50 Shades of Grief

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It’s the most wonderful, bittersweet time of year again.  The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. Everyone is making their lists and checking them twice.  This is the time of year that we surround ourselves with friends and families partaking in joyous celebrations. But for those of us who are grieving, our emotions are magnified.

 

You want to be jolly, but there is another part of you that is drowning in massive waves of grief.  Grief can be debilitating, especially this time of year.  For so many, the holidays become a painful reminder that someone we love is gone forever.

There is nothing holly or jolly about grief.  There are no Christmas grief carols.  My words are meaningless and annoying to countless individuals.  Many readers will probably scroll past this article and roll their eyes at another depressing story clogging their newsfeed during the most wonderful time of the year. This article will be passed for the new invisible box challenge, their Elf on the shelf being silly taking shots of fireball, some new weight loss craze, anything but grief.  Many readers will scroll past it until they face a holiday season alone, and when that happens they will desperately want to know if what they are feeling is normal.

Grief makes non grievers uncomfortable because it forces everyone to think about their own mortality. Holiday grief is downright annoying for non grievers, because death puts a real damper on anything holly and jolly.  It is easier to ignore the grieving this time of year and tell them they should be “over it” by now.

Burying your emotions with the dead is not only wrong, it is unhealthy.  Christmas is the season to rejoice and for someone grieving sharing warm memories of their beloved brings a tremendous sense of comfort.  The greatest gift you can give a grieving person is to let them know that they can cry on your shoulder and not be embarrassed to unveil their many shades of grief.  An even greater gift is to hold their hand, listen and shed tears with them over their loss.  This simple gesture shows your friend that they are not alone in missing their person of significance.

This is my second Christmas without my Dad and I’m here to tell you society has no clue on how to handle grievers and it is even worse during the holidays.

Death will change and rearrange your holiday card list.

You will see people for their true colors after a death.  You will experience fair weathered friends, selfish friends, friends who are extremely uncomfortable by your grief, clueless friends and those who are just not ready to comprehend the gravity of your loss.  But that’s okay because you will make new friends, relationships will strengthen and you will be awed by how loyal and loving some people can be.

Humanity will constantly surprise you as you walk your grief journey.

You are expected to mourn the first few days, maybe weeks then move on.  There is no place for the dead at Christmas dinner so please bury the dead forever.  Do not, I repeat do NOT say their name.  After the first year it makes others uncomfortable if you continue to say their name, so just don’t do it.

WRONG! 

Don’t just say their name; scream their name from the rooftops if you must.  It is not only okay to say their name, it is normal and healthy.

The reality is that each and every one of us will endure some form of loss in our lifetime.  It’s going to hurt, it’s going to bring you to your knees and it’s going to change you in some way, shape or form.  You will lose friends, but you will make friends.

Grief is that ugly sweater Aunt Carol gives you every Christmas.  Grief is messy, complicated and comes in all different shades.  If you are like me, you start out your grief journey walking around in a thick fog, numb and confused.  As time goes on reality sets in that your person of significance is gone forever.  An agonizing anticipation that your person is missing now accompanies the best of times.  Simply put, there are times when Christmas is hard.  There are times when the rush of emotions from the holiday season is exhausting, emotional and painful.

Someone you love died, and the holidays will never be the same.  Sorry to be the Grinch, but it’s a new, painful reality.

So please, if someone is wearing Aunt Carol’s ugly sweater, say their name and handle with care.  Help us create new traditions and find a reason to celebrate this season.

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The Lies They Tell Us about Grief

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Grief is a natural reaction when we suffer the loss of a loved one.  Unfortunately our society has no idea on how to handle grief and how to treat someone who has just suffered the loss of a great love.

For starters when someone dies we say passed, transitioned or whatever else comes to mind.  When my father died I had an older relative (bless her soul) reprimand me for saying my father died.  What is wrong with the word dead?  Last time I checked that’s what he was dead.  But for some death forces us to think about our own mortality, our own failures in life and that’s just too much to handle.  So instead we fluff our words, walk on eggshells and avoid saying trigger words.

Something happens when someone you love dies.  If you are like me and you are forced to watch your real life super hero suffer it changes you.  You feel helpless as you watch someone you love slowly fade away.  When your person dies so does a piece of you.  You are left with a tremendous hole in your heart.  Your soul weeps and no matter what you do there is no way to comfort it.

As you begin to walk your grief journey well meaning friends repeat the myths they have heard or the lies that were told to them when they suffered a loss.  They know no other way because our society knows no other way.  Society wants us to get over it and move on, and if we can’t get over it they want us to put on a pretty grief mask when we are out in public.  Grief is the elephant in the room wearing a pink tutu that no one wants to acknowledge.  But the truth is where there is great love there is great grief that lasts a lifetime and us grievers desperately want to acknowledge it.

Below are some of the lies we encounter throughout our grief journey:

  1.  You must stop living in the past and move on

This is something we love to tell our widowed community.  As a grieving daughter I cringe when I hear people tell my newly widowed mother to “move on.”  People who tell someone grieving to move on do not know loss.   They say ignorance is bliss and in this situation it sure is.  It’s easy to tell a heart broken widow to move on when you’re going home to your significant other.  Think about the irony of that and how hurtful it is.  Instead of telling Peggy to move on try saying, “I have no idea how you’re feeling but I’m here for you.”

Remembering our loved ones keeps their presence with us and is a way of honoring them and a way of honoring our feelings.  It keeps the love alive.

2.  You need to get over it

No one has the right to tell you how you feel.  There is no time stamp on grief.  There is no normal way to grieve.  Our grief is as unique as a snowflake.  You do not have to get over it.

3.  You really shouldn’t talk about him or her so much

As long as I have breath in me I will be my father’s living breathing legacy.  I write to keep my father’s memory alive.  The only people who cannot bear to hear you speak of your beloved are those who are unable to accept their own mortality.  What better way to honor a beautiful life than to extend all the love we can no longer give our loved ones to others?  Talking about our loved ones creates legacy for our loved ones in a world that would rather bury its emotions and move on.

These are just some of the myths that we are told while grieving a great loss.  The truth is no one can understand what you lost.  No one can understand the searing pain you are feeling in your heart.  No one can understand that there are times you want to die as well; no not because you are suicidal but because you yearn to hear your loved ones voice one more time, to hug them one more time or to tell them you love them one last time.  Death is final, grief lasts a lifetime.

It is true, where there is great love there is great grief.  And what a privilege it is to love that deeply.

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Forever and Always – Why I’m Still Proud To Be A Daddy’s Girl

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Dad & Lisa way back when

I’m a grown up.  No really I am!  I thought once I was old and married I would stop telling the world what a Daddy’s girl I am.  But as I have grown up and my life has evolved I’m even more proud to label myself as a forever daddy’s girl.

My father was an all star baseball player, I have magnificent memories of watching my father from the stands yelling, “That’s my Dad!” After each game we would head to Carvel for my usual, chocolate ice cream with chocolate sprinkles.  He wanted me to share his passion for baseball and he tried to teach me despite the fact that I didn’t have an athletic bone in my body.  That was okay though, my Dad found other ways to strengthen our father daughter bond throughout my life.

With a lot of patience my father did manage to teach me how to throw a baseball.  He also taught me how to dance while standing on top of his feet, how to drive, and he taught me that no breakup was worth endless tears.  Perhaps one of his greatest lessons was the importance of respecting myself while respecting others. I could always count on his words of encouragement or suggestions for improvement while he was waiting for me on the sidelines throughout my entire life.

I am without a doubt my father’s daughter. We share the same smile, the same eyes and the same sense of humor. We are, without a doubt, “cut from the same cloth.” Being labeled as “Al’s daughter” is one of the greatest blessings in my life.

 

The number one reason why I will always be my father’s daughter is because he was my first love.

My father dedicated every second of his life since the moment I was born to being my protector, my friend, my advisor and my toughest critic.  Because my father was such a good listener he always made me feel like everything I was saying was important – at least to him!  And because of that he always made me feel important.  There is no greater gift than that.

My father taught me how to be resilient and tough, even during the darkest moments of my life.  Even as my father’s life was coming to end and I cried and begged him not to go (like he had a choice) I remember him smiling and telling me, “Lisa honey I will always be with you, I promise.” He helped me become the fiercely independent woman I am today because he needed to be sure I would be able to protect myself when he was no longer around to do so.

During the final days of my father’s life I asked him, “Dad can I get you anything?” His response, “Just be happy and kind.” I was not expecting a response like that.  I wanted to get him more pillows or perhaps another blanket.  Or maybe he wanted me to rub his back because those darn hospital beds are so uncomfortable.  His answer confused me at the time, how could I be happy while my beautiful father was dying in front of my eyes?  My heart was breaking into a million pieces and being happy was not an option.  But now looking back I know that even while facing death my father was putting my needs first, by offering his advice and wisdom.  And that is why I will always be a very proud Daddy’s girl.

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I Became A Better Person The Day My Father Died

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Do you have a moment in your life when everything came to a screeching halt and life as you knew it changed instantly?  I do.  It was January 17, 2016  in the wee hours of the morning.  I watched my father take his final breath and leave this place we call earth.  This moment has played over and over in my mind.  If I close my eyes tight enough I can still feel his protective grip as we held hands one last time. Regardless of how old I was, or how sick my father became, the strength of my father’s hands symbolized a sense of security, power and protection for me.  I studied his hands that night knowing I would never see them or him again.  I can still feel the agony of my heart shattering as I watched him leave his earthly body and ascend to Heaven.

My Dad was sick for seven long years, the last four years of his life he was housebound barely surviving.  His pain management was a failed attempt by doctors to give him some sort of quality of life.  Many times I would walk into the room to find him screaming in pain, begging God for mercy.  My heart still breaks when I think of this memory and my eyes begin to flood with tears.

For four long years my father was unable to eat a morsel of food or drink an ounce of liquid – he survived on a peg tube inserted in his stomach.  I vividly remember my father’s strong hands trembling in pain, his body becoming weak and frail.  I’m still angry that my father had to suffer endlessly.  There is no reason for anyone to suffer from life changing illnesses, there is no reason for anyone to suffer period.  As I watched my father deteriorate before my eyes, I felt robbed of things that seemed so basic.  Family meals, going out to dinner, and eventually just a simple conversation became too cumbersome for my father.  Life can be so unfair sometimes.  Until a basic human need is ripped away from a loved one and there is nothing you can do to help them it’s difficult to imagine how precious life is, how valuable your health is.  You begin to see how trivial some things are.  The problems you had pre illness now seem laughable and manageable.

I was given front row seats to watch cancer slowly dismantle my father.  In case you didn’t already know this, cancer is the biggest bitch on the planet.  Like a thief in the night cancer slowly stole pieces of my father until he couldn’t even get out of bed and we had to assist him with the most basic tasks.  I remember helping my father use the restroom during the final days of his life.  He cried and apologized to me, he was horrified that his daughter had to help him use the restroom.  I held back tears and told him that’s what adult children are for and I will love him forever.

Three days later our family sat in the hospital waiting for God to take my father home.  Watching someone you adore die is a life changing experience.  Death is not glamorous like a Hollywood movie.  Death is a life changing experience that annihilates your entire life while shattering your heart into a million pieces.  One minute your loved one is there the next they are gone.  Seven years of horrific pain, praying and pleading with God to save your loved one and then just like that they are gone.

There is nothing that can prepare you for the loss of a person of significance.  Despite my father being so ill I simply could not grasp the enormous feeling of loss immediately following my father’s final breath.  I remember immediately thinking, “No wait, come back! Please! I need you Daddy.”  But it was too late my father was gone after a long valiant battle with cancer.

Grief is not linear.  It ebbs and flows.  Grief is messy, complicated and painful.  Regardless of how horrific someone’s illness is when they are alive, once they are gone, they are gone forever.  I cried more in the days following the loss of my father than I have ever cried in my entire life.  Just when I thought my tears had run out I cried some more.  As I began to walk my grief journey I became comfortable with my wide range of emotions and with the emotions of those around me.

My father’s death has made me a better person—more present, empathetic, and committed to others while trying to have a positive impact on those around me.  A year after my father’s death, with the help of the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders I established the Albert J. Ingrassia Fund.  This is my effort to raise awareness for the countless patients living like my father and for the families so they know they are not alone.  My fiancée and I have decided to donate the flowers from our wedding to patients receiving care at the inpatient oncology and hospice unit at Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune, NJ.  This is our effort to share our unconditional love with others.

My father was an incredible man.  He was kind, loving and larger than life.  He dedicated his life to his family and as a result led a rich life.  These small efforts are my way of keeping my father’s legacy alive.

I don’t think anything can prepare you for the loss of a parent.  Losing my father was a massive blow, he was not just my father, he was my best friend, he was my person.  I was robbed of the opportunity to watch my father grow old, celebrate milestone birthdays, take him to dinner, and have him walk me down the aisle later this month at my wedding.

I will never stop missing my father, he was my first love and my real life superhero.  As I walk my grief journey I have learned the following:

  1. Never miss an opportunity to say “I love you.”
  2. Don’t waste moments. None of this is monotonous, it all matters.
  3. It’s okay to be less than perfect. When you die the important people that matter only talk about the good.
  4. Strength has very little do with muscle and brawn.  Strength has everything to do with our unique ability to conquer the trials and tribulations that life throws in our path.
  5. A father’s legacy changes the world, one daughter at a time.

My father’s story is far from over. I am the beneficiary of an infinite inheritance of virtue, character and fortitude. I am my father’s living breathing legacy and as long as I have breath in me I will continue to tell his story.

What lessons have you learned as you walk your grief journey? Please share in the comments section.

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What Grieving Friends Really Need

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My feelings were crushed the night my father died.  My entire world exploded when my father died.

As I silently observed my father take his last breath, I felt my heart beat hard inside my chest, exactly six times before I burst into uncontrollable tears.  And then suddenly my sobbing stopped and so did my entire world.

My father’s death was expected after a very long illness.  But that still did not prepare me for the gut wrenching, debilitating pain of grief.  The days leading up to his death were mentally exhausting. Two days before my father died I sat next to his hospital bed begging him not to go, not to leave me alone.  And then the man who held my hand my entire life and gave me butterfly kisses was suddenly gone forever.

You are never ready to say good bye to a person of significance in your life.

The days following my father’s death I felt like the drunk friend who arrived to the party late.  I found myself angry, sad and devastated constantly misjudging everyone’s well meaning actions.  My thoughts revolved around one thought, “My father just died, my entire world just exploded, how do I go on?”

When someone you love dies, every single relationship in your life is reevaluated.  Friendships as well as relations with family members are now ranked by who offered condolences, who texted you, who picked up the phone and maybe even who “liked” your latest photo of your deceased loved one on social media.  If your loved one endured a lengthy illness you may even find yourself evaluating friendships based on who was there for you during the illness.

I began to question lifetime relationships.  How good of a friend is someone if they failed to recognize that my father died?  How strong of a bond do you have with a family member who begins spewing gossip just days after throwing the dirt on my father’s casket?  Did you really respect my father or your relationship with him if you are unable to show respect to his immediate family following his death?  Do I even want to bother to nurture these relationships after suffering such a horrific loss that they failed to recognize or respect?

Grief opens your eyes to one’s true colors.  The widow returns to an empty house, the children are now living a life with a massive piece of their identity missing.  Life as they knew it is forever changed.

The sad reality is after the funeral is over and the condolences stop rolling in everyone but the immediate family returns to life. And when that happens the immediate family can feel a profound sense of isolation.  They begin to look around feeling alone and sometimes abandoned.

Until you have been spouse of someone for 40 plus years it is impossible to comprehend how debilitating grief is.  I lost my father, but my mother lost her husband, her soul mate.  My mother spent the last 7 years of my father’s life selflessly caring for him, the last year of my father’s life assisting him with basic human needs while preserving his dignity.  She showered him, helped him use the restroom, fed him, she became his lifeline.  Slowly I watched my parents go from a dynamic inseparable duo to my mother learning how to live life as a soloist.  Losing my father has shattered my heart, but watching my mother endure losing her soul mate has taken my grief to a whole new level, often leaving me breathless, devastated and feeling utterly alone.

So what do you do?  How do you prevent you lifetime friend from feeling alone?  The massive void left by death can never be filled by another but it sure does help to be surrounded by supportive, kind individuals.

  1. Offer help, but be specific

Start out by asking exactly what they need.  When and if they tell you nothing do not let that deter you from helping.  When we are grieving we have no idea what we need.  Take a peek around their home and make helpful suggestions.  “I can babysit any afternoon this week”, “I can drop the kids off at school this week”, “I can mow the lawn this week” or “I can go grocery shopping for you this weekend.”

