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

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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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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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