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.

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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