You Were Here…And Now You’re Gone

pexels-photo-105857.jpegYou were here, there and everywhere with me.

We shared private family jokes. We were friends, enemies, teammates and competitors.

You were here to take silly selfies, laugh and cry with me.

You were here to send text messages and discuss our day.

You were here to offer advice on clothing, makeup and hair.

Your laughter was infectious, your smile stunning.  Your presence glorious as you entered the room.

You were here to hold, to touch and then just like that you became a memory.

I miss you every single day.

I think about our last conversation and wonder…will you remember how much I love you, how I valued our relationship?

If my love could have saved you, you would be here.

We never really thought you wouldn’t be here, with us where you belong.

You were here for the small, uneventful moments as well as the significant life events.

My grief was thrust upon me without warning.

My grief is dark, tragic, messy and painful.  There are moments my grief completely knocks me off course leaving me feeling vulnerable, lonely and confused.

You were here and now you’re gone.

The pain is brutal and debilitating at times. This thing called grief can be incredibly isolating and empty at times. Despite the people surrounding me no one really knows the constant ache in my heart.

Things unfinished, words unspoken, a young life unlived.

You were here, there and everywhere and now you’re gone.

We were a dynamic duo, except I wasn’t your equal. You were the brains, the beauty and the laughter. I was the assistant, your accomplice.

We had an unwritten agreement to enter old age together, sipping hot cocoa by the fire reminiscing about the good ole days.  And now you’re gone, and I’m here alone awkwardly wandering through life without you.

But I am still here.

I am still here to be your living, breathing legacy.

Like what you just read and want more?

Take a moment to click here and like my Facebook page!

 

Advertisements

I Became A Better Person The Day My Father Died

images

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.

img_4690

Like what you just read and want more?

Click here to join our growing Facebook family.

What Grieving Friends Really Need

pexels-photo-247314.jpeg

Photo Credit:  Pexels

My feelings were crushed the night my father died.  My entire world exploded when my father died.

As I silently observed my father take his last breath, I felt my heart beat hard inside my chest, exactly six times before I burst into uncontrollable tears.  And then suddenly my sobbing stopped and so did my entire world.

My father’s death was expected after a very long illness.  But that still did not prepare me for the gut wrenching, debilitating pain of grief.  The days leading up to his death were mentally exhausting. Two days before my father died I sat next to his hospital bed begging him not to go, not to leave me alone.  And then the man who held my hand my entire life and gave me butterfly kisses was suddenly gone forever.

You are never ready to say good bye to a person of significance in your life.

The days following my father’s death I felt like the drunk friend who arrived to the party late.  I found myself angry, sad and devastated constantly misjudging everyone’s well meaning actions.  My thoughts revolved around one thought, “My father just died, my entire world just exploded, how do I go on?”

When someone you love dies, every single relationship in your life is reevaluated.  Friendships as well as relations with family members are now ranked by who offered condolences, who texted you, who picked up the phone and maybe even who “liked” your latest photo of your deceased loved one on social media.  If your loved one endured a lengthy illness you may even find yourself evaluating friendships based on who was there for you during the illness.

I began to question lifetime relationships.  How good of a friend is someone if they failed to recognize that my father died?  How strong of a bond do you have with a family member who begins spewing gossip just days after throwing the dirt on my father’s casket?  Did you really respect my father or your relationship with him if you are unable to show respect to his immediate family following his death?  Do I even want to bother to nurture these relationships after suffering such a horrific loss that they failed to recognize or respect?

Grief opens your eyes to one’s true colors.  The widow returns to an empty house, the children are now living a life with a massive piece of their identity missing.  Life as they knew it is forever changed.

The sad reality is after the funeral is over and the condolences stop rolling in everyone but the immediate family returns to life. And when that happens the immediate family can feel a profound sense of isolation.  They begin to look around feeling alone and sometimes abandoned.

