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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10 thoughts on “I Became A Better Person The Day My Father Died

  1. Your story is a beautiful tribute to your father and it brought streams of tears to my eyes as I too have lost both my parents to cancer. My father passed 18 years ago this Summer and my mother a year ago last February. My dad’s illness was a brief six months from beginning to end but my mothers lasted over 18 years. It was through her situation that I became a better person. Although we had our differences when I was a teenager, The courage and strength she demonstrated through her horrific ordeal was nothing short of heroic. I miss her now more than ever, and I think of her every day.
    It is now up to us to carry forward on our parents behalf. Sending kindness to all those children helping their parents through this life transition. 💔


  2. My father passed away on Christmas Eve 2014. He was 64. He had been diagnosed with metastasized melanoma which had spread to his brain. We all knew he knew he had been sick much longer, but he didn’t want us to worry and that’s probably why we found out so late in the game.
    About a month after diagnosis, he was given the results about the success of his treatment. I was in the room when the doctors told him the treatment wasn’t working, and that he would die, and soon. I remember him looking at me, holding my hand and telling me that wasn’t enough time… he was supposed to be around to watch his grandchildren grow up. “That’s not much time.” I can still hear him saying the words. I remember the room, I remember what he had on. I remember the fear in his eyes. I also remember having to excuse myself and walking down the hallway of that hospital and collapsing in tears knowing my Dad was just told he was going to die, and what a horrible feeling that must have been… And then of course, the fact that my Dad was going to be taken away from me, away from life. It is a day I will never forget.
    I read your story with tears in my eyes because like your father, my Dad was also my person. And I miss him more now than ever. I miss him a little more today than I did yesterday. I am sure it will be the same tomorrow.
    My Dad did not suffer nearly as long as yours did, and I knew he would be gone in months, but I had a hard time accepting it. I couldn’t believe in 10 short weeks my Dad would leave me forever. I still don’t believe it somedays. And it’s been almost 3 years.
    I was fortunate enough to have my father walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. I am grateful I was able to make him a grandfather, something he always wanted to be. I am thankful that my children were old enough to remember him, and share stories of him often, still. But I am sad he isn’t here to watch them grow. I am happy that I was lucky enough to have such an amazing relationship with my Dad, and these are the things I reflect on during the days I find myself drowning in grief.
    Your father raised a wonderful woman. I am sure he was proud of you and he still is. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Danielle, I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing and commenting. 10 weeks must have seemed like the shortest yet longest time of your life. Hugs and thank you for sharing XO


  3. “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.” I love this thought!! Thank you so much for sharing this with us. YOU are your father’s story! From tremendous pain comes beautiful insight.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As I read your story, I feel your pain and I can totally relate. I pray that you would find strength knowing that you were blessed to have a wonderful father and that you have great memories to cherish. Two years ago I lost my brother and best friend to cancer. He was a wonderful, caring human being who dedicated his life to helping the less fortunate. he was an international volunteer. After spending 2 years volunteering in Guyana, S/America he returned to Canada and complained of a severe pain in his leg, he was diagnosed with cancer. He never made it out of the hospital, he lasted a month and passed away. Like you, myself my mom and my other siblings were there day after day just feeling helpless as we watched him drift away. the hardest thing is waiting on the nurses and doctors to do their daily visits only to be told, he had only a matter of days . He said, that he was not ready to go as he had so much more left to do, but it was not God’s will. I think of him everyday and wish he was here to talk to as we did everyday. Like you death has taught me many lessons. It has certainly made me realize how precious life is and how to try each day to live a better life. I would give anything to spend more time with my brother. Watching someone you love pass away is a life changing experience, watching them in pain and moving into that helpless stage is heartbreaking. I remember brushing his teeth and having to bath him and it makes me so sad, but I am happy that I was there to do it and spend those last days with him. We now have angels watching over us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Suzanne, your brother sounds like he was a beautiful person, he’s flying with the angles for sure. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for reaching out, sending you love from New Jersey ❤️


  5. Thank you for this article. It mirrors so much of what I have felt since my dad died June 12, 2017 after a 2.5 month battle with Stage IV Lung Cancer. I am heartbroken from this gigantic loss and definitely feel I am a changed person. The grief is so consuming some days. I was blessed to have a incredible father. I was with him through his cancer journey and during his final days. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.


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