I Became A Better Person The Day My Father Died

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Photo Credit:  Maxpixel

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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Watching A Parent Battle Cancer Is Hell On Earth Torture

IMG_6745You have not felt a broken heart until you have heard your larger than life heroic father scream in pain.  

Watching a parent die is excruciating, watching a parent die who is also your best friend is hell on earth. For four years we searched for someone to help my father.  Someone with a miracle, someone to give him some sort of quality of life. I spoke to my father several times a day, visited at least once a week.  With each visit I witnessed him slowly dying.  As my dad’s sickness stole pieces of him, pieces of me were dying as well.

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Finding The True Meaning of Christmas Among Heartache

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Photo Credit:  Pinterest

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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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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Just Another Conversation With My Dad

 

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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.

 

 

 

My First Father’s Day without my Dad

IMG_3376One of my father’s greatest gifts was his ability to love others unconditionally, flaws and all.  When I would complain to him about my perception of one’s ignorance he would always smile and say, “Lisa honey ignore them.  Be happy.” 

If you Google “First Father’s Day without Dad” you will instantly become inundated with post after post.  It’s only May and I’m feeling the anxiety building up for my very own first father’s day without my Dad.  I’ve been living on Advil and feeling sick to my stomach at the thought of it.  There are no words to describe the heartache I’m feeling and how much I miss my father.

As a little girl I would rush into my parents bedroom Father’s Day morning with my best attempt at serving breakfast in bed screaming, “Happy Father’s Day Daddy!  My Dad is so rad!!!”  Maybe not the best poem, but hey I was a kid.  One particular Father’s Day I tripped onto their bed, spilled the entire bowl of Cheerios on both my parents, milk and all.  I can still hear my father laughing and thanking me for thinking of him.

You simply cannot escape the Father’s Day madness.  The other day I took a massive detour in the grocery store to avoid walking past the overwhelming, obnoxious Father’s Day display of greeting cards. Bad enough the music they play now makes me cry at the drop of a hat.  I refuse to walk past the greeting card aisle until Father’s Day is long gone.  As if all that isn’t bad enough there’s the never ending Father’s Day advertising.

Buy Dad a grill set this Father’s Day!  

Bring home a delicious ice cream cake for Dad this Father’s Day!

Take Dad out for a big juicy steak this Father’s Day!

Pretty much every single Father’s Day advertisement revolves around food.  Way before I began grieving the death of my father, I was grieving the loss of his ability to eat. Our family became quite creative each holiday.  We proudly pounded our chests and exclaimed, “We do not need to revolve our holidays around food!”  Despite all this, a small piece of me was envious of the endless social media posts proudly displaying other families enjoying a mouth watering Father’s Day meal.  I wanted so badly to take my father to a restaurant for his favorite meal and raise my glass to my father on his special day.

My normal routine leading up to Father’s Day would start with me asking my father the following, “Dad what do you want this year?” Like many Dads he would respond, “You, your sister and your mother are my gifts, just be happy.”   I would then drive myself crazy finding him the perfect set of pajamas, perhaps something personalized for him, something to remind him just how much I adored him.  I would mail him at least 3 cards.  A funny card, a mushy sentimental card and another card because I could never make my mind up. 

This year the will be no searching for the perfect gift, no quest for the perfect card, no beating myself up thinking of something non food related to make my father smile.  My father died after a long, valiant battle with Stage IV base of the tongue cancer.  My only purchase will be some nice flowers and candles to put on his grave.

Just four months ago, I watched my father, the most wonderful man I know die.  First, cancer stole his ability to eat.  Slowly he lost so much weight that you could count his ribs.  Then he could no longer use the restroom on his own or get out of bed on his own.  During the final days of his life he was so weak he couldn’t even lift his hand to press the button on the remote control for the television.   Eventually my father’s voice became so gurgly it was a challenge to understand what he was trying to tell us.  Bit by bit cancer was ripping my father apart and I had a front row seat. 