2.  Let them vent without judgment

Grief makes you crazy.  Grief makes you feel like that drunk person who showed up at the party late and begins misjudging everyone’s actions.  Your friend needs to vent.  Let them vent and just listen. Let them cry and get it out.  Let them know you’re their judgment free zone and what is said to you stays with you.

3.  Continue to invite your friend out even if they decline

Grief is exhausting; grief makes you want to stay hidden in your bereavement bunker isolated from the world.  Continue to invite your friend out to the places you went before they began grieving.  The movies, lunch, dinner, the mall.  Your friend may be trying to make sense of a world that was just turned upside down.  Even if they keep declining, let them know you will be there when they are ready.

Friends and family return to life, but the immediate family of the deceased is now living a new, horrific normal.  After the flowers have faded and the sympathy cards have been packed away what grieving people need most are friends and family.  You can’t stop the rain for your grieving friend, but you can grab an umbrella and share it with them if they are willing to let you in.

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What It’s Like To Plan A Wedding Without Your Father

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My father loved my fiancée.  I am extremely blessed, despite my father being terminal he was able to spend valuable time with my fiancée and they forged a priceless bond during the six years we dated.

My father wanted to give me away on my wedding day.  He wanted to shake my new husband’s hand at the alter and tell him to take care of his daughter.  He wanted to share that very special father daughter dance with me.  He wanted to give the traditional father of the bride speech, but being the dynamic speaker my father was he would have had our guests both laughing and crying.

As a little girl I would practice dancing on top of my father’s feet and he would spin me around our living room until I was dizzy and I would fall to the floor giggling.   I walked through life holding onto my father’s strong, comforting grip knowing that he was my protector who loved me unconditionally.  As a little girl I knew that someday I would find a soul mate who possessed all the admirable qualities my Dad had, a man who loved his family fiercely and treated his wife as an equal with love, kindness and respect.

But what I didn’t prepare myself for was when my father was diagnosed with stage IV base of the tongue cancer in 2008.  Seven long years later, after a very brave battle cancer stole my father from our lives forever.

The one aspect of my wedding that I never predicted was being a fatherless bride.

When my father died a big piece of me died.  I remember laying in bed begging God to let me see him one more time, hear his voice one more time, or maybe just take me for a quick visit and bring me back.  During my early days of grief I had no voice; I had no desire to speak.  I felt as if I was having a strange out of body experience.  I simply observed everyone and everything.

I wasn’t going through depression I was and still am grieving the loss of my father.

Eventually the days turned to months and a whole year passed.  I’m really not sure how I survived the first year without my Dad.  It hurt like hell. I cried a lot, I still cry a lot only now I have learned how to hide my pain and disguise my tears.

But one thing is certain; Ronen became my rock and my constant.  He was there for me throughout my father’s illness, held my hand as I watched my father take his last breath and has not stopped wiping my tears as I mourn one of the greatest losses of my life.

Grief is funny, most people assume after a few months it’s business as usual and you’re fine.  About three months into my grief journey people started asking, “So, when are you guys getting married?”  Or my personal favorite, “So, are you upset that Ronen didn’t propose before your Dad died?” My grief was raw, my grief still is raw, but I would simply smile and tell people how much my father adored Ronen and how much I love and respect Ronen.  Unfortunately these questions would force me to retreat into my grief bunker away from the world and its ignorance.

Grief is hard enough, the last thing a griever needs is to field stupid questions.

Ronen, the most patient man on the planet continued to wipe my tears and allow me to take shelter in my grief bunker as needed.  And then on February 6, 2017 Ronen proposed to me on the beach in sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida, my favorite place on the planet.  Immediately after saying yes, I cried because I wanted to tell my father our wonderful news, and then I cried harder because the reality of being a fatherless daughter hit me during one of the happiest moments of my life.  That’s how grief works, it’s messy and unpredictable.  You’re smiling one minute and then the next you’re grabbing the nearest form of life support riding a massive wave of grief.

Almost immediately we decided on an August wedding because my father would have turned 70 this August.  I wasn’t ready for the emotional roller coaster I was about to ride, I’m still not prepared for this ride.  I wasn’t prepared for all the questions from vendors that involved my Dad, and having to tell these well meaning people that my Dad is dead.  It doesn’t matter how you drop that bomb you will always have a few awkward moments of crickets chirping.

Planning my wedding without my father is bittersweet.  I  lost count of how many times I have wanted to call him for his advice or to just hear his voice.  I will never have that moment that so many do with their fathers, giving the bride away, dancing and the anticipated father of the bride speech.  My heart aches when I think of this.

The void of my father is massive. But there are moments where I can feel my father’s love, moments if I am quiet and listen carefully I can hear his voice and feel the warmth of his smile as the sun glistens on my face.  I am realizing that I not a fatherless bride. My father may no longer here physically, but as my father said to me the night he died, he will always be my father and I will always be his baby.

Our bond is intangible, unbreakable and unforgettable; no distance, silence, or death could undo that connection.

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5 Alternatives to Walking Down the Aisle With Dad

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Planning a wedding is not for the weak or timid. You have to deal with crazy relatives, friends who are not invited yet think they are, and figure out how to plan for a couple hours of your life without spending your entire savings account.

 

For the blushing bride who is about to walk down the aisle, there are endless exciting details for the big day. Flowers, venue, dress, music, the list goes on and on. It’s all rainbows and unicorns with endless tears of joy. But for the bride without a father, there is another kind of tears. Many times there are no words, just a tremendous hole in her heart that aches. It is such a massive void that tears often accompany the happiest moments of wedding planning.

Fathers are such a significant part of a bride’s wedding day. Perhaps the biggest role is that the father of the bride walks the bride down the aisle, giving her away to her new husband. But what about the fatherless brides?

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Grief Changes Your Address Book

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There are countless resources on how to mourn the loss of a loved one, how to cope with that gut wrenching emptiness, how to endure the horrific pain.  But what about lost friendships and family members?  How do we handle the disappointment brought on by others that follows a significant loss?

Grief changes and rearranges friendships. You never know who will be your rock and who will fade away.  As I continue navigate my grief journey I find myself constantly rearranging my address book adding and deleting contacts.  Death needs to stop being identified as taboo and the entire western world needs to do better when they encounter someone grieving a great love.

Let me be totally straight with anyone reading this article.  It is ineffective to comfort someone drowning in grief with a Facebook post nor can you express your deepest condolences with a text message, or a mass text.  This is even more accurate for someone you consider a friend or family.   Sure it’s the thought that counts but death is very painful and confusing.  Simply put when someone loses a person of significance they need human contact not a text message that took you less than 10 seconds to write.

The friends who express their deepest condolences via social media and text remind me of the people who respond to text messages with a “K.”  What do you mean K???  Are you too busy to type out the entire word OKAY or even OK?  Somebody just died, they took their last breath and will no longer walk the face of this earth and you are expressing deep condolences with a text message?  In a world where technology is destroying the art of social interaction death is one of those occasions where it’s imperative that we go old school, pick up the phone and then send a condolence card to people we consider friends and family.

K?

But at least you thought of your friend whose entire universe has just shattered.  It is the thought that counts, and until you have experienced your own loss of a great love it is impossible to understand the tremendous pain and the endless tears that occur in an instant.

What about the friends who were too busy to reach out at all? No call, no text, no card and the funeral services were at a very inconvenient time.  Or the ones whose significant other expressed condolences so they got off the hook and never put thought into reaching out to you as well.  Or my personal favorites the ones who meant to express condolences, but life got in the way so they never did and when they saw you they avoided they the topic because death is really uncomfortable and such a downer.

What about THOSE people?

When you lose a person of significance, those of us that are left behind are learning to surf massive waves of grief.  Grief is a gut wrenching painful experience.   Grief is permanent.  Grief is a prison sentence for the loved ones left behind.  But grief is also a universal experience that sadly we will all participate in no matter how much we try to avoid it.

When a “friend” fails to acknowledge our loss it tells us that you don’t care enough about the friendship to acknowledge the pain.  In my case it told me that some people simply did not respect the relationship enough to acknowledge that my father died.  And when you fail to acknowledge that I lost a person of significance you become null and void in my life.   With dollar stores all over the world you can buy a sympathy card for 99 cents, drop it in the mail and boom you’re a hero.  But when you fail to acknowledge my pain then see me months later acting like nothing happened you’re inviting a giant pink elephant in the room wearing a tutu.  And grief brings enough uncomfortable moments for me so please leave your big pink elephant at home.

When I lost my father I lost a tremendous piece of me.  I lost a big piece of my childhood, and an even bigger piece of me.  Not a day goes by that I do not think of him.  Losing a parent is one of the most painful experiences in life, you carry that loss in a permanent hole in your heart.  I will never forget the friends and family that stood and continue to stand by my side as I mourn the loss of my father.  The friends that kept calling during my early days of grief and didn’t give up despite me being unable to speak because my grief left me speechless.  The friends that sent me flowers just because way after the funeral.  The friends who texted me while they were on vacation on the other side of the world. These people will always hold a special place in my heart.

But as I sit down and plan my wedding, one of the happiest days of my life, I also cannot forget the friends that were too busy, or the friends that were uncomfortable by my loss.  If a friend cannot acknowledge a great loss, then there is no place for them for at a happy occasion.

You move on, but you never forget and the pain never goes away.  You learn how to surf those massive waves of grief with the help of the friends and family who become your life vest.

I’ll admit prior to losing my father I probably could have done more for my friends when they lost loved ones.  But I have always tried to be empathetic to others and acknowledge their milestones in life along with their pain.  Before losing my Dad I too thought sending a deep condolence text was acceptable.  I was wrong and I should have known better.

Grief is like a foreign country where you can only truly grasp the customs and language once you have lived there.  Living in this foreign country allows you to get accustomed to living life in an extremely different and painful way, isolated without the one you love. Good friends are a Godsend in this new land, they are your beacon of light and hope from the lighthouse on the shore.

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GRIEF – My Uninvited Wedding Guest

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Photo Credit:  Max Pixel

Grief is a sneaky little bastard,  Pardon my French, but it really is.

Just when you think you’re doing okay, it sneaks up on you to remind you it’s still there. Grief doesn’t care about when it shows up, and it certainly doesn’t care about being inconvenient.  When grief reappears, the pain and sadness is as fresh as if the death happened yesterday.  For example earlier this week I was minding my own business meeting with our florist and he said, “What type of flowers would you like for the Dads.” That’s right; he said it, Dads plural.  For that split second my world stopped spinning and I felt sick. Funny how one little four letter word can really change the mood.   My mood shifted from a happy, carefree blushing bride to heartbroken fatherless bride.  I politely explained to Mr. Florist that my father is dead.  Instantly changing the mood from cloud 9 to downright depressing.  There is no good way to tell your wedding vendor that your Dad died a year ago.  I simply smiled and said, “My Dad passed away last year.”  Cue awkward silence. Then me filling that awkward silence with, “He had cancer; he was sick, really sick.” Then me thinking to myself WHY are you rambling, just say he passed away and shut up! Then me smiling and saying, “It’s okay, I’m FINE, really I’m fine, I’ll probably bring all my flowers to his grave.”  Again with me babbling and saying too much.  Luckily my fiancée saved that uncomfortable moment by changing the subject from dead dads and graves to something more appropriate for wedding planning, I’m really not sure what because at that point my mind had drifted as I pretended to play with my phone and browse Pinterest for creative flowers in a desperate attempt to not start crying at the florist. 

That’s when I felt the hammer of grief come crashing down with its harsh reality—I won’t need to select a flower for my father’s tux because he won’t be attending my wedding, he’s gone, dead, passed away pick your preferred phrase he’s just not here!!!  I will be a fatherless bride.

Later that evening it hit me hard like a hammer, delivering a swift blow of sadness and a steady stream of tears.  I did what any grieving daughter who is a bride to be would do; I spent my evening surfing the internet looking at flowers for my father’s tux. Quietly, I stared at hundreds of pretty internet brides with their fathers.  And then it happened, one tear led into the flood gates opening and then ugly sobs.

Grief touches lives beyond death.  Grieving takes time. Loss and pain have no set format, no prerequisites.  There is no list or magic pill to be “OK.”  Grief ebbs and flows like an unpredictable tide. Grief is that unexpected, uninvited, annoying house guest that can’t take a hint.  

You are minding your own business doing your thing, and then suddenly there’s a moment, a memory, or a milestone—and just like that—you realize how much you miss your loved one.

People die every day, and every day heartbroken people mourn them. Grief stricken people cry in the car, grocery store, or while planning a wedding.  The sense of loss when a loved one dies is universal; it transcends language and culture and everything that separates us.

This August I will be a fatherless bride.  When I walk down the aisle, I will shed tears, but I will also laugh and celebrate my father, the incredible man who taught me to be strong and courageous. My wedding day will represent a legacy full of love, laughter, and a rare strength forged through my pain.

My tears bring comfort, and a simple reminder of something I feel every day—I was raised by a great man who I love and will miss forever.  As my father taught me so well—I’m strong and I’m going to okay…even if I cry on my wedding day.

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The Things They Don’t Tell Us About Grief

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Photo Credit:  Pixabay

I am a fatherless daughter.  For seven long years I watched my heroic father suffer and scream in pain.  Cancer stole bits and pieces of my father nonstop for seven tortuous years. Despite the fact that my father was surviving on a peg tube unable to eat or drink orally, enduring endless pain, I begged God not to take him because I simply could not imagine life without my father.  

I watched my parent’s fairy tale marriage evolve into never-ending hospital visits. The flowers that my father would bring home just because became a faded memory.  The love notes my father used to leave around the home for my mother were replaced by his shaky penmanship reminding him to take his never-ending list of medications.  

Our family spent 7 years searching for a cure for my father, begging God for mercy.  And then, just like that my father was gone.  When I lost my father I lost a big part of myself, my identity.  

The days following my father’s death, were spent in my “bereavement bunker”, my safe zone.  When my father took his last breath, I lost my voice.  I could not speak to anyone and just leaving the house was exhausting.   I have a confession, I didn’t wash my hair for the first 5 days following my father’s death, I was just too tired.  I was certain I thrown into my own personal hell the moment my father died.  My pain was gut wrenching and never-ending.

There were moments; there still are moments that I am positive the sounds of my breaking heart are deafening to anyone around me.  

My father just wasn’t my father, he was my friend, my best friend.  I will miss that bond for the rest of my life. See, I didn’t just speak to my father once in a blue moon, we spoke daily, sometimes multiple times a day right up until he took his last breath.  Each day without my father is an adjustment, and as more time passes it is a cruel reminder of the massive void in my life.  I still have moments when I retreat into my bereavement bunker because it feels as if the world cannot handle my grief.

Friendships, even some family relations are not immune to grief.  Despite what you may think, what television leads you to believe, some people will vanish when you need them the most.  Some people will say hurtful things at the most inappropriate times, even going as far as telling a new widow to “get over it”.  Many have no clue what to say or how to act.  Others are extremely uncomfortable around someone drowning in grief.  Some are petrified of how your grief makes them feel.   Some people are harboring their own guilt and resentment and simply cannot handle the depth of your grief.  Grief has a unique way of forcing you to do a friend and family purge, and forcing you to retreat to your bereavement bunker.  

Death is uncomfortable for many.  Death is a reminder of our own mortality and mortality is an uncomfortable thing to think about.

We get uncomfortable being in the presence of a woman who has lost her child, especially if you have your own little ones that you can’t imagine being without for even two seconds.  Or the new widow.  It’s terrifying to think of life without your partner.  Simply put, it’s difficult to know what to say to a person who has experienced a traumatic loss.  

Unfortunately we all experience loss at some point in our lives, it’s inevitable.  

Your grieving friends and family need you now more than ever.  Time will lessen the sting, but for the griever the moment their loved one died they were handed a life sentence without parole.  Grievers wake up each morning and pray that something, someone will give us a glimmer of hope to get through the day.

Reach out and touch your grieving friends in any way you can.  Now is the time to shower them with unconditional love, their hearts are shattered.   I promise you, your grieving friends will never forget the ones that were their light, their glimmer of hope as they sat isolated in their bereavement bunker.  

 

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To My Father As I Plan My Wedding

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Photo Credit:  Pixabay

I am missing you with a new painful sting these days.

I miss calling you and discussing my wedding plans, I miss your advice, I miss laughing with you.  You have only been gone for a year, but my grief has blindsided me since my engagement last month.

I really miss being your daughter as I plan my wedding day.

I’m just a few weeks into planning the best day of my life and I feel like you died all over again.  Lately, I find myself constantly telling strangers that you are deceased, sending me crashing into those ferocious waves of grief.

Fathers are such a significant part of a bride’s wedding day.

From the flower that I am supposed to pin on your tux to our father daughter dance. Every single time I tell someone that you will not be attending they respond with a sad face and offer condolences shattering my heart all over again.