Until you have been spouse of someone for 40 plus years it is impossible to comprehend how debilitating grief is.  I lost my father, but my mother lost her husband, her soul mate.  My mother spent the last 7 years of my father’s life selflessly caring for him, the last year of my father’s life assisting him with basic human needs while preserving his dignity.  She showered him, helped him use the restroom, fed him, she became his lifeline.  Slowly I watched my parents go from a dynamic inseparable duo to my mother learning how to live life as a soloist.  Losing my father has shattered my heart, but watching my mother endure losing her soul mate has taken my grief to a whole new level, often leaving me breathless, devastated and feeling utterly alone.

So what do you do?  How do you prevent you lifetime friend from feeling alone?  The massive void left by death can never be filled by another but it sure does help to be surrounded by supportive, kind individuals.

  1. Offer help, but be specific

Start out by asking exactly what they need.  When and if they tell you nothing do not let that deter you from helping.  When we are grieving we have no idea what we need.  Take a peek around their home and make helpful suggestions.  “I can babysit any afternoon this week”, “I can drop the kids off at school this week”, “I can mow the lawn this week” or “I can go grocery shopping for you this weekend.”

2.  Let them vent without judgment

Grief makes you crazy.  Grief makes you feel like that drunk person who showed up at the party late and begins misjudging everyone’s actions.  Your friend needs to vent.  Let them vent and just listen. Let them cry and get it out.  Let them know you’re their judgment free zone and what is said to you stays with you.

3.  Continue to invite your friend out even if they decline

Grief is exhausting; grief makes you want to stay hidden in your bereavement bunker isolated from the world.  Continue to invite your friend out to the places you went before they began grieving.  The movies, lunch, dinner, the mall.  Your friend may be trying to make sense of a world that was just turned upside down.  Even if they keep declining, let them know you will be there when they are ready.

Friends and family return to life, but the immediate family of the deceased is now living a new, horrific normal.  After the flowers have faded and the sympathy cards have been packed away what grieving people need most are friends and family.  You can’t stop the rain for your grieving friend, but you can grab an umbrella and share it with them if they are willing to let you in.

Like what you just read and want more?

Click here to join our growing Facebook family.

 

 

Grief Changes Your Address Book

media-998990_960_720

Photo Credit:  Pixabay

There are countless resources on how to mourn the loss of a loved one, how to cope with that gut wrenching emptiness, how to endure the horrific pain.  But what about lost friendships and family members?  How do we handle the disappointment brought on by others that follows a significant loss?

Grief changes and rearranges friendships. You never know who will be your rock and who will fade away.  As I continue navigate my grief journey I find myself constantly rearranging my address book adding and deleting contacts.  Death needs to stop being identified as taboo and the entire western world needs to do better when they encounter someone grieving a great love.

Let me be totally straight with anyone reading this article.  It is ineffective to comfort someone drowning in grief with a Facebook post nor can you express your deepest condolences with a text message, or a mass text.  This is even more accurate for someone you consider a friend or family.   Sure it’s the thought that counts but death is very painful and confusing.  Simply put when someone loses a person of significance they need human contact not a text message that took you less than 10 seconds to write.

The friends who express their deepest condolences via social media and text remind me of the people who respond to text messages with a “K.”  What do you mean K???  Are you too busy to type out the entire word OKAY or even OK?  Somebody just died, they took their last breath and will no longer walk the face of this earth and you are expressing deep condolences with a text message?  In a world where technology is destroying the art of social interaction death is one of those occasions where it’s imperative that we go old school, pick up the phone and then send a condolence card to people we consider friends and family.

K?

But at least you thought of your friend whose entire universe has just shattered.  It is the thought that counts, and until you have experienced your own loss of a great love it is impossible to understand the tremendous pain and the endless tears that occur in an instant.

What about the friends who were too busy to reach out at all? No call, no text, no card and the funeral services were at a very inconvenient time.  Or the ones whose significant other expressed condolences so they got off the hook and never put thought into reaching out to you as well.  Or my personal favorites the ones who meant to express condolences, but life got in the way so they never did and when they saw you they avoided they the topic because death is really uncomfortable and such a downer.

What about THOSE people?