Now all I’m left with are a lifetime of beautiful memories that send me into a tailspin of anxiety, depression, endless tears and a broken heart.   If you’re reading this and your father is alive promise me you will hug your father this Father’s Day and take him out to dinner.  Promise me you if you were blessed like me you will thank your father for a wonderful life.

If you’re like me, and you have lost a father whom you love and adore let’s embrace Father’s Day with gratitude and courage.  Let’s celebrate the our father’s memory and courage.  Countless individuals walk through life never experiencing unconditional fatherly love, to them Father’s Day represents a massive void.   There are many who will never know the love of a father.  When I think of this, I realize that I have been blessed with a magnificent man for a father.  

My father has always been my hero, the man who loved me unconditionally and made everything better. Even in death, he continues to show me he is always there for me.  This Father’s Day I will do something to honor my father.  Maybe I’ll release balloons, plant a tree, pay it forward.  I haven’t decided yet, but I will do something to make my new guardian angel proud and smile.

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Happy Father’s Day in heaven Daddy, I love you more.

I Lost More Than A Father, I Lost My Best Friend

Few things in life are as powerful for a man than a daughter who adores him.  The bond between a father and a daughter is one of the greatest of bonds in your lifetime.  There is something simply amazing about bonding with your father.  Growing up my father was my hero, my idol, he was larger than life.  Maybe that’s because when you have a Dad like I did you learn at a very young age that your father is the one man who will never let you down and who loves you unconditionally.

My father taught me to love life.  For a short time in elementary school I went to a math tutor.  She was a nice lady who reeked of cigarette smoke, had Bruce Springsteen posters plastered on her walls and always had potato chips on the table.    I hated math, so by default I hated this poor woman.  I was around 6 or 7 years old and my father dropped me off to my math tutor every Saturday morning for an hour.  One Saturday morning on our way to the Math tutor I informed my father that I really didn’t want to go.  He smiled and said, “Ok, what would you like to do today?”  I quickly responded with, “Let’s go for breakfast.” And just like that my father took me to the diner.  He swore me to secrecy, so much that I’m pretty sure when my Mom reads this she will be shocked.  Sorry Mom!

Carvel ice cream was a regular with my Dad during the summer.  My heart smiles when I reminisce about us piling into the car on a hot summer day for ice cream.  My Dad also liked to tease anyone and everyone.  My favorite back then was chocolate ice cream with chocolate sprinkles.  I remember ordering my usual and my Dad informing me that the chocolate sprinkles were in fact chocolate covered ants.  35 years later and I’m still giggling and I have yet to indulge in chocolate sprinkles again.

That was my Dad, he had a magical way of making everything fun.  Throughout my entire life I went to my father for everything.  Even when I made colossal mistakes he was always by my side.  My father unselfishly gave to both my sister & I our entire lives.  He taught me how to give and love unconditionally.


As I grew up my Dad became my best friend.  He was the guy I went to for advice on everything.  Not a day passed that we did not speak, we would spend hours talking,  although he preferred baseball and politics. We ended each conversation with, “I love you more.”

Throughout my divorce and my father’s cancer he was my anchor.  Accepting my father’s mortality has been the single most difficult moment in my life.

My father’s cancer prevented him from eating or drinking orally.  A big piece of my heart died when my father’s ability to eat was taken away.  During his final days, I was limited to massaging his back to ease his pain.  He was so weak it took two of us to lift him so I could massage his back.  As I was massaging his back I could feel every vertebrae and rib, I became completely overwhelmed with terror.  A lump started forming in my throat as I fought back a waterfall of tears.

“Thank you honey,” he whispered between gasps of pain, trembling hands and vacant eyes.  I quietly sobbed at my father’s vulnerability.  My heart ached so much I was certain I was having a heart attack at that moment.

My father held my hand my entire life, and I held his as he took his last breath.