We want this to be a celebration of love and we are trying to weave you into our wedding day in various ways.  But it’s not the same, and boy oh boy does it hurt.  They sell memorial pins and I can hang a photo of you on my bouquet.  Some magazines tell fatherless brides to reserve a chair in your memory or light a candle for you.  All agonizing reminders that that I will be a fatherless bride.

How can the happiest day of my life also be one of the most painful days of my life?

I proudly wear your wedding ring on my neck every single day, I wore it the day I found my gown. It took all my strength not to burst into tears when I “said yes to the dress”, knowing that you will not be there to walk me down the aisle, dance with me or give one of your memorable speeches.

Your wedding ring hanging next to my heart is another cruel reminder that you are no longer here.

Three days before you died I sat with you in the hospital and cried harder than I ever cried. I told you how terrified I was to lose you.  I begged you to stay because you couldn’t miss my wedding, I needed you in my life, forever preferably.  It sounds so selfish, because you were in so much pain, but I didn’t want to let go.  The fear of losing you was an agonizing gut wrenching pain.  With tears in your eyes you smiled, held my hand and promised me you would be there.

It has been so heartbreaking and lonely with you gone but I want you to know that I am not alone any more. The day Ronen proposed he officially became my family and each day we are building a future together.

Dad, you will always be my first love, my forever hero.

Thank you for loving me, supporting me and guiding me. Thank you for every compliment you gave mom, because from you, I’ve learned what it truly means to unconditionally love your spouse.

A girl’s first true love is her father.
—Marisol Santiago

 

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A Letter To My Father One Year After His Death

dadlisaDear Dad,

It’s been one year and one month since you are gone.  According to Google that’s 9490.01 hours but to me it feels like an eternity.  I still wake up in the morning thinking this is a nightmare and you’re not really gone.  At night I look at the sky and make a wish on the brightest star I see and I believe it is you.

When I was young you told me we grieve for ourselves because the deceased are in a better place.  As a woman, I know that is true, but I still miss you terribly.  For seven years I watched you endure horrific pain.  I prayed and pleaded with God to heal you.  Towards the end of your life I was so angry that my prayers were not answered.  You were not supposed to die unable to eat; it seemed like such a cruel death sentence for such a good man.

When you died my grief became so overwhelming and suffocating that on numerous occasions I was convinced that I too was dying.  My heart was so heavy and the pain was unbearable.  You played a major role in my life and now you were gone.  For my entire existence we spoke every single day, even when I was away in college.  That’s 40 years of saying “I love you”, 40 years of being a Daddy’s girl, 40 years of feeling safe, 40 years pure, unconditional love.  And now just like that you were gone.

Would I ever smile again?

Watching Mom mourn you is unbearable, there are times I’m certain I can hear the sounds of her heart breaking.  I watched Mom selflessly care for you throughout your marriage, but with extra care the past 7 years.  So much that it was not uncommon for you to shout to the doctors that you were alive because of Mom.  As your health began to fail, Mom was the one breathing life into you each day.  I will never forget how your eyes would light up with joy when Mom entered the room.  You and Mom showed me what true, unconditional love looks like.  Hearing the gut wrenching sounds of Mom mourn you is a heartbreaking, agonizing experience.

How do I comfort someone mourning their soulmate when I don’t even know how to comfort myself?

The people who I thought were going to be my anchors quickly became the holes in my lifeboat.  Complete, utter disappointments.  Our family desperately needed kindness, love and support, anything else seemed cruel and unwelcome.  Taking a page out of your book I chose to break ties and ignore.  One of the greatest lessons you taught me is to quiet a fool with silence.  Unfortunately death brings out quite a few fools.

But you prepared me for this.

From teaching me how to walk, to throw a ball, even to dance while standing on top of your feet, you showed me ways to stand on my own two feet.  A dad’s job is not only to protect his little girl, but also to show her how to defend herself when, one day, he is not around.

You were the biggest influence in my life.  

A father is the one who guides his daughter through life, and now even in death you are guiding me. You are constantly showing me that love never dies. You speak to me through feathers, music and if I listen closely I can still hear your sweet voice.

Your death has been a mysterious doorway with so much painful grieving for me.  Heartache that I never knew was possible and mysterious because I never know how or when that door is going to open and pull me in.

It’s been a full year and one month since your death you are still opening that door comforting me.  Sometimes it is gut wrenching pain, like the other day when Josh Groban’s “Your Raise Me Up” came on in the store and I felt a faint brush on my cheek.  I KNEW it was you and started sobbing in the middle of Stop and Shop.  Or when I’m driving to work in the morning and I can smell you, and for a moment I can feel you sitting next to me in the car.  Or when a beautiful fluffy white feather crosses my path, and I smile because I know it’s you sending me love from above.  Since you have passed I have found enough feathers to build my own angel wings and visit you in heaven.

I miss you. 

I miss you even more today than one year and one month ago because it’s been 13 months since I heard your voice, heard your laugh, told you I love you and held your hand.

There is so much of you in me that I think I frighten Mom sometimes.  I have your sense of humor and share your love for life.  Mom is always telling me I have your eyes and heart. You loved people and a good party.  Since you have gone I have received endless photos, emails and texts telling me what a great man you were. I established a fund in your name where all monies go to the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders.  I desperately want to help the countless individuals living with a swallowing disorder, people like you and families like us who felt so isolated.  Last weekend I hosted my first fundraiser.  Dad, 52 people, some whom you never met came out to celebrate YOU and to help raise awareness.  Your passing has created another level of a new beautiful community.

Dad, you taught me what heroes are made of.   

You taught me how to love life even when it’s terrifying and difficult and you know it’s going to be painful.  As I sat and held your hand throughout my life and the past seven years of your pain and suffering, I saw an incredible person, my hero.

I learned how precious life is.

As I remember you one year and one month after your passing, the painful image of my very sick frail father is fading.  I will always carry your pain and suffering in my heart, but I can also see my father, my superhero, the strongest man in the world.  The man who raised me, the man who was my first love and my best friend.  The man who gave me butterfly kisses, taught me how to drive, how to dance while standing on top of his feet and how to appreciate Doo-Wop music.

These days I count how long you have been gone in milestones, and most recently I am engaged.  I now wonder how I can possibly survive my wedding day without you by my side, smiling and laughing.  Even though I can no longer hear your voice, I still see your face and I can feel your love.  You’re still with me, in my laughter, my smile, my tears and in my writing.

Love never dies, it simply evolves.

Love Always,

Lisa

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Words of Sympathy – What Do We Say?

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Photo Credit:  Pixabay

I have a blank condolence card sitting on my desk for well over a week now.  I know better than that, this card should have been signed, sealed and delivered long ago.  It’s been sitting on my desk, I procrastinated and now I’m sitting here thinking, “Oh shoot!  What if I say the wrong thing?  What if I stir up painful memories?” 

 

I really should know better than to think of any of the above.

I know how comforting every single card and note received was after my father died.  The bond between a girl and her dad is profound and everlasting. The loss of a father can bring about not only feelings of loss and grief, but also a gut wrenching paralyzing fear.  Losing my father was devastating. I spent the first few days after my father’s death in a daze.  Just speaking and showering were difficult.  I remember my phone ringing and people talking, but all I heard was the Charlie Brown teacher on the other end.  Just uttering the words, “Thank you” became exhausting.  So I stopped answering the phone and relied on my better half to tell people I couldn’t do it.

Death is funny.  

As soon as someone dies everyone wants to see and speak to you.  For someone who just lost a family member to a long-term illness you can’t help but wonder where all these Chatty Patty’s were throughout the deceased’s pain and suffering.  The last five months of my father’s life was spent on hospice, screaming in pain.  It was a confusing, horrific time. Visits were welcome and provided much needed comfort for both my father AND his family.

The days and weeks following my father’s death were life changing.

In our case we were informed months after my father’s passing that some Chatty Patty’s were told by “others” not to visit.  Let’s think about this.  Other than the dying person and his immediate family aka the caregiver what gives anyone the right to speak on their behalf? Despite my father being gravely ill he loved people and company so much, that towards the end of his life he yearned for company.  Unfortunately death forces people think about their own mortality and many make atrocious irreversible mistakes. You can’t exactly visit a person after they die, and if you know how to please let me know because I really miss my Dad.  A big spray of flowers doesn’t make up for your nonexistent visits to a dying man and his family.  A basket of muffins and jelly is not a get out of consoling the grieving family voucher and certainly does not give you the right to gossip about the dead guy’s family.  Gossip is tacky, tasteless and really low class, and it’s worse when it’s done after someone dies.  Some food for thought, would you say all those lovely things to the deceased’s face?  Be truthful when answering!  If the answer is no (and it probably is) then you are a deterrent to the person grieving and you are showing a total lack of respect for the deceased.  I’m also guessing you have yet to suffer that one big loss, because when you do you will realize that a person grieving someone of significance is basically learning how to survive and everything else becomes irrelevant, starting with petty gossip.

But that’s just my opinion.

Let’s get back to that condolence card on my desk, as many of you already know grief is confusing and has a way of making your thoughts race.  So let me try to focus and let’s discuss condolence cards.

Cards and well wishes sent to the immediate family are extremely comforting for a grieving person.  Despite my little outburst above, we received hundreds of cards, some from people we never met, but knew of us through my Dad.  They knew of us as, “Al’s Girls.”  Friends of my Dad who knew how my father’s face lit up when he spoke of his family. Cards from men and women who worked for my Dad many years ago, but fondly remember him as being a kind and fair boss, a great man.  I vividly remember sitting at my parent’s kitchen table reading every single word, hanging onto every single word.

Slowly as I read through piles of cards, hundreds of them, it seemed overwhelming to think about how so many people cared enough to send along their prayers and well wishes. I went through the cards more than once, they became my lifeline. Just knowing that so many people were thinking of us, trying to comfort us in such a painful time, was what really mattered. And when I take the time to really reflect I realize the value is in the people who genuinely cared and still care, not the Chatty Patty’s who are just annoying bumps in my grief journey.

The pain of losing someone can never be compensated. However a few words of sympathy will at least ease the burden of pain off your loved ones who have lost a person of significance.

Below are some suggestions when we are at a loss for what to write in a condolence card.

  • I am deeply saddened to hear the news of your father.  He was a great man.
  • Your father had such an amazing personality. He always made the best out of any situation. (Include a memory your remember)  I learned a lot from him throughout the years, he was always a ray of light and an inspiration. My life will not be the same without him.
  • I am truly sorry for your loss. There is not grieving message that can express how much he meant to me. My heart is aching.
  • Your father was always there for my family and me. He was so giving and thoughtful. He will live on in our heart forever.
  • Your father always bragged about how wonderful you were. I hope you know that you meant the world to him. He was a wonderful man and will be missed. Truly sorry for your loss.

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2016 The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year

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Photo Credit:  Pinterest

2016 hasn’t exactly been a banner year for well, anyone. To put it nicely, this past year was one hot mess.   If 2016 had a theme song, I’m pretty sure it would be Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball.”

Just 10 days into the year and the iconic David Bowie died. Then just 8 days later Glen Frey founding member of the Eagles died, then Prince, Muhammad Ali, Harry Potter star Alan Rickman, actor Gene Wilder, the beloved Dad from Growing Pains Alan Thicke, just the other day pop superstar George Michael, Carrie Fisher and only 24 hours later Carrier Fisher’s beautiful mother Debbie Reynolds.  There were others, and each celebrity death left us throwing a collective fist in the air chanting, “Not another!!!! “   The theme for 2016 quickly became the death of larger than life stars.  The music industry seemed to take the hardest hit. Some icons were taken too soon, some died from old age.  Either way it sent a shockwave throughout the world.  Many of us felt as if a part of our youth left with these beloved celebrities.

2016 was constantly blindsiding us with an endless loop of shocking and devastating news.

As of losing our beloved celebrities wasn’t difficult enough we had a Presidential election which was nothing short of a circus. Politicians and businessmen behaving badly for the entire world to see.  The only good thing that came out of this election for both sides were some pretty funny Saturday Night Live skits.

Let’s not forget Hambre the gorilla that was shot and killed after a child fell into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. For reasons only the internet can explain this inspired a series of memes that quickly became the #1 googled meme of 2016.

The internet then kicked off December wishing this horrible, no good year away with even more memes.  Good riddance, now let’s fast forward to 2017!

I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that 2016 has been less than kind to me. January came into my life like a wrecking ball.  Just two days into the New Year and a young friend was taken too soon.  17 days into the New Year and I found myself holding my father’s hand as I watched him take his last breath.  My life forever changed on January 17th and my faith was tested throughout the year.  In case you’re wondering death really does bring out those crazy relatives, I now refer to them as minor distractions in our journey.  To book end this year, my better half was rushed to New York City for emergency spine surgery last week.  Once again my faith was tested, and I found myself thinking, “Why me?”

I’m pretty sure I spent the majority of 2016 clutching a box of tissues in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. As December approached I tossed the wine glass and started drinking straight from the bottle.  Okay, let’s admit it together. 2016 was horrible! With each untimely death, disappointment and tragedy many of us have uttered these words throughout the past year, “2016 really sucks.”

But despite all of the above, I’m amazed by people who are so dissatisfied with this past year, that they are eagerly wishing it away. It’s as we have never had anything positive ever happen. Chanting “2016 sucks” is an insult to every single human being who took their last breath, and anyone endured, and continues to endure a difficult journey.

2016 was test of faith for many, myself included. With each heartbreak and disappointment, our faith was tested. We became distracted and started overlooking our blessings and everyday miracles. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to throwing my hands up in the air many times this past year feeling disheartened. But as I reflect on 2016 and my own heartbreak, I realize that this past year has opened my mind’s eye and heart. Even during my darkest days I was surrounded by miracles. The friend who checks in on you after the funeral, the family member who hugs you and tells you, “It’s going to be okay, we got this.” The friend who believes in you when all you can see is darkness. The friends and family who call and text during that first holiday after a significant loss. The friend who tried that new recipe and made extra just for you. The friend who is always there, no matter what.

Each of those individuals are every day miracles in our lives.

This past year has taught me that regardless how difficult things get we are all blessed beyond measure.  If we practice gratitude, live in the moment, seek the beauty, treasure relationships, help when needed, be a light for others, pray, cherish our blessings, and make the most of every opportunity and experience, even a terrible, horrible, no good very bad year won’t distract us.

Rather than wish 2016 away let’s look at our everyday miracles. If you suffered the loss of a person of significance, let’s look at the spectacular legacy they left behind.  This past year has taught me to stay faithful to God in good times and bad, because God is faithful to each of us always…we just have to look.  I am so grateful for friends and family who rallied around my family during the horrific loss of my father, and continue to shower us with kindness and love.

My wish for everyone reading this is for 2017 to deliver endless opportunities to love, grow, heal and overcome.

Cheers to 2017!

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What Not To Say To A Fatherless Daughter

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Photo Credit:  www.lovethispic.com

I was 40 years old when my father died.  That’s 40 years of spectacular memories with my father.  He was and always will be my hero.

He spent the last seven years of his life bravely battling Stage IV tongue cancer.  I watched cancer rip him apart with a vengeance.  The last four years of my father’s life were horrific. His pain was endless and there was no cure.  The treatments that were promised to save his life stole his quality of life and eventually stole him.  Cancer, in case you didn’t know it, you suck.

As time passes, I have more and more friends losing their loved ones to this horrific disease, more and more friends losing their Dads.  More and more fatherless daughters. Everyone deals with grief differently. Some say our grief is as unique as a fingerprint or a snowflake.

Unless you’re directly in a grieving person’s shoes it is difficult to understand the magnitude of loss the person grieving feels.  For many it is an impossible task to express the impact of such a monumental loss. But just because something is difficult does not mean we do not want to discuss it.  Those of us that are grieving desperately want to keep our loved ones memory alive.   Not a day goes by that I do not think of my Dad.  I am a part of him, and he is always on my mind.

The past year has taught me that there is a right way and a wrong way to speak to a grieving person.  Even if you have the best intentions there are some things you should never, ever say to a fatherless daughter, or pretty much anyone grieving a person of significance.

  1.  He suffered so much! Now he’s in a better place – Witnessing a loved one’s suffering is intolerable, for me it was torture. I watched my real life superhero suffer endlessly, I now carry that pain with me daily.  Please do not remind me of his suffering when you are trying to help.
  2. Don’t bring up my marital status and ask me if I have any regrets – Just because a woman lost her father doesn’t mean she is broken.  I am a strong woman because I am my father’s daughter, he played a major role in making me the person I am today.
  3. Please don’t tell me to move on or ask if I’m still upset – All this does is point out a significant amount of time has passed since my Dad died.  When you lose someone you love, you never “get over it.”
  4. Don’t tell me only the good die young – Unless we are listening to Billy Joel, please don’t say this, ever.
  5. Please don’t tell me my father would not want me sad – I miss my Dad, and sometimes I just need to be sad.