When you lose a person of significance, those of us that are left behind are learning to surf massive waves of grief.  Grief is a gut wrenching painful experience.   Grief is permanent.  Grief is a prison sentence for the loved ones left behind.  But grief is also a universal experience that sadly we will all participate in no matter how much we try to avoid it.

When a “friend” fails to acknowledge our loss it tells us that you don’t care enough about the friendship to acknowledge the pain.  In my case it told me that some people simply did not respect the relationship enough to acknowledge that my father died.  And when you fail to acknowledge that I lost a person of significance you become null and void in my life.   With dollar stores all over the world you can buy a sympathy card for 99 cents, drop it in the mail and boom you’re a hero.  But when you fail to acknowledge my pain then see me months later acting like nothing happened you’re inviting a giant pink elephant in the room wearing a tutu.  And grief brings enough uncomfortable moments for me so please leave your big pink elephant at home.

When I lost my father I lost a tremendous piece of me.  I lost a big piece of my childhood, and an even bigger piece of me.  Not a day goes by that I do not think of him.  Losing a parent is one of the most painful experiences in life, you carry that loss in a permanent hole in your heart.  I will never forget the friends and family that stood and continue to stand by my side as I mourn the loss of my father.  The friends that kept calling during my early days of grief and didn’t give up despite me being unable to speak because my grief left me speechless.  The friends that sent me flowers just because way after the funeral.  The friends who texted me while they were on vacation on the other side of the world. These people will always hold a special place in my heart.

But as I sit down and plan my wedding, one of the happiest days of my life, I also cannot forget the friends that were too busy, or the friends that were uncomfortable by my loss.  If a friend cannot acknowledge a great loss, then there is no place for them for at a happy occasion.

You move on, but you never forget and the pain never goes away.  You learn how to surf those massive waves of grief with the help of the friends and family who become your life vest.

I’ll admit prior to losing my father I probably could have done more for my friends when they lost loved ones.  But I have always tried to be empathetic to others and acknowledge their milestones in life along with their pain.  Before losing my Dad I too thought sending a deep condolence text was acceptable.  I was wrong and I should have known better.

Grief is like a foreign country where you can only truly grasp the customs and language once you have lived there.  Living in this foreign country allows you to get accustomed to living life in an extremely different and painful way, isolated without the one you love. Good friends are a Godsend in this new land, they are your beacon of light and hope from the lighthouse on the shore.

Like what you just read and want more?

Click here to join our growing Facebook family.

A Letter To My Father One Year After His Death

dadlisaDear Dad,

It’s been one year and one month since you are gone.  According to Google that’s 9490.01 hours but to me it feels like an eternity.  I still wake up in the morning thinking this is a nightmare and you’re not really gone.  At night I look at the sky and make a wish on the brightest star I see and I believe it is you.

When I was young you told me we grieve for ourselves because the deceased are in a better place.  As a woman, I know that is true, but I still miss you terribly.  For seven years I watched you endure horrific pain.  I prayed and pleaded with God to heal you.  Towards the end of your life I was so angry that my prayers were not answered.  You were not supposed to die unable to eat; it seemed like such a cruel death sentence for such a good man.

When you died my grief became so overwhelming and suffocating that on numerous occasions I was convinced that I too was dying.  My heart was so heavy and the pain was unbearable.  You played a major role in my life and now you were gone.  For my entire existence we spoke every single day, even when I was away in college.  That’s 40 years of saying “I love you”, 40 years of being a Daddy’s girl, 40 years of feeling safe, 40 years pure, unconditional love.  And now just like that you were gone.

Would I ever smile again?

Watching Mom mourn you is unbearable, there are times I’m certain I can hear the sounds of her heart breaking.  I watched Mom selflessly care for you throughout your marriage, but with extra care the past 7 years.  So much that it was not uncommon for you to shout to the doctors that you were alive because of Mom.  As your health began to fail, Mom was the one breathing life into you each day.  I will never forget how your eyes would light up with joy when Mom entered the room.  You and Mom showed me what true, unconditional love looks like.  Hearing the gut wrenching sounds of Mom mourn you is a heartbreaking, agonizing experience.