I was given a chance many people never have.  Between many tears and a breaking heart, I told my father how much I loved him, and that I appreciate all he has done for me.  I thanked him for loving me unconditionally and the sacrifices he made throughout my life.

During my father’s final hours, I whispered, “You’re my best friend, Dad.  Thank you for making my life a real life fairy tale.”

Today is four months my father is gone.  I miss him more and more each day.  Never miss an opportunity to tell someone you love them.

 

 

 

Be Thankful For Your Ability To Eat

 

 I think about my father every single day.  I think about the pain and suffering he endured. I think about my father every single time I enter a restaurant or roam the food court in the mall.  I think about him every time my senses are overwhelmed by the robust smells of food.  I think about my Dad every single time I take a bite of food.

When I enter my favorite Italian restaurant the exquisite smell of food is so powerful I am moved to tears.  I am reminded of the life my father lived for 7 years.  A life without a morsel of food or an ounce of liquid.  Choking on what little saliva remained in his mouth. Yearning to eat again, fighting with every fiber of his being to stay alive.  Putting on his brave face and trying his best to sit at the table with us while we ate and he fumbled with his feeding tube.  Listening to our guests complain that their food had too much salt, too many peppers (yeah that really happened!) as he quietly inserted the syringe in his feeding tube and administered his feeding via a peg tube.  Quietly wishing that his biggest complaint was not enough peppers but also quietly forgiving our village idiot, I mean our guest for his ignorance.

The majority of our social lives revolves around food.  We are constantly “breaking bread” with others.  Holidays, special events, everything revolves around food.  My goodness just count how many television commercials have food in it!  Food is everywhere we turn!

My father died unable to eat a morsel of food or drink an ounce of liquid because his cancer prevented him from enjoying something so many of us take for granted.  My father died choking to death on what little saliva remained in his mouth after aggressive radiation treatments.  I’m haunted by the memories of suctioning giant clumps of phlegm from my father’s mouth during the final days of his life.  My hands trembling as I stuck a massive tube in my father’s mouth, tears brimming my eyes as I pleaded with God to help us.  Quietly praying, begging and pleading with God to make my father comfortable during the final days of his life.  My father watching me with tears in his eyes apologizing to me that he was too weak to do this himself.  Both of us emotionally exhausted and heartbroken from this trauma.  When I finished with this medieval contraption I kiss my father on his forehead and remind him he’s still my superhero and a little suction machine wasn’t going to change that.  I’m certain the sounds of my heart breaking were deafening that night.

I proudly wear the scars from my father’s battle.  I helplessly watched my father bravely fight to regain his ability to eat again.  Years of endless swallowing therapy, having his esophagus stretched.  All sorts of crazy things just to enjoy one last bite of food.  I become enraged at the cruel, out of line jokes when you mention swallowing therapy to someone unaffected by a swallowing disorder.  Therapy that in the end only gave my father unnecessary anguish and was never enough to jumpstart his muscles allowing him to eat again.  I see no humor in my father’s dysphagia.  I see no humor in anyone that suffers endlessly and dies longing to eat.  Even a criminal on death row gets a final meal before dying.

I choose to live my life and embrace it.  If I choose to indulge today and have a big greasy cheeseburger washed down by an ice cold beer I will enjoy every last bite.  I will not go complain to my Facebook friends how I “cheated” on my “diet”because I know better.  I will not fall victim to the latest and greatest fad diet.  I will thank God that I’m able to enjoy my meals.

On the days when my life becomes overwhelming I will take a deep breath and be thankful because I know it could be so much worse.

What’s in your bag?

Ray Ban sunglasses, a pack of tic tacs, apple earbuds, my wallet, make up bag loaded with MAC cosmetics, some crumpled Dunkin Donut receipts, and a Dunkin Donuts gift card.  My black leather Coach bag is my constant companion and yet nothing in my bag is required for survival….and somehow the contents define who I am.  I’m shamelessly addicted to coffee and MAC cosmetics.