I’m not perfect, and I’m guilty of telling bereaved friends that their loved one is in a better place.  I had the best intentions when I uttered those words.  Until I felt the gut wrenching pain of grief I was not capable of understanding how ignorant I sounded, and how family members really do not want to hear that.  I know my father is in a better place, but that does not take away my pain.  Actually nothing will take away my pain, but there are things we can do to help.  Here are some suggestions of what you can say to a friend instead.

  1. Your father was a great man, I miss him too. Want to hear a story about him?
  2. I found this old photo of your Dad, here’s a copy for you.
  3. Tell me more about your Dad.
  4. I wish I knew him.
  5. I wish  I had the right words but please know I’m an awesome listener.

Grief is all the love we want to give, but cannot give creating a hole in our heart that never goes away.  We all grieve different, but the one thing we all need and want it is for you to listen.  Grief is messy and complicated, there is no guidebook for the loved ones left behind.  Sometimes comforting a friend is as simple as silence and a hug.

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Finding The True Meaning of Christmas Among Heartache

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5 more days until Christmas!!!!!!  5 more days until Jolly St. Nick pays us a visit.  The holidays are upon us and we have just 5 more days until the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a time of giving, goodwill and hope for the future.

There was a time in my life when I would get so excited this time of year I could barely concentrate or sleep.  I would fight to stay awake just to catch a glimpse of Santa and his reindeer.

But this year is different.  This year is my first Christmas without my best friend, my Dad. For countless families suffering the death of a friend or loved one, a major illness or a family breakup, it is difficult to celebrate.

Christmas is an enchanted day when the world stands still. Nothing bad happens on Christmas.  This must be true, because it was repeated on my new favorite show, “This is Us.”  Christmas is bundled with countless hopes and dreams—all tied in exquisite red and gold bows neatly tucked under our Christmas trees.

But this Christmas started as a season of profound heartache and sorrow.  My family is surrounded not just by missing presents but a missing presence.  Our family is overwhelmed by the empty chairs and sadness throughout our home.  The toys on my tree that once were the map of my childhood are now a reminder of the horrific loss our family is enduring.  Just looking at certain ornaments brings back memories too painful to remember.  This Christmas I decided to leave the toys in a box neatly stowed for when I am ready…next year perhaps.

This Christmas I did not send out Christmas cards.  I spent 2016 learning how to live without a person of significance, I saw no need to send friends and family a photo of me wearing my grief mask.  Smiling was tough this year, finding happiness was at times exhausting.  This Christmas I decided against holiday cards…next year perhaps.

This entire holiday season I have been walking around wearing my very own invisible armor.  My armor protects me from captivating memories that throw me into the ebb and flow of grief leaving me helpless, drowning in tears.  My armor preserves my sanity and allows me to function during the holiday season when I see a father daughter duo in public.  They could just be standing there minding their own business, but throw some Christmas carols in the mix, a Santa and some holiday cheer and I’m a mess.  This invisible armor protects me from sobbing in public and causing a scene.  I was doing so well, my armor was shielding me and my half assed decorated tree was proudly standing in our living room.

And then with the blink of an eye my already broken heart was smashed.

My better half, my life preserver when I am drowning in my waves of grief was injured.  He was injured so severe that our entire quality of life changed in an instant.  What we thought was a simple pulled back became a nightmare.  I watched in horror as yet another man I love suffered in pain.  I was ready to give Christmas a rain check.  See ya in 2017 St. Nick!

Wait, nothing bad happens on Christmas right?

My armor was ripped off without my permission, and I was thrown into survival mode. Together we researched doctors, surgeons, hospitals and rehabilitation facilities.  I was watching my better half endure similar horrific nerve pain my father endured for years. Once again I was given front row seats to watch someone I love suffer.  At that moment I decided that Christmas was cancelled.  I stopped decorating and started avoiding anything that was jolly or holly.  I was slowly turning into the Grinch and I knew it.

And then it went from bad to worse.  With heavy, shattered hearts we rushed to New York city Friday morning for emergency surgery.  We drove the same route my father took when he went to Sloan Kettering, only this time we stopped at The Hospital for Special Surgery. Only this time we had a real solution and hope.  After a long, emotional day we were told the surgery was a success. The recovery would be long and exhausting, but it was a success. Suddenly the holiday lights were shining a little brighter, and my heart wasn’t as heavy.

We returned home the next day and my Christmas spirit started peeking out again. I ran upstairs to the attic and began placing all the toys on the tree, everything…even the ones that didn’t match my “theme”.   My half assed decorated Christmas tree was now a cluttered map to my heart.  The silly Boston Terrier ornament we purchased in NYC years ago was proudly hanging right over the glass angel my father gave me years ago.  All of it proudly on display for our guests to hold my hand and  walk down memory lane, and if I cry it’s okay because I am chosing to love and honor my father on my first Christmas without him.

Instead of focusing on my pain, I’m focusing on the fact that I had a magnificent childhood and a friendship that created a strong lifetime bond with my father.  Instead of focusing on what it is missing, I’m concentrating on what’s here.  Instead of being sad that my Dad isn’t with our family, laughing and enjoying his favorite meals, I’m choosing to focus on the fact that my family can enjoy his favorite meals and they are laughing as we remember my Dad.

I’m reminding myself that there is joy in the unexpected and life is a beautiful ride.

Holidays after the loss of a loved one is difficult.  Life is constantly throwing curve balls. But life does not stop because a tragedy occurred.  Life keeps going and it’s up to us if we choose to enjoy the ride.

The true meaning of Christmas is not the gifts with red and gold bows tucked under our Christmas trees.  It is the everlasting hope because of our Savior—hope for today and for an eternity of tomorrows.

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A Letter To The Fatherless On Christmas

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This Christmas is my first fatherless Christmas.

Chances are if you’re reading this you too are experiencing a fatherless holiday.  I don’t know what gave you the title of “fatherless.”  Perhaps it was some sort of tragedy.  Perhaps it was an accident, a disease or maybe some horrific senseless tragedy.  Maybe it was months ago, maybe it was years ago but there are moments when the pain is so intense that you cling onto the nearest form of life support and it feels as if you are being gutted.  I now have a gaping hole in my heart that aches for not being able to shop for the perfect Christmas gift and the sound of my Dad’s infectious laugh.

Maybe you spent the last several holidays watching your real life superhero endure unspeakable pain and suffering, unable to eat, housebound with endless tubes and machines stuck all over his frail body.  Maybe instead of singing “Silent Night” you silently sobbed as you helped your real life super hero use the bathroom last Christmas. Or maybe you counted the beeps on machines instead of singing “Silent Night” as you silently prayed for a Christmas miracle.

Maybe your brain knew last Christmas was your father’s last Christmas but your heart refused to accept reality.  Maybe you begged God to “not be so mean” and take him because you needed him and your story wasn’t done.

That’s my story, and if you were to come to my house I would pour you a cup of tea or maybe eggnog for the holidays and we could cry together and comfort each other as we spoke of the unbearable loss of our real life superheroes.

This entire holiday season is just another agonizing reminder that my dad is no longer here and I am now a fatherless daughter.  But as much as I would like to fast forward through the ho ho ho’s and holiday cheer, this holiday season is also an opportunity to honor my Dad’s legacy.

The month of December was a big deal in our home.  December 1st, my birthday, kicked off the holiday season in our household. Immediately following Thanksgiving my parents raced to put up the tree and lights in time for my birthday.  For as far back as I can remember my parents made a point of throwing a grand celebration because of little ole’ me.  When I was younger my father would rush home with mini roses for me and long stem roses for my mom.  I remember one particular birthday my father waking me up, kissing me on the forehead holding a beautiful bouquet of mercedes roses.  I was only 5 years old but will never forget the magnificent bouquet of roses and the ear to ear smile on my father’s face as he said, “You will always be my baby, even when you meet your prince.  Happy Birthday honey.”

I am choosing to spend this holiday season reminiscing when I was younger and believed my Dad was a real life, living breathing superman.  As a child there was nothing my father could not do, in my eyes he was the strongest man in the world.

As I grew up, he continued to prove to me that he was in fact a real life superman. Throughout my divorce he was my anchor, my cheerleader and my best friend.  When I fell down, he was right beside me to pick me up and wipe away my tears.  As an adult I watched him bravely battle cancer proving time and time again he was the strongest man in the word.

Remember when you thought there was no better man in this world than your Dad?

Well, there still isn’t.  Even in death, your father will never leave your side as long as you keep him in your heart, where he will forever stay because love never dies it only evolves.

If your Dad was anything like mine, he did not want to leave you; he never wanted to leave you because he needed you just as much as you needed him.

If your Dad was anything like mine, this Christmas, he does not want to see you heartbroken and lost.  He would want nothing more than to see you smiling, happy, living your life.  He would want to see you prosper…because you are his living, breathing legacy.

So to you, my friend I hope you find peace and joy as your honor your father’s legacy this season and throughout your grief journey.

 

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What Grieving Loved Ones Need During The Holidays

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The imminent holiday season has amplified my loss.  Christmas carols that once symbolized holiday cheer now sound like nails on a chalk board. The thought of writing holiday cards now seem like an exhausting task.  This year rather than searching for the perfect comfy blanket for my Dad as he watches TV, we ordered a him a grave blanket.  Nothing feels right.  My holiday cheer is quickly fading into holiday fear.  I am not the same person I was last holiday season.  My heart is heavy as stare at my father’s empty chair and remember what was.

I already am finding myself saying no, no, no rather than ho, ho, ho.

Grieving my Dad is a colossal emotional storm.  Since my Dad died in January, there have been highs, lows and valleys.  To simply say, “I miss my Dad” is a massive understatement.  I did not just lose a father; I lost my best friend, my hero, the person I went to for everything.  Not a day goes by that I do not miss him and wish that I could hear his voice one more time, hug him one more time or tell him I love him just one more time.

I consider myself fortunate to have spent such an abundant amount of time by my father’s side.  I enjoyed his company and valued his advice. Since I was a little girl my Dad would tell me, “You’re my best friend.”  So much that when I went for a reading this past September the first thing the medium said was, “Your Dad is telling me you are his best friend.”

My Dad spent the final week of his life in a hospital next door to my office. Every single morning before work, sometimes as early as 6:30 AM I would sneak into my father’s hospital room.  Many times I would just stand there and count his breaths as tears rolled down my cheeks.

During one of my final visits I desperately wanted to crawl into bed next to him and hold on tight.  I needed to hug my Dad but there were just so many tubes with no beginning or end.  So I did what any normal 40 year old woman would do.  I held my breath, pushed the tubes aside and tried to squeeze next to my Dad.   Within seconds my father was awake, machines were hissing at us and I’m not quite sure if he was amused or annoyed.  Let’s be realistic who wants to be abruptly woken up by their grown daughter practically pushing them out of an already uncomfortable hospital bed.  Despite all that, he smiled and whispered, “Lisa honey what are you doing, please stop before you hurt yourself.”

In the middle of beeping machines and endless tubes we smiled, giggled and then cried. Between tears and the unbearable pain of my heart shattering, I mumbled, “Dad, can I please lay with you?”  And what do you think he said?  He smiled, and said, “Please no, you’re too big get a chair.” 

Together we laughed, I quickly grabbed a chair and held onto my father’s hand as I cried endless tears.  I didn’t want to let go, I didn’t want to forget the powerful, comforting grip my Dad had as he guided me throughout my life. I cried harder than I ever cried that morning.  Well….I cried until my Dad told me to stop getting his hand and sheets wet with my tears.  And then I giggled again.

That was my Dad.  

Even during a gut wrenching, heart breaking moment he managed to put a smile on my face.  He was and always will be my light in the darkness. He was not just my father, he was my best friend.

I will never stop missing my Dad.  

I am eternally grateful for the people who continue to support me throughout this grief journey.  Sometimes words help, and sometimes words are not needed.  Sometimes there is a power in silence, in just being there.

Friends…this holidays season more than ever, please come and sit with our family. Please continue to be there for us, to witness the pain and hold our hands as we navigate our ebb and flow of grief.

Sometimes, just being there is greatest gift you can give as we grieve a person of significance.

It’s Your Choice – For Better or Worse Grief Changes Us

 

Death is devastating.  It leaves behind a trail of broken hearts and shattered dreams.  All losses are significant.  I consider myself blessed to have had such a strong bond with my father.  The months following my father’s death have left me feeling as if I’m walking around with my heart torn open.  My grief has slowly changed me, sending me on my own pursuit of happiness.

 

I was handed front row seats to watch my father bravely battle cancer for seven long years. The last four years of his life were horrific.  When hospice began coming around I was in full blown denial.  I told everyone hospice was to get him “back on his feet.”  My heart could not accept what my brain already knew.  My father was dying.  I tried to imagine my life without my Dad but I couldn’t.  It was just too painful, too difficult. The days leading up to my father’s death were emotional, agonizing and mentally exhausting.

My father tried his best to prepare our family for life without him.  I spoke to my Dad daily, often multiple times, each conversation ended with, “I love you more.”  I visited weekly, and at each visit we held hands, cried and laughed as he made me promise to stay strong and enjoy life to the fullest.  During one of our final father daughter conversations, my Dad looked me in the eyes and told me, “You will always be my baby, live your life and be kind.  I will always be with you.”

Life without my Dad has been difficult.  It has been emotional.  It has been devastating.  It has also been a series of valuable lessons, all of which have changed me.

Below are 3 valuable lessons from my grief journey:

You Get Your Priorities Straight:
My entire perspective on life has changed, it has matured. All the little annoyances of everyday life, those little things that would have once qualified as “the worst day ever” immediately become irrelevant.  People who are unkind, selfish, lack empathy, none of it matters to me. They are all just minor distractions, detours in my grief journey . My chaotic life has slowed down. I discovered the frivolousness of being in a hurry all the time. I have made an effort to “stop and smell the roses.”   I call my Grandma more often, I spend more time with my Mom on the phone,  I end each conversation with ,“I love you.”

You Love Deeper:
After my Dad died, saying goodbye to someone, to anyone I cared about was painful.  I would carefully watch them fade away into the horizon.  For the first few months I was terrified of losing my mother.  I am learning instead of letting my fear send me into a downward spiral of darkness and overwhelming sadness, to let go of my fear and focus my love on my loved ones.  I send my Mom flowers just because, I send my boyfriend a random “I love you” text, I reach out to friends more frequently, because I know how sacred life is. I have chosen to live each day like it’s my last and to treat each day for the blessing that it is.

You Learn How To Appreciate Life:
I watched my father fight to live.  He was thankful for every moment he was given with his family.  Regardless of how much pain and suffering he endured, he was always kind and grateful.  When my father became gravely ill I deliberately chose to stop anything that would quiet my mind.  Yoga, pilates, meditation were all bad for me, or so I thought.  I didn’t want to think about what was happening to my world.  I wanted noise in my life, I kept myself busy.  Now that my father is gone my favorite thing to do is to stop and enjoy the silence.  Each morning I breathe in the love. I have consciously let go of anything that is toxic and causes anxiety.  I take time each morning to breathe in the love of my Dad and remember the kind, loving soul that he was.

Stop, be still, take all it in.   Life is a precious gift.  

Perhaps our grief can have a positive impact on us.  Together, as we grieve, we are evolving into extraordinary empathetic creatures with true altruistic motivations.  As we travel our grief journey we are supporting each other while we strive to preserve our loved ones legacy.

Grief lasts a lifetime,  but our precious memories will live forever.

 

Remembering My Dad

img_4690I’m sitting in my favorite Italian restaurant.  I can hear Sinatra crooning in the background. A bottle of red is open and I can smell the overpowering scent of  mouth watering Italian food from the kitchen.

A plate of strong, sweet prosciutto is placed on the table.  I can see my Dad smiling and enjoying the appetizer.  He raises his glass and toasts our family.

What would today be like if cancer had not taken his ability to eat and then taken him?

I take a deep breath, open my eyes and observe a couple my parents age enjoying their dinner across the restaurant.  I can feel a lump forming in the back of my throat and I’m on the verge of tears.  Despite being in my favorite restaurant my heart is heavy and I miss my Dad.  I spent four years unable to sit in a restaurant with my Dad.   My father spent four long years surviving on a Peg Tube.  That’s 1,460 days without an ounce of liquid or a morsel of food.  I quietly observe the older couple drinking wine and laughing.  I think to myself, “That should be my parents.”

My father’s struggle was a long, slow battle with stage four base of the tongue cancer, but his death is not what defined him; it was the life he lived that dictated who he was.