How do I comfort someone mourning their soulmate when I don’t even know how to comfort myself?

The people who I thought were going to be my anchors quickly became the holes in my lifeboat.  Complete, utter disappointments.  Our family desperately needed kindness, love and support, anything else seemed cruel and unwelcome.  Taking a page out of your book I chose to break ties and ignore.  One of the greatest lessons you taught me is to quiet a fool with silence.  Unfortunately death brings out quite a few fools.

But you prepared me for this.

From teaching me how to walk, to throw a ball, even to dance while standing on top of your feet, you showed me ways to stand on my own two feet.  A dad’s job is not only to protect his little girl, but also to show her how to defend herself when, one day, he is not around.

You were the biggest influence in my life.  

A father is the one who guides his daughter through life, and now even in death you are guiding me. You are constantly showing me that love never dies. You speak to me through feathers, music and if I listen closely I can still hear your sweet voice.

Your death has been a mysterious doorway with so much painful grieving for me.  Heartache that I never knew was possible and mysterious because I never know how or when that door is going to open and pull me in.

It’s been a full year and one month since your death you are still opening that door comforting me.  Sometimes it is gut wrenching pain, like the other day when Josh Groban’s “Your Raise Me Up” came on in the store and I felt a faint brush on my cheek.  I KNEW it was you and started sobbing in the middle of Stop and Shop.  Or when I’m driving to work in the morning and I can smell you, and for a moment I can feel you sitting next to me in the car.  Or when a beautiful fluffy white feather crosses my path, and I smile because I know it’s you sending me love from above.  Since you have passed I have found enough feathers to build my own angel wings and visit you in heaven.

I miss you. 

I miss you even more today than one year and one month ago because it’s been 13 months since I heard your voice, heard your laugh, told you I love you and held your hand.

There is so much of you in me that I think I frighten Mom sometimes.  I have your sense of humor and share your love for life.  Mom is always telling me I have your eyes and heart. You loved people and a good party.  Since you have gone I have received endless photos, emails and texts telling me what a great man you were. I established a fund in your name where all monies go to the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders.  I desperately want to help the countless individuals living with a swallowing disorder, people like you and families like us who felt so isolated.  Last weekend I hosted my first fundraiser.  Dad, 52 people, some whom you never met came out to celebrate YOU and to help raise awareness.  Your passing has created another level of a new beautiful community.

Dad, you taught me what heroes are made of.   

You taught me how to love life even when it’s terrifying and difficult and you know it’s going to be painful.  As I sat and held your hand throughout my life and the past seven years of your pain and suffering, I saw an incredible person, my hero.

I learned how precious life is.

As I remember you one year and one month after your passing, the painful image of my very sick frail father is fading.  I will always carry your pain and suffering in my heart, but I can also see my father, my superhero, the strongest man in the world.  The man who raised me, the man who was my first love and my best friend.  The man who gave me butterfly kisses, taught me how to drive, how to dance while standing on top of his feet and how to appreciate Doo-Wop music.

These days I count how long you have been gone in milestones, and most recently I am engaged.  I now wonder how I can possibly survive my wedding day without you by my side, smiling and laughing.  Even though I can no longer hear your voice, I still see your face and I can feel your love.  You’re still with me, in my laughter, my smile, my tears and in my writing.

Love never dies, it simply evolves.

Love Always,

Lisa

Like what you just read and want more?

Click here to join our growing Facebook family.

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.

Click here to read the entire article featured on Her View From Home

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.

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.

Like what you’re reading and want more?  Join our growing community on Facebook by clicking here.

 

Pain Deserves Acknowledgement Not Judgment

 “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world… but you do have some say in who hurts you.”  The Fault In Our Stars

To the person who thinks my grief is cumbersome…

To the person who felt the need to tell me HOW I should be grieving…

To the person who tried to put words in my dead father’s mouth not even a month after his passing…

To the person who has avoided me because of my grief and now our relationship is dead….

