Mom and Dad after we found out that he was “in the clear” back in 2012
For all of my life, I’ve been familiar with death. Since I was young, I’ve endured loss, and was familiar with the loss of those who passed before I was born. I would hear my mom speak of her late Brother in Law and her five year old Niece, and then when I was 7, I would lose my Uncle, followed by my Great Grandfather, and then my Great Grandmother. Then would come my Great Auntie Kay, my sister would lose her childhood friend, I would lose two friends in high school, my parents would lose two friends of their own.. you get the idea.
My point is that loss isn’t unfamiliar territory to me. I’m actually incredibly grateful that my family is so open about the topic, because for my entire life, it’s never been taboo – and I think that’s incredibly powerful and important. It’s a part of life, as is grief – but here’s the thing:
Nothing prepares you for the loss or the grief that comes from losing a parent. Especially at a young age.
I (thankfully) can’t speak on losing a sibling or a child, I can only speak from what I know. And what I know is that when half of your makeup vanishes from the Earth, it’s fucking weird. You know when parent’s say that when their child walks out the door it’s like their heart is walking outside of their body? When your parent dies, it feels like half of you just vanished along with them. That’s the best way that I can explain it. Therein lies the void that everyone talks about.
Today marks 5 years since my dad passed away. At this time, while I write this (it’s 11:31 am) and I try to picture what I was doing in this moment while we were at my parent’s house in Florida. My dad in his hospice bed in the living room overlooking the pool and the outdoors – his favorite. Jasper laying across his legs. He was still awake, blinking and tears streaming down his face from time to time. We were reading to him, consistently keeping up with his morphine drip, everyone at least 10 pounds lighter from stress and lack of sleep, our main priority being to keep him out of pain, which was a challenge.
Feeding him prior to his hospice bed arriving
Later that evening, on this day, my sister Britt and I would be sitting next to him on the left side of his bed. He was on his side, looking right at the both of us. My left hand wrapped in his, my right hand stroking his hair and his face, Britt’s hands wrapped over his arm and his waist. Both of us wrapping him up in every morsel of love that we could freely give… which was was all of it. I was all consumed in my dad’s life, and somehow, still clinging on to hope that he would absolutely reemerge from this transition and surprise us all once again – like he had in the past. How could he not? Damn the hospice nurses who told us this was it. Miracles happen every day.
But we didn’t get our miracle.
Britt and I watched as he was there one moment, took a sharp breath in, and a long exhale out. We watched as his eyes changed from soul-full, to soul-less. It was the most traumatic, yet beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a major part of my PTSD when it comes to his death, and the one thing I will probably have to go to therapy for forever, but I also hold it close – as an honor, that he felt held enough to let go in that moment. It will haunt me and leave me feeling privileged all in one for the rest of my life.
As the years pass by, I gather more and more from what that unexpected week did to my life; what the actual death of my dad has taught me. So I thought I would share some of those things that I’ve collected over the last 5 years.
What My Dad’s Death Taught Me About Living
• That we are all souls, not bodies.
I sort of always hoped this were true – that we weren’t actually our bodies, but until I watched my dad pass away, I wasn’t fully convinced. The transition that happens – the disappearance of a human life – their energy, their personality, their presence.. how powerful of a shift it is from full to empty. It just can’t be explained another way. His soul had left his body, and what was left was nothing but recognizable shell.
It’s like the C.S Lewis quote says: “You don’t have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body.”
• That what we say, matters.
Now that my dad is gone, the things that linger are sayings that the would repeat – like “think big, be big” and “I love you so” or “I love you more than me”, and a personal favorite: “everyone is the most important person in someone’s life – they deserve to be treated that way”. What you say, matters. People will remember. I know there’s the old saying of “people may not remember what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel” – it’s true in some circumstances I suppose.. but I firmly believe that those who leave an impact, you remember word for word. You archive it.
Some of us even get it tattooed on our arm.
• That love is the most powerful tool we have.
When my dad was diagnosed, and we were getting the scoop on how chemotherapy and radiation would work, I remember the nurses always saying that love and laughter were the best medicine to get them through. I thought it was kind of hokey, but I think we can all agree that a heavy dose of both of those things can feed the soul with some really good stuff. As he got treatment for the next 3 years of his life, this could not have been more true. My dad was a super rare case, and they would always tell us: he’s thriving because of the amount of love he has in his life. My dad used to refer to us as “his army of angels.”
I also attribute this to when he was passing away and my oldest sister had to get her boys back to Chicago for finals. My nephews said their goodbyes, and Shannon told him she would be back. He held on until she returned, and passed away shortly there after. I like to think that he wasn’t going to leave without all of us under the same roof, with him, together. Love.
• That you can’t buy time, but you can add value.
While my dad died at the young age of 63, it’s incredible what he created and the mark and the impact that he left in that short time. He had four girls, he married his best friend, he was a Golden Glove boxer and an alternate for the Olympics, he was stationed in Germany for the army, he (and my mom) built a successful business out of thin air, he knew every single one of his employee’s names.. all 200+ of them, plus there kids and their grandkids, he supported everyone in his life without hesitation, and he gave the most incredible impromptu toasts whenever he felt inspired, which was often. He wasn’t here nearly long enough, but the legacy he left behind was invaluable.
A quick story: after my dad’s memorial service, one of his former employees came up to me and introduced himself. He was crying, and he said: “I have daughters at home. I just want to say that I hope my girls love me as much as you love him. After witnessing this, I can’t wait to go home and be a better father.” The way my dad lived his life, added immense value to his children’s lives, which led to this man wanting to go home and add more value to his children’s lives.. and it goes full circle.
• That life is all about connection.
At the end of the day, what it comes down to is connection and relationships. The one that we have with others and especially the one that we have with ourselves. What are we projecting into the world? I know for me, personally, ever since my dad passed away I’ve been on this mission to lessen the grip on taboo subjects that hinder people from ever being able to fully heal or own their wounds and their pain. The only way to do that is to connect to the raw human experience. By connecting, we’re relating. And when we relate, we remind each other again and again – that we’re not in any of this alone.
How comforting is that?1