Growing up, I was never without affection from my father. There was always a kiss on my forehead or a hug “just because.”  I can remember being a little girl, about five years old eagerly awaiting for my Dad to return home from work, waiting and watching from our living room window.  When my Dad would open the door I would run up to him, hug him and take all his Lifesavers from his brief case. This was a nightly ritual and yet he always had a new pack of Lifesavers, every single night.

My Dad was the guy who was always laughing and smiling, regardless of what was going on.  He was a happy soul.  He was a good soul.  He was a one of a kind Dad, and I am blessed to be Al’s daughter.

Whenever I needed him to be a father, my father, he was there in a flash.  When I needed him to listen to me, not judge me, to understand that I was in pain, he was there. Just two days before he died we sat in the hospital and I cried to him, I begged him not to go, not to leave us.  Even at that moment he was there for me, despite him being the patient.

He was always there for me, no matter what. And I am learning that even in death, he is still always by my side. He visits me in my dreams, he leaves me fluffy white feathers and he lives on in my precious memories.

When my Dad passed I received hundreds of phone calls, letters and emails from friends and family, even total strangers telling me how my father adored “his girls.” Emails telling me how “his girls” were all he ever spoke about.  Even now, eight months after his death, I am still being contacted by people who knew my Dad and his immense love for “his girls.”

I was taught to be kind to all people, no matter where they came from or what their circumstances. He taught me how to stand up for myself and the importance of holding my head high as I stood my ground.  My Dad taught me people could be cruel, but it did not mean I needed to retaliate with more cruelty.  One of the greatest lessons he taught me was the art of self preservation and enjoying life.  Happiness was a priority in our home.

“Life is a precious gift.” was one of my Dad’s famous quotes.

For me, food symbolizes what cancer stole from my Dad.  I’m somewhat envious of families that can go out to dinner together, of daughters who can enjoy a simple cup of coffee with their fathers.  It reminds me of a life that once was, of happy times.

When my Dad was healthy, it was not uncommon for him stop by my office and take me to lunch.  On numerous occasions I would find him waiting in the parking lot excited to treat me to lunch.  I treasure those precious father daughter moments.

My Dad made his entire life about love: his family, his children, his friends, his compassion and kindness for others.

My Dad truly loved people, all people, and the world is a better place for having him in it.

I will never stop missing my Dad. So, the best I can do is write about a man with integrity, compassion, honor, respect, kindness and love.

See you in heaven Dad.

As I continue to honor my Dad, I will always love choose love.

Heaven IS For Real…My Dad Told Me So

On a cold January afternoon I made two promises to my dying father.  The first was that I would be kind.  The second was that I would stay strong and keep God in my heart.  My dying father in turn promised to love me forever and let me know he made it to heaven.

Two days later on January 17, 2016 after seven long years battling Stage IV base of the tongue cancer, my father died. He spent the last four years of his life unable to eat a morsel of food or drink an ounce of liquid.  I watched cancer ravage his body, and slowly take away all those little things we take for granted.  He spent the last five months of his life on hospice, unable to leave the home.  He spent the last week of his life bed ridden, even changing the channel on the TV remote was an impossible task.  My father and I were limited to holding hands and praying.  Anything beyond that was an impossible task.

My father’s illness shattered our hearts and sent a wave of shock through our family and friends.  My Dad never smoked, yet died a gruesome death. Sure, he spend much of his life surrounded by heavy smokers, but they were healthy and he died unable to eat or drink.  I quietly observed the smokers vanish to take quick smoke breaks as my father was dying. It seemed very unfair.  It made me very angry.  My father was reduced to a mask just to breathe and somehow enjoy his final moments on earth and visitors were quietly slipping away for a much needed cigarette break.

In the end the doctors could not cure my Dad, the nurses could not comfort my Dad, and we were forced to say good-bye.  I remember leaving my father’s lifeless body in the hospital room that fateful evening.  Could he see us standing over him?  Could he hear us? Was he comfortable?  Were other family members who crossed over with him?

I knew he was dead, but his physical body was there.  The man who held my hand my entire life was in that hospital room.  I felt guilty leaving him there, alone.  My mother was speaking to the nurse but I was unable to comprehend what they were saying. My only thought was my father’s body, alone in that hospital room.  Would the nurse remember to remove his feeding tube?  How long would his lifeless body remain in that room unattended?  I remember thinking maybe I should stay there with his body until the nurse finished his paperwork. You know just in case the nurse forgot to do something.  I was panicking at the thought of leaving my father alone.

And then very quietly while everyone was busy talking, I snuck back into the room. I quietly fixed the covers on my Dad and suddenly felt a strong urge to fix his hair.  Something was telling me to fix his hair..now.  So very gently with my fingers I fixed what hair my Dad had left and said goodbye one last time.  My father no longer felt like my father, I knew his spirit had left this world.  With a heavy heart and tears in my eyes I said good-bye to my father’s lifeless body.

I had seven years of cancer treatments and sickness to prepare me for this moment and NOTHING could have prepared me for the overwhelming sense of sadness and the paralyzing heartache that seized my body.

The days following my father’s death were dark and filled with exhausting sorrow.  I could not think, I could not eat, I had only one thought, “my father is dead.”  A piece of my heart was gone forever.

Almost immediately I began to notice unusual things happening.  Two days after my father passed I started waking up every night at exactly 1:30 AM, the exact time he died.  There were times I was certain he was standing right next to me.  Sometimes I would even see the most beautiful glowing light in the corner of my bedroom.  A week after my father’s passing I started to find the most beautifully fluffy white feathers.  Almost eight months later, each time I find a feather it’s always in a spot that I know it’s him.  Perhaps the greatest sign was a phone call from my Dad in July.  I was having a tough time and wanted a sign from my Dad.  I challenged him and told him to make the lightbulbs in the bathroom blow out (grieving people do strange things).  I was staring into the lights waiting and then my IPAD began to ring.  I looked at the incoming call and to my surprise saw “D-A-D.”  Instantly, I was overwhelmed with love, the kind of love that you just cannot describe but I knew, somehow, my Dad was moving heaven and earth to once again tell me he loved me.

That phone call prompted me to write Heaven Now Has Cellular Service, which connected me with Lisa Scrivens, Canadian medium.  On September 6, 2016 we had our telephone session.  I opened my mind and let go of assumptions.  I believe my Dad aligned the stars with that story and connected me to Lisa.

Nothing about this reading was what I thought it would be.  Although I had an open mind I was skeptical and extremely nervous.  I spent the entire half hour leading up to the reading running up and down my steps with nervous energy.  I set up the kitchen table with my mason jar of feathers next to me, proudly wore my Dad’s wedding band around my neck (I wear it daily), and I even had my favorite childhood photo with my Dad displayed.  We had plans to Facetime, but unfortunately my internet connection had other plans.

Over the telephone Lisa attempted to connect me with my Dad.  It started with my great-grandmother and the mention of an old photograph with her, me and a polka dot dress.  It was no surprise to me that she was by my Dad’s side in the afterlife.  Our entire family knew she adored my Dad.  It was a surprise to me that she’s been by MY side much of my life.  I felt honored that this great woman, who lived such a long life with such a rich history was by my side.

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Great grandma, me and the polka dot dress

Moments later my father entered the reading.  Lisa didn’t even have to tell me because immediately I could feel his love.  Words cannot do justice to how I felt at that moment, only that it felt as if I was a little girl again and everything was going to be okay.  I knew my Dad was there with me at that moment.

She started by telling me that my Dad was here and told me that a”Ginny” was with him. Immediately tears began to fall because just a few days prior my mother was crying, asking if Ginny was with him (Ginny was our beloved Pom who passed a few years ago).  Lisa then told me my father wanted me to start wearing the ruby ring he handed down to me.  We spent time talking about my father’s unconditional love for my mother, the beautiful larger than life love they shared with each other.  They were true soul mates, and my father wanted my mother to know that she will always be “his Marie” and he will always protect her.  Halfway through my reading I became overwhelmed with the smell of cigarette smoke and at that time Lisa asked me if my Dad was a smoker or if anyone in my family was.  My Dad was not, but my grandparents and other family members were.  We spent an hour discussing things only my Dad knew, things I have not written about.  Somehow Lisa knew of my anxiety about my Dad being alone after he passed, and through my father she assured me that my Dad was surrounded by family and friends. Perhaps one of the greatest things Lisa told me was that my father was at peace and even now, in death, he would move heaven and earth to keep me happy.

Death forces us to question our beliefs.  Is heaven for real?  Is my Dad okay?  And then I morph into Stewie from Family Guy…  “Dad, Dad, Dad, Daddy…Hellooo….can you hear me?  

Learning about the afterlife gives comfort, hope and peace for the grieving…for ME.

My reading and spiritual insight about life after death has not eliminated my grief, but it has transformed my grieving experience.  I went from hopelessness and anxiety to hope and peace.  I have gone from wondering where my Dad has gone, and worrying if he is still suffering—TO—knowing he is surrounded by the love of God. I now know for sure that he is watching over me and can really hear my mom and I speaking to him.  I believe that he is no longer suffering, he is finally at peace, celebrating his homecoming with those who had crossed over before them.

Tips To Find Strength After Losing A Parent

photo13When my Dad died this past January a trap door opened at the bottom of my heart.  My entire existence immediately fell through the door.  From that moment forward, I viewed myself as a fatherless daughter.

Losing a parent is one of the most difficult things in the world and it will change you. But losing your father when you are a “daddy’s girl” transforms you.  I lost a parent, a teacher and my best friend.

I immediately learned that grief is unfair, cruel and consuming.  Grief never goes away, you simply learn how to survive and conceal your emotions.  Seven months later and there are moments the pain comes rushing in like a tidal wave.  And when those waves come rushing in I’m certain anyone standing close can hear the deafening sounds of my heart shattering into a million pieces.

Just today I was minding my own business in Walgreens looking for vitamins when I spotted a daughter helping her Dad with his walker. Instantly I was brought back to the day my Dad received his new shiny blue walker.  He was not happy that his legs were slowing down and he was not happy that his hospice nurse ordered him a walker.  I vividly remember him whispering to me, “Don’t tell your mother, but I’m never using that thing, it’s for old timers.” Because I hated the walker as well, I smiled, lied to my Dad and said, “You don’t need that thing, it’s stupid.”

My Dad’s walker quickly became a fixture around the house to transport the laundry basket or an end table with wheels to hold the television remote controls.  I can remember constantly pushing it out of the way because it was always in front of the television. Towards the end of his life when he had no choice but to use his shiny blue walker, a massive lump would form in my throat and I had to fight back tears as I watched my Dad slowly make his way from the couch to the bathroom.

I was now quietly standing in the middle of the vitamin aisle with tears running down my face observing the father daughter duo.  My heart began to ache, and I was reminded how much I miss my Dad.  And then as quickly as my sadness hijacked my visit to Walgreens, I went from tears to laughter.  The daughter was now chasing her father down the aisle, frazzled and concerned  that her Dad was moving way to fast with his walker.  “Dad, you’re going to slip! Be careful!”  I then heard the father and daughter giggling reminding me of my Dad and me.  Reminding me that despite how bleak a situation seemed, my Dad always found a way to make me smile and appreciate life.

As I walk my grief journey I am constantly reminded what a powerful influence my Dad was on my family.  My father’s death has shattered my heart, but has also taught me valuable lessons, lessons that I carry close to my heart.  Below are some of those valuable lessons.

Life is a precious gift –  Somewhere, someone is fighting to live.  My father fought hard to stick around and watch his family grow.  He fought seven years, spent the last four years of his life in tremendous pain, and the last five months of his life housebound on hospice. His will to live every day and courageously fight for his life gave him and our family the beautiful gift of time. Don’t waste one second of it.

Say I love you. Every single day, all the time –  Watching my father battle cancer and die was devastating. When my father died I was heartbroken, but because of him I know that no matter how much your heart is breaking, it’s important to continue to love and it’s important to let our loved ones know we love them.  We spoke every single day, and ended every single conversation with, “I love you more.”  

Keep your memories close to your heart –  Ever since I can remember my father has been my world, my hero.  As young child I would go to his softball games and cheer him from the bleachers, towards the end of his life I would sit by his bedside, hold his hand and thank him for always loving me, for always being my biggest fan.  As long as I have breath in me I will be my father’s legacy. I share his DNA, he lives on in my mannerisms, my mother’s unconditional love and his grandbabies laughter.

Life is there to be cherished.

It’s what your parent would have wanted. Live your life in the knowledge that they would be happy for you, that they want you to be happy.

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Love Is Stronger Than Death

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Photo Credit:  Pinterest

My father’s cancer journey and death instantly opened my eyes to the countless sacrafices both my parents continuously made for my sister and I our entire lives, even when my Dad was dying.

My Dad was the one who taught me how to throw a baseball, taught me how to dance while standing on top of his feet, took me out for chocolate ice cream on a hot summer day, and always made sure I had fresh parmesan cheese on my pasta…I’m Italian so that’s important!  My Dad held my hand my entire life and always had his white handkerchief available to wipe my tears.  My Dad was my real life super hero.

During my teen years my Dad spent many nights on the couch pretending to watch TV while waiting for me to come home from a “late night” out. I still remember the look of relief on his face when I would walk through the front door. During my college years, he tolerated my obnoxious need to challenge everything and my independent behavior. When I came home one afternoon and declared my desire to smoke cigarettes he smiled and said “Ok, but we smoke the first cigarette together.”  I tried one cigarette and quickly decided that wasn’t for me.

I can still hear my Dad laughing in disbelief at some of the boyfriends I would bring home. I had a strict curfew, and he made sure every single date that stepped foot into our home knew it.  He proudly informed my dates, “She has to be home at 12:00, NOT 12:01, 12:00, I’m a nice guy so don’t make me angry.  Have fun, but not too much fun. Remember 12:00 on the dot.”  

During my college years, he built a strong foundation of encouragement, love and support. When I spread my wings and went into the “real world” looking for my first real job he was always available for advice or to just listen, regardless of how trite my issues were.  I remained his baby while growing up into a woman that quickly realized I would always need my father by my side.

Throughout my entire adult life my father was my confidant and best friend.  Despite the fact that my father’s cancer eradicated his body, cancer was never, ever able to rob the magnificent father daughter relationship we shared. Despite how sick and frail his body became, in my eyes, my father always remained a larger than life, super hero.

Like many fathers, my Dad lived for his wife and children.  Lately I am beginning to think that there was a greater reason for his cancer journey and his death. My mother was my father’s caregiver for seven years.  They would have been married 43 years this past May. My father’s dying wish was for the world knew how fortunate he was to have a wife like my mother.  Family was everything to my father and he was eternally grateful for the selfless acts of caregiving my mother provided for him throughout their marriage and his sickness.  Even now, in his death I have vivid dreams of my Dad asking me to tell my mother how much he loves her, and even now in his death, we are finding love notes my father left behind for my mother.

Two days before my father died, he held my hand looked at me straight in the eyes and said, “Always remember I’m alive because of your mother. She has dedicated her life to take care of me.  Now I need you and your sister to look out for her.  I will always love you and I will always be with you.”   The love my parents shared was a once in a lifetime kind of love.  I believe my mother was able to provide the type of care she did for so long because my parents had a marriage that fostered true altruism and unconditional love.  Throughout my entire life, including my father’s cancer I was given front row seats to see what true, unconditional love is.  Now in my father’s death, I am seeing, every single day that love never dies.

As I walk my grief journey I am evolving into a stronger person, a more patient person, a more compassionate person.  My father’s death has taught me that the simple things in life — a cup of coffee with a loved one, a daily phone call just to say hello, a walk on the beach, a sunset, a sunrise, even a rainstorm — all deserve tremendous gratitude.

Life is too short to waste time on the trivial matters.

As we expereince the ebb and flow of our grief, despite how much we are drowning in our sorrow, we should not hinder the legacy of our loved one.

My father is forever a part of me and lives on through my actions.

Love is stronger than death even though it can’t stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can’t separate people from love. It can’t take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.
– Author Unknown

 

 

Your First Birthday In Heaven

 

Dear Dad,

August 21st was your first birthday in heaven.  Unlike the other special days that have gone by since you passed, this one hurt like hell. I woke up the morning of your birthday positive my heart was shattered in a million pieces.

This was your first birthday not here, your first birthday in my ENTIRE LIFE I didn’t spend watching you blow out candles. Even when you were at your worst, suffering, unable to eat you ALWAYS blew out your candles and made a wish.  This year there were no candles to blow out.  No clapping after they were blown out.  No searching for the perfect cards and gift.  This year there were only the sounds of my heart breaking into a million pieces.

We used to honor and celebrate you on this day and last week I couldn’t even bring myself to go to the cemetery.  The thought of going to the cemetery on your birthday made me physically ill.   I didn’t want to look at your headstone glistening in the sun.  I didn’t want to talk to the dirt and leave you flowers and balloons.

