyana.  When they offered me Kool-aid to stay, I ran… hard and fast.

After weeks of trying to break free, Beelzebub told me I would receive a refund of $240.  When the check came for only $170 I was frustrated.  After four, hour-plus long phone calls and me repeating my story, time and time again, I gave up.

“Moe, the last customer service representative I talked to, told me I would get $240.  On October, 16, at 10:37 PM, Larry, the one before Moe,told me the same thing. Curly, are telling me you don’t owe me the money???”

“Yes.  We do not owe you that money.  We owed you $170 and it is paid.”

“Why did Moe and Larry both tell me the check would be for $270?”

“I do not know.  They were wrong.”

“You record these conversations don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“I want you to go back in your recordings and listen to my phone calls with Moe and Larry!  Do it!  Now!”

“Those are for internal use only.”

“Then internally listen!!!”

At the end of that conversation, I decided one of three things was going to happen:

1)  I was going to kill someone

2)  I was going to have a stroke, heart attack or aneurysm and die myself

3)  I was going to have to give up and take up meditation

I chose number 3 primarily because I have a full-time job and had to work instead of answering questions with the automated attendance just to be re-asked the same questions repeatedly by the customer service agent.

I switched to AT&T last summer.  It had nothing to do with the 24-year-old blonde door to door saleswoman with the light pink low-cut t-shirt who sat with me on my front porch sipping lemonade and discussing my frustrations with Time Warner.  Delilah convinced me that her company, AT&T, would be better – we slit our arms and pressed our blood together.  She was my savior.  She had come to set me free.

For the first 30 days AT&T and I lived in pure harmony.  My internet worked without disruption.  My cable never failed, and I had HBO – not just for a free 30 day trial, but, for LIFE!  And for less money.

Every time I turned on my Insignia I thought of Delilah.  She peppered my nightly dreams, like a spirited fairy.

And then, my phone line began to go out.  No dial tone.  Dead.

I’d call, patiently wading through the automated voice system.

Please describe in a few words why you’re calling.  You can use terms like, “technical assistance or account information.”

The first ten calls I was patient.  “Technical assistance,” I kindly uttered.

Is the problem with your cable, phone, internet or all of your services?

“My phone.”

Is the problem happening all the time?

“Yes.  It is happening all of the time.”

AT&T sent servicemen to my house three different times.  Finally, Steve decided that is was not AT&T’s fault, it was ADT’s fault, my alarm company.

I called ADT.  They told me it was not their fault.  They said It was AT&T’s fault.

I decided to bring the two together to solve our problem, like sorting out problems with my kids.

I called ADT to set a collaborative meeting at my house.  They were good for Thursday evening.

I called AT&T.  They could not come on Thursday evening.  They could come on Monday evening.

I called ADT back.  They told me they could not do Monday evening because they did not have evening appointments.  I told them that I had scheduled an evening appointment five days earlier.  They assured me that they never had evening appointments.

“But you did last week!  I had an appointment scheduled for Thursday evening?  Now you are telling me you don’t have evening hours?”

“Yes.  We do not have evening hours.”

“But you did last week.  Did you change your policy this week?”

“Sir, we do not offer evening hours in your zip code.”

“BUT YOU DID LAST WEEK!  I HAVE NOT MOVED!  MY ZIP CODE HAS NOT CHANGED!!”

We finally agreed on Saturday.  Both could come between 8 AM and noon.

AT&T came at 8.  They blamed ADT.

ADT showed up at noon.  They blamed AT&T.

The ADT guy is tied to a chair in my basement.  I am going to feed him and allow him bathroom breaks every six hours.  But his ass is not leaving my house until the AT&T guy comes back.  We will resolve this problem.

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