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:
- Never miss an opportunity to say “I love you.”
- Don’t waste moments. None of this is monotonous, it all matters.
- It’s okay to be less than perfect. When you die the important people that matter only talk about the good.
- 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.
- 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.
Like what you just read and want more?
Click here to join our growing Facebook family.