I searched high and low for the appropriate present for you, now that you are you know, dead.  But I was at a loss.  Lord & Taylor was having a sale on Men’s shirts.  Linens & Things had an extra 20% off for back to school.  Even Macy’s was having a sale.  But nothing for the Dad up in heaven.  I never brought you flowers while you were alive and now here we are seven months later and it’s flowers galore and whatever else I can leave at your grave to not to get destroyed from the elements.

I spent the day mourning your absence, really missing you.  Nothing is the same now that you gone.

I hope that you had an awesome birthday up in heaven.  I hope you were finally able to eat that piece of cake and wash it down with that big cup of coffee.  I hope God had a camera  on your birthday and He took a photo of you so we can see you eating again.  My rational mind knows that you are at peace, but my heart aches that you died unable to eat.

Seven months since you have passed and I miss you more now than the day we lost you.  I find myself looking for your magnetic qualities in people.  I look for your warmth, radiance and compassion.  I search for your sense of humor, and your unbelievable strength of character.  I look for your face in the crowd, I listen for your voice in the middle of the night.  So many things will never be the same.  You were a one of a kind father and you are irreplaceable.

I miss you Dad.

Your absence was magnified on your birthday.  I know you can hear me, and I’m trying my best not to be sad.  But some days are tough. Whenever I ask you for a sign that you are okay you always send me a beautiful white feather. On your birthday you made sure to send me a fluffy white feather. That’s so like you to give me a gift on your special day.

I want to thank you for all you have done and continue to do for me.  You taught me to be strong, to have courage and to have faith.  Dad, you taught me to love with all my heart, no matter what and to always be truthful.  You taught me to be passionate and fearless regardless of what others thought. During one of our last conversations you told me to be kind and trust in the Lord.

Although you are no longer here  in physical form, you live forever in my heart.  You are constantly showing me that love never dies.

On your birthday and each day I honor you.  I honor your faith and strength.  I honor your love and commitment.   Together, with Mom, you both taught me the meaning of true love and what it is to be a parent.  On your birthday I lit a candle and thanked you for always being my hero and showing me what true unconditional love is.

Happy Belated Birthday Daddy!  I love and miss you!

Love You Forever,

Lisa Mia XO

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The Grief Thief

IMG_6101This past week has thrown a massive monkey wrench into my grief journey.  I am once again putting cold spoons under my eyes to reduce the swelling and feeling sick to my stomach.  My grief diet hit me full force taking 5 pounds with her.  Unfortunately despite the fact that I’m mourning my Dad, life marches on. And as life marches on we must ride the highs and the lows of life despite how much those lows hurt.

I am beginning to realize that despite all my writing and thinking I’m ok, I’m not. Sure, I’m a grown up.  I have my health, a fabulous career, an amazing significant other and a loving family.   I know I’m blessed, but I really miss my Dad.  It was my Dad I went to for everything.  He was my trusted advisor on life.  And now that my first real life issue has fallen into my lap, I feel like I’m standing on the edge of an abyss, the same abyss I was looking into the night he died.

My father was my hero, my rock, my best friend and life without him is extremely difficult and challenging.  How do you learn how to walk again when the ground beneath you is crumbling? How do you speak when unshed tears claw at your throat?  The seven month anniversary of his death is a few days away and I can still feel my heart shattering into a million pieces.

A few days before my Dad passed we had one of our last heart to heart conversations.  It was at that moment I cried to him asking, “WHO will I go to when life takes a chaotic turn?”  He patted me on the head, smiled and said, “Me.”  I will never forget that response, he was so sure of himself, like he knew something I didn’t.  Despite all his pain and suffering  I saw peace in his eyes.  It was at that moment, I knew my Dad knew something I didn’t, and it was beautiful.  In the middle of muffled sobs I paused, studied his face, and whispered,”Seriously Dad, WHO am I going to go to because I really need you.”  With tears in both of our eyes, my Dad smiled and replied, “I will always be with you, and you will always be my baby. Have faith in God and I promise I will always be with you.”

So here I am, six very long months have passed and I’m fatherless.  I miss him more and more each day.  Life is marching on, and the glue that held our family together is gone.  Many times the waves of grief are so engulfing I have no choice but to ride them.

I’m not sure what it is with death, but people are totally clueless.  People not qualified to offer advice on broiling water are attempting to fill my father’s shoes, giving unsolicitated opinions on private family matters and it’s horrifying.  And while I understand they truly believe their intentions are good, what they are incapable of realizing is that they are outsiders looking in.  I’m certain many of you are reading this thinking, “OMG me too, thank goodness I’m not the only one with crazy relatives!”

So, what’s the solution?  

How do you survive your own grief journey when you’re encountering meddlers with bad intentions who are gossiping during one of the most difficult times of your life? In the movies families rally together, hold hands and sing by the fire.  But this is real life not the movies, so now what?   Unfortunately I don’t have a magic pill, gosh I wish I did.

As I sat on my patio struggling to make the right the decision, the decision my father would have made, I decided to ask for his guidance.  My Dad had a gift with people, he always seemed to know what to do, he had a dymanic larger than life personality.   So, I looked up and said, “Dad, give me the strength to survive this journey.”  

Moments later I found perhaps one of the fluffiest feathers yet, instantly feeling surrounded by love.  I knew then nothing else matters.  The gossip, the meddling it’s truly for the small minded, and isn othing more than a distraction as I grieve.

As you walk your grief journey focus on learning how to live again without your person of monumental significance.  Take some time out.  Grief makes us all do crazy things we may regret.  It is important to cut anyone who is toxic during this time.  People do all sorts of appalling stuff when they grieve, so try to look at these things as poor choices due to a hopeless time in life.  Their heinous choices are a reflection of them, not you. 

Our relationship with loved ones does not end with death.  If you find someone is stealing your grief, its okay to take a break from them and shout, “Don’t steal my grief, thief!”

This article originally appeared on:  The Grief Toolbox

 

 

Pain Deserves Acknowledgement Not Judgment

 “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world… but you do have some say in who hurts you.”  The Fault In Our Stars

To the person who thinks my grief is cumbersome…

To the person who felt the need to tell me HOW I should be grieving…

To the person who tried to put words in my dead father’s mouth not even a month after his passing…

To the person who has avoided me because of my grief and now our relationship is dead….

Grief is a personal journey with no time stamp.  I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you are fortunate enough to have not lost a person of monumental significance in your life yet. The saying “ignorance is bliss” holds true when it comes to death.

Perhaps you are unaware of the gut wrenching pain that occurs when losing someone who has held your hand since birth.  Perhaps you are unaware of the constant sting in your heart after losing your real life super hero. Perhaps you are unaware of the nightmares that begin after watching cancer dismantle someone you adore.   Perhaps my grief frightens you because it forces you to think of your own mortality and that of your loved ones.  Or just maybe in your very hectic life you forgot how important it is to show respect to your dead friend/family member by acting like a decent human being and showing kindness and respect to the deceased’s immediate family.

You see, when someone you adore dies, life as you know it takes a dramatic turn.  Despite how sick the person is, you can never prepare for life without the deceased.  You are basically learning how to live without this person in your life.  You search for various forms of life support as you endure overwhelming waves of grief.  And these waves of grief strike at the darndest little times, not just those expected firsts, I’m referring to moments when you’re minding your own business in the grocery store and a song comes on, or when you’re watching TV and a Hallmark commercial comes on.  And let me tell you, it’s those during those unexpected moments when those waves really knock you down.

First, let me say that our family is truly blessed to have such a strong support network. Death is funny, it has a way of exposing fair weathered friends and family.  You never think when someone is dying that people who were once in your inner circle are capable of such ignorance and ineptitude. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because life is so hectic we tend to forget what’s really important or maybe it’s because society has become so incredibly selfish.

Pain deserves acknowledgement not judgment.

Unfortunately for you I am aware of your actions during this extremely vulnerable time in my life, during perhaps one of the darkest times in my life. My father died, you remember him don’t you?   I watched you shed a tear or two as you approached his death bed, I listened as you proclaimed your “love” for him.  I watched you walk up to his casket and pay your last respects.  I watched you shed crocodile tears and make promises that were broken before the dirt was even tossed on my father’s casket.  I apologize for being so blunt, but death does that to you.

Death opens your eyes and closes your heart to some as an effort to survive.

That fateful evening I sat next to my dying father holding his hand, certain the sounds of my breaking heart were deafening.  I held the hand of the man who brought me into the world.  The hand of the man who taught me how to throw a baseball, how to dance while standing on top of his feet, how to drive, the incredible man who taught me how to find the good in everyone.

But I’m struggling with this, where is the good in a person who is too impatient and indignant to simply be there for a newly fatherless daughter?  Where is the good in a person who uses their self righteousness to justify treating a widow poorly when her world is completely shattered?

 “Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us”  Eric Hoffer

Maybe you can put your selfishness aside and consider that for the rest of my life, the rest of my mother’s life we will never be able to embrace my father’s comforting hug or hear his voice again.  Maybe what we need is your empathy and not judgment as we attempt to accept this new reality we never asked for.  Maybe you can truly recognize that our horrific loss and pain is greater than your need to tell us how to grieve and pass judgment.  Maybe you can recognize that our family has a permanent void in our lives and we need kindness and empathy.

Finding Hope In Nature’s Signs

When someone you love dies you receive all sorts of advice from supportive individuals.  The first couple of days are a complete fog and you’re lucky if you can just get out of bed.  I had a difficult time speaking and just being around others.  I was so tired, I felt like a piece of me died.  I remember sitting in the funeral home helping my Mom with the arrangements and thinking the funeral director sounded like the Charlie Brown teacher at one point.  I began to quietly think to myself,  “Is this real life? Am I REALLY here?” Then I began to think, “I’m fatherless now.”  It was as if I was standing on the edge of a cliff looking into total darkness.  It was absolutely terrifying.

The death of a beloved is an amputation.
—C. S. Lewis

The death of a loved one is painful and confusing.  Mourning someone you love shocks your spirit and shatters your heart.  You feel a new hole or a void inside your heart that the deceased once occupied.  There are moments when you can actually hear your heart breaking into a million pieces. As you allow yourself to grieve and experience the ebb and sorrows of your grief, you will begin to see signs and realize that love never dies.

A few of my friends who have already walked this path immediately told me to “pay attention to nature.”  For the past six months I have been paying attention to nature.  In the beginning I honestly had no clue what I was supposed to be looking at.  My Dad died in January, so there really isn’t much nature running around in New Jersey.  But like most people when a loved one dies you become desperate to know if they are at peace, and for me that means are you eating again and what does heaven look like? 

Two days after we buried my Dad a feather fell from my bedroom ceiling.  Yes you read that right, a fluffy white feather fell from my bedroom ceiling.  I quickly did a perimeter check just in case.  Perhaps a bird was trapped in the ceiling, or we had something with down feathers hanging around.  But I’m allergic to down and there are no birds trapped in my ceiling.  Since then I have found enough feathers to build my own angel wings and visit heaven.  I save all my feathers in a mason jar on my nightstand to remind me that my father is at peace and that heaven is for real.  If I stare long enough, it looks like the feathers are dancing in the mason jar, waiving to me.

My first visit to the cemetery shortly after my father passed was terrifying.  The first blizzard of the season left us knee deep in snow, with a blast of frigid arctic temperatures.  But I NEEDED to go, I felt something tugging at me to go.  As I slowly made my way to my father’s snow covered grave I noticed a cat walking out of the wooded area from behind the headstones.  He made his way up to our family headstone and sat with me the entire visit..in the snow.  Tilting his head and meowing as I sobbed, carefully watching my every move.  As we slowly drove away, he stood tall observing, meowing .  Maybe he was a graveyard cat enduring arctic temperatures, maybe he was sent to comfort me during my first visit.  However that cat ended up at the cemetery, he was comforting during a very difficult time, and I will never forget his presence.   I made sure to snap his photo as we drove off.

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“Pay Attention to Nature”

Fast forward to six months after my Dad’s passing.  My signs are becoming stronger and distinct.  My dreams (the ones I can remember) are vivid.  My questions are always the same, “Are you eating again?” and “What is it like up there?” 

I am constantly observing my surroundings for signs from my Dad.  With each sign my Dad sends my way, I check for authenticity. (Sorry Dad, but you always taught me to be alert)  Each time I check for authenticity he sends another sign.  Each sign leaves me scratching my head and saying, “OMG is this real life?”  It’s like we are playing a game now, and anyone who knew my Dad knew he had a zest for life and loved a good game.  To say he was competitive is a massive understatement.

My latest blog post somehow connected me with Lisa Scrivens. I’m humbled and honored that somehow on the great big internet she found my little story.  I’m excited, anxious and nervous for our appointment in September.  I wrote my last post like I always do, to share my journey.  Writing is my feeble attempt to somehow come to grips with losing my Dad.  I never in a million years expected it to result in an appointment with someone as respected as Lisa Scrivens.  I truly believe my Dad had something to do with that. 

Following my email conversation with Lisa, I asked my Dad for guidance as I was sitting in my car. I asked him if I should speak with Lisa.   And of course I ended it with, “Are you eating again.”  Please understand, I’m human and skeptical as I walk this grief journey!  As I was bombarding him with questions I noticed a black bird flying, but kinda lingering in my eye’s view with a cookie in his mouth.  I tried to make eye contact with the bird, but I was driving and he was flying and that’s a recipe for disaster, as well as a little strange.  I simply continued my drive, now with tears rolling down my cheeks.

This could be a coincidence, maybe someone gave the bird a big cookie, or maybe just maybe it’s another sign from my Dad.  I’m going to believe that it’s a sign from my Dad.

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Photo Credit:  Pinterest

 

Heaven Now Has Cellular Service

IMG_2605My dead father called me this weekend. Yes, my dead father called me on my cell phone this weekend. He called my cell phone Saturday evening at exactly 7:01 PM.

Wait, what?

This is the part where some readers throw their hands up and say, “This poor woman has obviously lost her marbles while grieving her Dad.” Before you write me off, I have proof that my Dad called me this weekend.

When someone you love dies you lose pieces of them as time passes. Immediately the daily phone calls stop but little by little their scent fades from clothing, slowly their mail stops, and very, very slowly you stop looking for them in their favorite comfy chair. Gradually you accumulate significant pieces of them that are now gone, and accept that this is your new normal. You have moments when you are overwhelmed with the feeling that they are gone forever. Each new day brings a painful reminder of what was.

When my father was alive I had hope, I made it my mission to find someone who could help him. Someone who could restore his ability to eat again. ANYONE. I refused to accept that he would die yearning to eat. I wanted to believe that he would have just one more meal, one more drink with the family. Watching my father spend the final four years of his life surviving on a peg tube was my own personal hell. Towards the end of my father’s life I had a very difficult time being around an abundance of food; it was a painful reminder of what was taken from my Dad. I wanted my father’s ability to eat restored more than anything in the world. I prayed harder than I ever prayed, I begged and I searched the internet to find “the one.” I did all the things a good Catholic girl does when she prays for something, including not walking on sidewalk cracks. Sadly, I never found “the one” and my father died unable to eat or drink. This is something that has burned a hole in my heart and haunts me. I find myself lying awake at night thinking, “Why my father.”

This weekend was the six month anniversary of my Dad’s passing. I am amazed how six months can fly by, yet feel like an eternity. As the weekend progressed my anxiety began to build. The pain in my chest suddenly overpowering. The tears unstoppable. I found myself standing in my bathroom holding onto the counter while navigating the ebb and sorrow of my grief. I asked my father for a sign. Actually, I begged him for a sign, anything just please let me know you are eating again.

I asked for this sign, knowing full well that my Dad has been showing me signs since the moment he passed. He sends me beautiful fluffy white feathers, he speaks to me through music, he has blown out a few dozen light bulbs. He is constantly sending me signs. But like most humans, I’m greedy and I want solid confirmation that he is eating again. I really don’t know what I expected. Suddenly I was having a stare down with the bathroom light. I strangely resembled “Firestarter” staring into the light, like I expected it to blow up or something.

And then it happened.

My cell phone began to ring.

At first I was annoyed because I was preoccupied staring at the bathroom light waiting for my sign.  When I realized the light won our staring contest, I looked at my phone and then my IPAD (they are in synch)and saw “Dad.” I did what any “normal” human would do, I froze. I wasn’t afraid, I was shocked. I stared at the screen wide-eyed in disbelief. Right before my eyes were the letters “D-A-D” followed by his picture. I fumbled and quickly took a screenshot, because let’s be real no one is going to believe that my Dad has wireless service in heaven. I mean I can barely get service in my local grocery store, so this is amazing.