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What’s in YOUR bag?

If you’re a Mom I bet you have all sorts of cute little gadgets to keep your little one occupied.  A supply of Cheerios and perhaps some goldfish crackers? Maybe some hand sanitizer to protect your little one from germs and tissues to wipe away their tears?  My one friend’s purse has an endless supply of matchbox cars for her little guy.  My sister’s purse has a colony of Elsa’s occupying space.

Anyone have a kindle in their bag?

What about medications?  How much medication do you have in your bag?

My Dad carried an insulated bag every single time he left the house.  Inside my Dad’s bag were:

  • 2 syringes for his feeding tube
  • Gauze pads
  • Paper towels
  • 1 small bottle of Gatorade for hydration
  • 1 red solo cup
  • 1 plastic spoon to mix his crushed pills
  • 1 bottle of Poland Spring water to flush his feeding tube
  • Whatever medication he needed for that particular day

Everything in my Dad’s bag was required for survival.  Since his peg tube was his only method of nutrition it was imperative that his bag was packed with the necessities.  If he was out of the house for an extended period of time he ran the risk of dehydration, missed meals and missed medication doses.  It was a recipe for disaster.

My Dad’s bag wasn’t a fancy designer bag, it wasn’t trendy.  There were no tic tacs, gum or mints in his bag.  No treats or protein bars in case he needed a quick bite.  My Dad’s bag told the story of the battle he endured and the life he lived, yet he never complained.

I would love to share a photo of my Dad’s bag, but it was one of the first things we disposed of upon his passing.  We happily disposed of his bag.  For my family, the contents of my father’s bag was a manifestation of the life he lived and the battle he endured.  It was not how we wanted to remember my father.

The contents in many of our bags become a black hole of items we really do not need, but carry with us “just in case.”    Our bags tend to become a modern day Mary Poppins bag.  I bet if you empty your bag and identify the contents it will somehow define who you are.

Go ahead, open your bag and take a peek.  After you carefully take inventory of the contents of your bag scroll up and review the contents of my Dad’s bag and then my bag.  If you’re fortunate enough to have a list of material items like me be thankful.

Cherish your life, be thankful for your health.  We never know when the contents of our bag will change.

 

 

 

Mom, the First Person I call in Times of Need & Times of Triumph

 Dear Mom:

Happy Mother’s Day!

I know you are not in the mood to celebrate today.  Your heart is shattered and you are feeling lost without Dad.   My heart aches watching you mourn Dad.  I wish I could ease some of your pain, but I know mourning a love story like yours and Dad’s requires time.

I want to start this letter by telling you how much I love you.  I want you to know how much I treasure our relationship how much I need you in my life, now more than ever.

You are the most important woman in my life.  Growing up I did not realize all that you did for me.  Like the time I came home crying that all the kids next door were having a picnic and I wasn’t invited.  You set up all my stuffed animals on a blanket outside and we had our own picnic.  You always cut the ends off the bread on my sandwiches and catered to all my picky eater requests, and we both know those requests were endless!  As I grew into a rebellious teenager with a smart mouth you always had my back, despite how much I tried to push you away.  I wish I gave you more hugs back then rather than grief.   Thank you for loving me when I was unloveable and believing in me when I was an unbelievable little witch.

I watched you with complete admiration as you selflessly cared for Dad during his illness.  Your angelic caregiving abilities are a reflection of your beautiful soul.

You made me the woman I am today.

You are the strongest person I know, you are brave and courageous.  You inspire me to be a better person.

There is no one that I trust, and appreciate more than you.  You are always the first person I call in times of need and in times of triumph.  You are my very own cheering squad.

You have made tremendous scrafices to raise your family and most recently take care of Dad the past 7 years.  I am incredibly blessed to be your daughter.

Thank you for loving me unconditionally.   Thank you for all the lessons, laughter love.

I love you!

Lisa