When I pressed accept he didn’t answer, but I quietly whispered, “I love you more Dad.”

I miss my Dad every single day, especially when the days takes me further and further from the last day I saw him, as I slowly begin to forget the sound of his voice, the sound of his laugh or his scent. Even in death my Dad is still my hero.  He finds ways to remind me that no matter what, he’s still with me, guiding and protecting me.

I love you Dad, this is not good-bye, this is only farewell.

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The Many Faces of Grief

Surviving the loss of a loved one is heart breaking and debilitating. Healing takes place on many levels.  Unfortunately grief does not arrive in a neat little box, it’s messy and chaotic.  It doesn’t matter if it’s expected or unexpected when you lose someone you love and adore you are in turmoil.

Six months ago my father passed after a very long battle with Stage IV base of the tongue cancer.  I thought I was prepared for his passing.  I had moments when I would watch my father suffer and beg God for mercy.  I would think to myself, how much agony can a human being endure?  Why my father?  He was a good man who loved God.  My father suffered the last four years of his life, his final weeks were heartbreaking.  I was given a front row seat to watch my father deteriorate before my eyes.  I felt alone, helpless, worthless and lost.  These were the darkest days of my life.

I write as an effort to try and understand why this happened to my hero, my father.  I write to memorialize my beautiful father with hopes of helping others living with the same ache in their hearts.

I thought I was prepared for his death, I even was given a grandiose Hollywood ending. We rallied in his hospital room and held his hands as he entered the afterlife.  I remember feeling the presence of God and loved ones who passed before my Dad.  The entire room was filled with love and the strong scents of those that passed before us.  At one point I remember being alone with my parents and becoming competely overpowered by the scent of flowers.  Roses to be exact.  It was the most wonderful, soothing feeling I ever experienced.  At the moment, we knew we were not alone.  We knew there was a presence greater than us, watching us, comforting us and guiding my father to a better place, guiding him to heaven.  I watched my father leave his body, the body that fought so hard to stay with his family, the body that was poked and prodded by doctors for so many years.  I watched my father’s soul leave his body that night and enter the gates of Heaven.  My father’s death is something that now is a part of me, something I hold it in my heart right next to the massive void now where he once lived.

I have always told my Dad how much I loved him but the night of his passing I told him I loved him incessantly.  In the midst of endless tears I whispered to him, “You can go Dad, we got this, we will take care of Mom.”  As I bravely uttered those words it was like someone was turning a knife in my heart.  What I really wanted to scream was, “Please don’t go Daddy, I don’t care that I’m an adult, I NEED you.”   But you really can’t scream that to a man who just spent the last four years of his life unable to eat, enduring endless pain and suffering.  There’s a point where you must accept God’s will and try to be “strong.”  The key word here is try.

Six months later and I still have moments when I feel like my heart is breaking all over again.  I have crushing, gut-busting, overwhelming, debilitating pain.  And what is shocking to me is these moments come rushing in when it’s least expected.

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.  – C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

If you’ve been reading my blog you know I spoke to my Dad daily, multiple times throughout the day.  He even programmed a special ring on the phone for both my sister and my calls.  When it rang he would yell, “It’s my Lisa Mia!”  For a while the National Anthem played when I called, I remember laughing and saying, “Dad, I’m not the President!”  He smiled and said, “You’re my Miss America!”  That was my Dad, he loved his family.

Towards the end of his life his pain made the phone calls a challenge, but I still called.  I would tell him, “Dad it’s just me, I just want you to know I love you more.”  He would struggle to speak, but he always found the strength to whisper between excruciating gasps of pain, “You will always be my baby and I will always love you more.”

As time ticks on and I slowly realize that my Dad is really gone the pain becomes unbearable.  When I celebrate an accomplishment, or create a new memory I search for my Dad.  When I need advice I search for my Dad.  When I need someone to cheer me on and tell me I can do it, I search for my Dad.  When the world is too loud and I need a hug I want my Dad.  I pretty much search for my Dad all the time.

Last week I decided to write on another topic close to my heart, Loving a Police Officer In Today’s Crazy World.  The article had an awesome response.  I was on a fabulous high, proud of my words, proud of this accomplishment, and then I felt a tugging at my heart.  I really wanted to call my Dad.  I wanted so badly to share this happy moment with my Dad.  I wanted him to read my words and give me honest feedback.  I went from elated to devastated in seconds.  One minute I was smiling then next I was sobbing, holding my chest gasping for air. Once again I felt like Jekyll and Hyde.

This is what grief looks like.  Grief is complicated, messy and unpredictable.  Grief is a thief, robbing you of joyful moments, leaving you drowning in sorrow.  Grief can be ugly, but it can also be beautiful sending you signs from loved ones showing you a beautiful life that once was. But as beautiful as those signs are, grief sucks the life out of you and leaves you on your knees begging for mercy, yearning for just one more conversation, one more hug, one more moment with that person.

 

 

My Dad’s Death Made Me An Eavesdropper

There were a group of teenage girls hanging out at the mall today during lunch.  Armed with cell phones and lip gloss they were ready to conquer the world.

I watched a Dad in a BMW drop off the girls in front of the food court.  When the car door opened the girls charged out.  The Dad lingered and began calling his daughter.  I watched as she rolled her eyes and slowly made her way back.

I was paying more attention to the father daughter duo than my iced coffee and accidentally spilled some on my dress.  I was hypnotized.  Instantly my heart began to hurt, a little over five months ago my father died.  He was my biggest fan, my best friend and unconditionally loved me for me.

I watched as the father scolded the daughter for her very short shorts and “excessive” makeup.  I watched the girl stomp her feet, her shoulders slouch and eventually her entire body grew tense.  Her friends began to watch with me.  We all stood there staring anticipating their next move.

Eventually after some arguing and discipline the father drove away and the young girl skipped away with her friends.  She seemed defeated and angry.  I overheard her calling her father “Hitler” and “mean.”  She was “so done” with her Dad.

I wanted to run up and shake her.  I wanted to tell her, “Your Dad will always love you!  Someday he won’t be here! I wish my Dad was here right now yelling at me for short shorts and excessive make up!  You’re so lucky!” 

Didn’t she know her father was her biggest fan in life?  Like this guy really wanted a bunch of pubescent girls in his new BMW on this beautiful afternoon!  But that’s what father’s of daughters do they make sacrifices for their little girls and they love and protect them.

This past weekend on the beach I quietly observed a family enjoying a picture perfect Sunday at the Jersey shore.  Dad, Mom and their preteen daughter.   My chair had a bird’s eye view of the family.  Once again I observed like a creepy stalker.  Instantly, I became mesmerized.  I tried to not watch, but I couldn’t resist.  This family reminded me of my own family many years ago.

The Dad began telling his daughter he was not fond of her current boyfriend.  The daughter like most young girls thought Dad was totally clueless.  Her voice became high pitch and squeaky.  The Dad’s voice remained calm and concerned.  They sat facing the ocean discussing the daughter’s poor choice in boys for most of the afternoon.  The Dad kept telling his daughter he “only wanted what is best for her.”  At one point the daughter emerged from her beach chair and hugged her Dad.  It was a sight for sore eyes, it reminded of my younger self.

I wanted to high five the girl on the beach and tell her, “Love him, cherish him and tell him you appreciate him because someday he will not be here.”

To the Dads….We need your patience, we need your support, but above all else, we need to know that you are in our corner, unconditionally.  We are complicated and emotional but we will always need our Dads.  A woman’s father is her first love, he sets the expectations for how a man should treat a lady.

I’m blessed, I was given a lifetime with my Dad always on my side, always cheering me from the sidelines, always reminding me that I can do anything I set my mind to.

I miss my Dad every single second of the day, I miss our friendship and our beautiful rapport.  Friends, if you’re blessed to have your Dad still in your life hug him tight and never let go.  If you’re like me and your Dad is now your guardian angel take a moment to look up and whisper, “I love you.”

I miss my Dad.

For Better Or Worse: Loving a Police Officer In Today’s Crazy World

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Photo Credit:  Photo Credit: Pinterest

Be patient. Be kind. Be thankful for our police officers. This is a difficult time to be a police officer. This is an emotional time to love a police officer. This is a time when the sound of velcro at the end of a loved one’s shift is a glorious sound.

Please take a moment to check out my latest article featured on Her View From Home.

For Better Or Worse: Loving a Police Officer In Today’s Crazy World

Just Another Conversation With My Dad

 

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Photo Credit:  Favim.com

There is no such thing as waterproof mascara.  Seriously.  Anyone who tells you there is…they are lying.  I don’t care if you purchase your mascara at the drug store or over the counter in a fancy department store, there is NO SUCH THING.  I know this because since my Dad died I cry a lot.  I’ve tried them all and I’ve come to accept that raccoon eyes are in.

My grief is making me crazy.  I’m not kidding; normal things that are totally innocent make me snap at people.  Rewind to this morning.  My boyfriend and I were talking, smiling behaving like a normal happy couple.  Then he smiles and mentions “Oceanfest.” What’s Oceanfest?  Oceanfest is the biggest Fourth of July celebration at the Jersey Shore.  We have food galore, crafts, games and a spectacular fireworks display at the end of the day.  Nothing bad there, right?  Well I snapped at him.  I declared my distaste for this day filled of fun.  People eating fried oreos, zeppoles and all that other goodness?  People having fun? Nope, there will be none of that for me.  I grabbed my soap box and went bat shit crazy on him, ending my rant with how I’m eating healthy…forever.  Fortunately I’m with the most patient man in the world and he smiled, kissed me goodbye and left for work.  Poor guy, he only wanted a fried oreo.

And then the waterworks started.  Please remember I was almost out the door for work, so I looked somewhat presentable.  Within minutes I had mascara running down my face, I was a disaster.  All over Oceanfest?  Oceanfest is supposed to be fun!  It’s entertainment for EVERYONE!

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.  This incredible day represented everything that was taken from my father before his death.  My Father died after a gruesome battle with Stage IV base of the tongue cancer.  He spent the last four years unable to eat a morsel of food or drink an ounce of liquid.  I couldn’t even give him a lousy sip of water on his death bed.  For me this celebration represented what was taken from my Dad and my family.

Sometimes during my grief journey my anger takes over and clouds my judgment.  It comes on strong like a hurricane and the rage is overwhelming.  For that moment fried oreos, zeppole, ice cream, anything that was being served at Oceanfest was in the line of fire with my poor boyfriend right in that bullseye.

I sound so logical right?

Well my Dad is a funny guy because he is the one who told me that during my car ride to work this morning.

Once again, from the afterlife my Dad is communicating with me.

And here’s how……

I scrambled to my car, put my Pandora radio on and began my 45 minute ride to work.

As I was driving I was talking out loud to my Dad, telling him,  “It’s not fair, why did God let you die unable to eat?”

At that very moment Don McLean’s “American Pie” came on the radio.  I pressed the forward button because I don’t even like that song and it played again.  I now punched the thumbs down button with my index finger and heard, “Bye, bye Miss American Pie” In an instant, my attention was completely drawn to my Pandora radio and this song that I never really liked (Sorry Don McLean).  Normally with Pandora you press thumbs down, the nice people at Pandora apologize for playing it and you NEVER ever hear that song again.  Well now that song played consecutively.   I was just yelling to my dead dad how it was unfair he died unable to eat, cursing out Oceanfest and “American Pie” was playing???

Okay!  I hear you Dad, but it’s still not fair!

And then my cries turned into sobs, gut wrenching sobs.

But wait, my Dad wasn’t done, when “American Pie” finished playing The Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” came on.

My Dad is a funny guy in the afterlife.  He’s constantly sending me messages, normally in the form of feathers, sometimes music and other stuff.  My sobs turned into laughs and for that moment I felt my father’s loving presence in the car with me.

This grief journey sucks, I miss my Dad more and more each day.  But, I also consider myself blessed to be able to share these moments.  Blessed to have such a supportive group of loved ones by my side.  Blessed and thankful that even now my Dad is communicating with me.

 

 

 

How Many Clouds Are In Your Sky?

Lately my Mom and I look up to the clouds in the sky searching for my Dad.  When you lose someone you love dearly, you are perpetually searching for a “sign” that they are in heaven, that they are okay, that they are whole once again.

Death is the ultimate test of blind faith.

I know my father is in heaven, and I know my father is watching me.

He is constantly sending me signs.  He started communicating with me almost immediately following his passing.  His preferred method of communication with me is feathers.  I have no idea why because when he was living it’s not like he was the bird whisperer.

Two days after his burial I was laying in bed crying when I noticed something white and fluffy on the floor.  When I got up and crouched down to look I saw a beautiful, fluffy white feather.  I examined the feather, searched the entire bedroom for signs of a trapped bird, something with down feathers in it, anything!  Nothing, just one fluffy white feather.

I picked up the feather and whispered, “Dad???, Are you here?”

He didn’t answer, but I made sure I saved that beautiful, fluffy white feather.

I always seem to find a feather at just the right moment.  For example, last week I was leaving a doctor’s appointment after an exhausting morning complete with a round of blood tests. I was tired and frustrated, just as I looked up a feather landed by my feet.  Each time I find a feather I always catch myself searching for a bird or something with down.

feathers

But it’s summer at the Jersey Shore, and I’m not wearing any down, actually I’m allergic to down.  So………

As the months continue to pass, my collection of feathers are growing.  I save all my feathers in a mason jar next to my bed.  They are priceless gifts from my Dad showing me that love never dies, that he’s healthy again, and has earned his angel wings.

He also likes to communicate with me through music and play with the lights.  The other night I was folding laundry and I tapped a lamp that was unplugged and it turned on.  Yes, my lamp that was unplugged turned on by itself.  Five months ago I would have ran out of the house screaming, now I look up and say, “I love you too Dad.”

Anyone who is not grieving is absolutely rolling their eyes at this point, thinking I’ve lost my mind.  But it’s true, my dead father talks to me.

With each sign that he sends my way, I always look up and thank him.  It only seems right.   I’ve never been to heaven, but I would imagine it’s rather difficult task to communicate with living family members.  Especially in this day and age with all the distractions surrounding us.

The other day my Mom and I were talking on the phone and she told me she wants to see a cloud that looks like my father.

She said, “You know, your father when he was young and healthy with side burns.”

I laughed and said, “I think you’re pushing your luck on that one, I would imagine a heart is easier?”

Like I have any clue on how to communicate with loved ones from the afterlife.  I’m not exactly John Edwards, I’m just a regular person grieving her father.  But her request seemed like a difficult task.  She then me told me the day before when she was driving she saw a cloud that looked like my Dad’s silhouette, but now she wants him to send her a cloud that looks more like him or a cloud that says their names.  I began thinking that my Mom thinks my Dad has become Bob Ross now that he’s gone.  I mean, clouds that look like him?

And then, as we were chatting away, I began to stare at the clouds.  My poor mother was now talking to herself and I began to quietly wonder:

Where are you?

Can you hear this conversation?

You couldn’t draw a stick person when you were alive and now we want feathers, music and now pictures in the clouds?

Are we crazy?

Just at that moment I looked up at the sky and saw a heart shaped cloud.  I couldn’t believe my eyes; I put my Mom on hold and immediately took a photo.

clouds

My father is constantly showing our family that love never dies.  Right before he died with tears in his eyes he told me, “Lisa honey this isn’t goodbye, this is only farewell.  I will see you again.”

 

 

 

Remember Me?

 

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Photo Credit:  hdiphonewallpapers.us

Remember me?

Five months ago my father died after a lengthy illness.

Remember that?  

Sure you do. I mean he was sick for seven years.  You floated in and out of our epic battle like a plastic bag floating in the wind.  When it became obvious that Dad was dying your visits became more frequent, your unsolicited assessments irritating and monotonous. When Dad died you vanished like a thief in the night. Which is confusing because you really had me fooled.  I have to be totally honest, I really held you to a much higher standard.

Remember me?

In case you forgot, Dad died after a gruesome battle  with cancer.  I was given a front row seat for seven years.  I watched my real life super hero transform from a healthy, vibrant man to a very frail individual.  I am haunted by his screams and his cries for Jesus to take him.  I am haunted that he died unable to eat a morsel of food or drink an ounce of liquid. I am haunted that the last four years of his life was spent with us eating in front of him knowing he was quietly watching, praying to regain his ability to eat just one more time.  I am haunted that during the last days of his life I had to suction gunks of saliva out of his mouth so he would not choke to death.  I am haunted that his cancer prevented me from quenching his thirst on his deathbed when he asked me for a sip of water.

Remember him?

My father was the funniest, most outrageous, most loving soul you ever met. He was also extremely kind, highly intuitive and unbelievably wise.

Remember him?

You claim that you enjoyed his company and “loved” him, so I am compelled to ask you this.  Do you believe that your grief outranks his immediate family?  The people who now have a massive void in his home.  Do you think your grief is more significant than his widow of 44 years, the woman who was his primary caregiver and handled the most private affairs for him? Do you think your grief dominates the children who share his DNA and cry for their father?  The children he raised since birth, the children whom he adored and they adored him back?

Remember us?

I must confess, I’m truly baffled by your behavior.  I’m not dismissing your pain and grief, I’m just questioning your actions.  Perhaps our grief is too overwhelming for you and our pain makes you feel uncomfortable.  Sorry not sorry, our family is mourning the loss our hero, the man who played the leading role in our family.  We are uncomfortable all the time now, it’s the new normal for us.

Remember us?

Someday something will remind you of Dad and his family.  Someone will ask you how we are doing.  What will you say?  How will you spin this? Will you tell them we are so grief-stricken that we have lost our minds? Or will you tell them the truth?  They say the truth will set you free.

Remember us?

I lost a prominent figure in my life, the patriarch of my family. They say as time goes on the sting won’t be as bad. But I wouldn’t know as its only been five months. I have read what has happened between us is referred to as “secondary loss.” Quite frankly, it is very disappointing. One of my Dad’s all time favorite sayings was, “family first.”

Remember him?

Now this is the part of my letter where everyone expects me to say it’s okay and I’ll forgive you. But I cannot do that.  My grief has heightened my senses and opened my eyes.

Remember me?

Like here’s the thing, I’m surviving all these horrific firsts and where the hell are you?  I recently spent my first Father’s Day in my entire life without seeing my Dad, without hugging him and telling him how much I adore him.  There are moments when I have to hold my chest because the pain is so devastating. Sometimes something as basic as putting sugar in my coffee strikes a nerve and I’m hurled into the ebb and flow of my grief and sorrow.  All because I put sugar in my coffee, and a silly little memory popped into my head.

Remember me?

I thank God everyday for the countless friends and family reaching out to make sure we are surviving our horrific, dreaded firsts. Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries now all come with an emotional roller coaster.  Father’s Day really sucked.  You should have made contact, but you didn’t.  The past five months have had so many horrifying firsts for our family, we survived each one, without you.

Remember me?

At this very moment, I’m having a very  difficult time letting go of the fact that my father’s death has morphed you into a coward.  Some people will argue that you have not experienced loss and are not capable of understanding grief, but I say that’s rubbish.  You sobbed crocodile tears when Dad passed, and vanished like a thief in the night when his family needed you.

Remember me?

My grief has opened my eyes and closed parts of my heart.  I do have some good news for you.  Despite all this, I wish you happiness and I wish you well.

Signed,

A Disappointed Grieving Daughter

Thank you for Loving Me

feather-hd-wallpaper_04My dead father communicates with me through dreams, feathers and a few other things in between.

No really, he does.

I know I sound like a desperate grieving daughter, but he really does.  In order to believe me you must understand the depth of our relationship.  My father was not just my father, he was my best friend.  We had a beautiful rapport and the unique gift to discuss anything.

When it became painfully obvious that my father’s days were limited I sat by his side in the hospital, held his hand and whispered, “Will you send me a sign from heaven?”  My Dad smiled and replied, “You will always be my baby and I will always protect you.”

The next day he died surrounded by family.  My father’s death is a moment that has changed me in ways I never thought possible, it has left a massive void in my life and my heart.  Despite the depths of our pain, our family was given a gift, the ability to say goodbye to my father and hold his hand as he entered the gates of heaven.  I am forever grateful for that wonderful gift from God.

My father started sending us signs from heaven almost immediately.

The night of his passing my sister saw a shooting star.   A few days later, I packed a suitcase to stay at my Mom’s, we returned from shopping to find my suitcase open, pajamas on top of the bag.  My mother and I were the only people in the house, and neither of us opened the suitcase.

I have found enough fluffy white feathers to build my own set of angel wings and visit heaven myself.  Feathers falling from my ceiling in my home, feathers falling on my head at the gym, feathers in my car.  Feathers are always falling at just the right time directly in my path.

Since my father’s passing my dreams are vivid and life like. In my dreams my father is healthy again with a radiant glow to his body.  We are usually on a tremendous deck facing a beautiful wooded area.  In my most recent dream we were talking and I was hugging him knowing if I let go I would wake up and he would be gone.  My Dad smiled, hugged me tighter and whispered in my ear, “You will always be my baby, I will always love you.”

In my most recent dream I heard Bon Jovi’s “Thank you for loving me” playing in the background. My father asked me to play it for my mother.  You can imagine that conversation with my mom.

Me:  Mom, can you Google Bon Jovi’s “Thank you for loving me”and listen to it?

Mom:  Why honey?  

Me:  Oh….Dad wants you to listen to it.  He told me so in my dream last night.  Well…I think it was a dream, but I KNOW Dad wants you to listen to it.

My mother was my father’s caregiver for seven years.  She was and still is the definition of bravery and courage.  My father made sure everyone who entered our home knew she was the reason he was alive.  I would observe in awe as my mother cared for my father, she displayed the grace and love of Mother Theresa.  However, when you speak to my mother she will look at you with tears in her eyes and ask you if she did enough, she will cry that her love could not save my father.  Her caregiver guilt is a heartbreaking, cruel punishment after her selfless acts of caregiving for my father.

So yes, my dead father communicates with me through dreams, feathers and music.  He is proving to me time and time again that love never dies and knows no boundaries.

Thank you Dad for loving us, for being our eyes when we couldn’t see.

Wanna hear the song that’s been stuck in my head all day?  Click here to view the video on YouTube

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pain of Losing A Parent Is Real

IMG_3376To my blog family, my apologies!  I have been neglecting you.

Yesterday’s post was featured on The Grief Toolbox.  They are a fabulous resource anyone who is grieving.

I am forever grateful that the fabulous editors find my work publish worthy and humbled by the kindness of the readers.

Please click below for yesterday’s post:

http://thegrieftoolbox.com/article/pain-losing-parent-real

Grief Does Not Discriminate

Everyday for the past four months grief is my new companion.  She accompanies me to work, the gym and my everyday errands.

My grief is intrusive.  She doesn’t care if I’m tired, cranky or fed up.  Even when I’m not thinking of my grief she is there waiting to remind me of my new sadness, this new void in my life.

My grief is an endless journey.

My grief is strange, bringing with it a wide contrast of emotions between deep sadness, relief, and sometimes joy.  At times I feel lethargic and want to pull the covers over my head. Other times I feel bursts of inspiration and creativity.

Some of you have asked me why I write.

Often I am asked, “Does writing hinder the grieving process, does it make grief hang over like a black cloud?”  I write to express myself, I write to memorialize my father’s legacy.  My writing is my therapy.  My writing helps me cope with the unimaginable, it provides me great comfort knowing that countless others are reading my story and finding some sense of peace during a very dark time.

Countless others regardless of race or religion are able to connect through their own, unique grief.

Grief has shown me that she does not discriminate.  Regardless of what corner of the world you reside in, where there is great love there is great grief.

A parent grieves their child regardless of his or her sexual orientation.

A child grieves their parent regardless of their race.

A widow grieves her spouse regardless of religion.

The entire world grieves when we learn of a legend passing.

The entire world grieves when innocent blood is shed because of hate.

We all grieve, we all feel the ache of a broken heart.  Depending upon the intensity of the relationship grief comes in all shapes and sizes with no expiration date.

Loss is loss.  Loss creates an agonizing pain that leaves an endless sting.

 

A Guide to Balancing Life and Cancer

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Photo Credit:  Pinterest

When a loved one receives a cancer diagnosis your entire world comes to a screeching halt. The path you were once walking is now full of endless detours.  If you’re like most of the world you have a career that you must focus on in addition to the fact that cancer wedged itself front and center in your life.

My father fought his battle for seven years. The last four years of his life were horrific.  Unless you are very wealthy and have endless nurses you will find yourself juggling the responsibility of caregiving and balancing your career.  From day one my father instructed me to focus on my career. Easier said than done when you’re witnessing your real life hero endure endless pain and suffering.

Staying on track was something my father imbedded in my brain my entire life. My father had a tremendous work ethic, he worked up until a few days before he passed.  He insisted I focus with the same laser precision.

My father sat me down the day he began his treatments and helped me compose the list below in an effort to stay focused.  Below is my survival guide for balancing life and a loved one’s cancer journey.

  1. Leave your worries at the door – When you touch the doorknob to your office leave your worries behind. Keep your cell phone nearby for an emergency, but during business hours it is imperative to leave your worries on the doorknob.
  2. Begin each day with a list of priorities – Start each day with an agenda. Take time to plan out your day, week, month. Never walk into work unprepared, stay focused.
  3. Apply the 80/20 rule – Figure out where you need to focus your energy and devote 80% of your activity to the most important 20% of your activities. You are only human, you cannot do everything at once.
  4. Always think in terms of “I Can” and “I will”My father always told me, you can do anything you set your mind to because I believe in you.” Negative thinking is never allowed.  
  5. Communicate – If you have understanding bosses and coworkers ask for help when needed. Let them know what’s going on. I guarantee you they want to help, put your ego aside and ask.

I hope my list resonates for you, your life and your career.  I hope this list helps you and can provide some light during this dark, difficult time in your life.

Despite how you are feeling, you are not alone, you will never be alone.  Countless others are encountering the same heartache, the same confusion.  We are all in this together and by sharing our “secrets” we can shed some light on a very difficult situation.

Why I’m Having Dairy Queen For Father’s Day

68796_1428194508810_3598343_nMy father loved food.  He loved sitting at the table with his family and celebrating life.  Our big fat Italian family loved to sit around the table and “break bread.”  Sundays were meant for one thing.  Gathering the family for a big dish of pasta.

This all changed seven years ago.  It seemed so innocent, my father was enjoying an eggplant parmigiana sandwich on crusty Italian bread the day after Christmas.  Isn’t that what we all do?  Dig into those delicious leftovers the day after a holiday?

He took a bite and within minutes blood began to pour out of his mouth.  So much blood my mother frantically called 911.  It looked like a crime scene from Law & Order.  After extensive tests doctors found a mass at the base of my father’s tongue.  The crusty Italian bread somehow scratched the mass causing a massive amount of blood.  A few days later we were informed that mass was Stage IV base of the tongue cancer.

“Everything can change in an instant. Everything. And then there is only before and after.”  Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

It has been four years since I had the pleasure of sitting in a restaurant with my Dad.  Four years since I could visit him and surprise him with his favorite treat. Four years since he could come to my house, sit at the table and EAT with the family.  My one wish the past four years has been for God and the medical community to restore my father’s ability to eat again, to take away the severe debilitating  dysphagia caused by his intense radiation treatments that he endured seven years ago.

Its been four months since I heard my father’s voice. Four months since I held his hand. Four very long months since my father wrapped his comforting arms around me and hugged me. 

That wasn’t a typo.  My father died four months ago, but he spend the last four years of his life unable to eat or drink orally.  Not a sip of water, not a morsel of food, nothing for four long years.

When my father died this past January rage filled my veins.  I spent years praying to God for mercy, praying that my father would not die unable to eat.  Towards the end of his life I went from praying to begging.  Offering time off my life just so my father could enjoy one last meal.  It seemed so logical at the time.  Even a hard core criminal on death row gets one last meal before being put to death.  I had a difficult time understanding why my father died unable to eat or drink.  I’m still struggling with this.

Let me quickly take you back to the night before my father died.  We were in the ER due to an issue with my father’s feeding tube.  I was alone in the room with my father while the rest of the family was in the family room across the hall.  I was terrified.  My father’s brown eyes were now a cloudy grey, he had a distant look on his face.  The man who raised me was not in the room, this was someone else.  Someone tired and in a distant place.  I kept trying to speak to my father and he would smile and nod his head.   He could barely speak, I stood there paralyzed with fear.

Why was this happening?  

I then did what any rational daughter would do, I grabbed my father’s hand and began sobbing begging him to not go.  For that brief moment my father’s eyes returned to his normal brown, he smiled and said, “I’m right here, where am I going?  No one is dying tonight.”  

Then he asked me for his bottled water. Since my father was unable to drink, it was not uncommon for him to swish and spit to clear his mouth. I smiled and told him to hang on while I looked for something for him to spit in.  I was frantically searching for a plastic cup or something for my father to spit into.

With tears in his eyes he grabbed my hand and said, “No Lisa honey I want to drink it. Please give me a drink of water.”  Fear took over a for a brief second and I froze.  Please understand my father had severe dysphagia, anything he ate or drank would have gone to his lungs giving him aspiration pneumonia.   I yelled, “No you can’t have water, please Dad no.”  With the eyes of a child my father simply looked down and said, “Ok.”

Instantly I felt sick to my stomach.  My father, my best friend in the entire world was dying and I yelled at him.  I quickly grabbed his hand and said, “I’m sorry Dad, it’s just that I love you too much…..”  A lump began to form in my throat and I couldn’t even finish my sentence. The room began to spin and I was positive I was going to pass out.

I quickly waived for my mother to come into the room and excused myself.  I made my way outside and cried.  I cried so much I pulled a Meredith Grey from Grey’s Anatomy and vomited in the shrubs.  My rational brain knew my father was dying and I denied my hero a simple sip of water.  How can life be so cruel?   I have played this moment over in my head hundreds of times since my father’s death.

I cannot forget how my father lived for so many years, unable to eat or drink.

The next day my father passed peacefully surrounded by his family.

The days following my father’s death are a blur.  I was exhausted, sick to my stomach and overwhelmed with sadness.  I have vivid memories of friends and family bringing food, pleading with me to eat.  I would eat only to end up sick.  Eventually everything I put in my mouth tasted like battery acid.  It’s not like I had an eating disorder, I was just angry at food.  I was angry that my father died unable to eat or drink orally.  I was angry that my father suffered for so many years and died without his last meal.  My father’s cancer which resulted in his severe dysphagia was a cruel punishment for a man who lived his life honoring God and adoring his family.

Immediately following my father’s death he began communicating with me.  It was just two days after his burial and I recall laying in bed staring at the wall.  I felt as if weights were tied on my arms and legs.  My entire body was consumed with grief and anger.  My only thought in my head was “Why did my father die unable to eat?  Why my father?”  And suddenly one of my all time favorite childhood memories popped into my head:

It was a hot summer day and my father took me to Carvel for ice cream.  I was 5 years old and my father was my entire world.  We were standing in line holding hands.  I ordered my usual.  Chocolate ice cream and chocolate sprinkles.  As I was ordering my father said, “Lisa honey didn’t you know chocolate sprinkles are really chocolate covered ants?”   I quickly changed my order to chocolate ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. Despite my father’s best efforts to tell me he was teasing, 35 years later and I still have yet to enjoy chocolate sprinkles again.

As that memory became to fade, I slowly I began to recover my appetite.  I began to feel that by enjoying my meals I was memorializing my father.  I believe that somehow my father encouraged me to remember the chocolate ice cream memory and was telling me to appreciate and be thankful for my ability to eat.

I will always love my father.  I will always wonder why he had to suffer and die unable to eat. I yearn for the day that I can come to peace with this.  Right now it’s too soon, my wounds are still too fresh.

This Father’s Day I’m heading to the Dairy Queen across from the cemetery and buying two chocolate ice cream cones with chocolate sprinkles.  I’ll leave one on my father’s grave and eat the other as I thank my father for a lifetime of beautiful memories.

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Throughout my Dad’s illness I sent him photos as I traveled.  The above photo is from sunny Fort Lauderdale, FL.  Notice the rainbow sprinkles.

I Am Your Legacy 

 I am your oldest daughter. You taught me everything I have ever needed to know in life. I learned how to dance standing on top of your feet, throw a baseball, drive.  I didn’t eat chocolate sprinkles for a decade because you convinced me that they were chocolate covered ants.  I know your still laughing!  But most of all I learned how to live life to the fullest while remaining humble and kind.

They say when a loved one dies they never leave; they are always walking beside us.  Often I can feel you next to me. I look for your face in others when my heart feels like it’s breaking.  Now that you’re gone I have found enough fluffy white feathers to build my own angel wings, fly to heaven and see this new place you call home. Can I sit with you just once more and hug you? Can I finally bring you that glass of water I denied you the day before you left? Can I finally bring you that eggplant parmigiana sandwich I was supposed to make for you? Can I finally bring you that glass of water I denied you?

I now have the opportunity to share our family story. We never picked the battle you fought, but if we can help just one family we won. If I can we reach just one patient, just one caregiver, just one daughter agonizing over watching her real life super hero suffer and let them know they are not alone we won.

I am your living breathing legacy and as long as I have breath in me I will tell your story.

I am forever grateful for life and opportunities. I am proud to be your daughter.  

Until we meet again my sweet father, you are forever in my heart.