Grief is a personal journey with no time stamp.  I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you are fortunate enough to have not lost a person of monumental significance in your life yet. The saying “ignorance is bliss” holds true when it comes to death.

Perhaps you are unaware of the gut wrenching pain that occurs when losing someone who has held your hand since birth.  Perhaps you are unaware of the constant sting in your heart after losing your real life super hero. Perhaps you are unaware of the nightmares that begin after watching cancer dismantle someone you adore.   Perhaps my grief frightens you because it forces you to think of your own mortality and that of your loved ones.  Or just maybe in your very hectic life you forgot how important it is to show respect to your dead friend/family member by acting like a decent human being and showing kindness and respect to the deceased’s immediate family.

You see, when someone you adore dies, life as you know it takes a dramatic turn.  Despite how sick the person is, you can never prepare for life without the deceased.  You are basically learning how to live without this person in your life.  You search for various forms of life support as you endure overwhelming waves of grief.  And these waves of grief strike at the darndest little times, not just those expected firsts, I’m referring to moments when you’re minding your own business in the grocery store and a song comes on, or when you’re watching TV and a Hallmark commercial comes on.  And let me tell you, it’s those during those unexpected moments when those waves really knock you down.

First, let me say that our family is truly blessed to have such a strong support network. Death is funny, it has a way of exposing fair weathered friends and family.  You never think when someone is dying that people who were once in your inner circle are capable of such ignorance and ineptitude. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because life is so hectic we tend to forget what’s really important or maybe it’s because society has become so incredibly selfish.

Pain deserves acknowledgement not judgment.

Unfortunately for you I am aware of your actions during this extremely vulnerable time in my life, during perhaps one of the darkest times in my life. My father died, you remember him don’t you?   I watched you shed a tear or two as you approached his death bed, I listened as you proclaimed your “love” for him.  I watched you walk up to his casket and pay your last respects.  I watched you shed crocodile tears and make promises that were broken before the dirt was even tossed on my father’s casket.  I apologize for being so blunt, but death does that to you.

Death opens your eyes and closes your heart to some as an effort to survive.

That fateful evening I sat next to my dying father holding his hand, certain the sounds of my breaking heart were deafening.  I held the hand of the man who brought me into the world.  The hand of the man who taught me how to throw a baseball, how to dance while standing on top of his feet, how to drive, the incredible man who taught me how to find the good in everyone.

But I’m struggling with this, where is the good in a person who is too impatient and indignant to simply be there for a newly fatherless daughter?  Where is the good in a person who uses their self righteousness to justify treating a widow poorly when her world is completely shattered?

 “Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us”  Eric Hoffer

Maybe you can put your selfishness aside and consider that for the rest of my life, the rest of my mother’s life we will never be able to embrace my father’s comforting hug or hear his voice again.  Maybe what we need is your empathy and not judgment as we attempt to accept this new reality we never asked for.  Maybe you can truly recognize that our horrific loss and pain is greater than your need to tell us how to grieve and pass judgment.  Maybe you can recognize that our family has a permanent void in our lives and we need kindness and empathy.

When Cancer Forces You to Say Goodbye

 

Papa & Kayla 2015

Losing someone you love is a very painful experience.  Watching someone you love valiantly battle cancer is a life changing experience.  I watched my father fight Stage IV base of the tongue cancer for 7 years.   There are no words to describe how helpless I felt as I watched my father slowly die before my eyes.  Something outside of my control was slowly taking my father from me.

One thing that is for sure, no matter how difficult circumstances became throughout  my father’s illness I always found a way to express my love for my father.  I always entered my father’s room full of hope ready to embrace the day.  During each telephone conversation, each visit, I was wearing my battle gear right along side my Dad.  We were going to try our best to beat this together, as a family.  I made sure to show my deep admiration for my father’s strength and courage with each visit.  I was thankful for each moment we shared together, and the possibility of just one more day with my Dad.

My father died knowing how much I loved and adored him, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

Saying goodbye is never easy.  Perhaps the fact that my father was sick for so long forced me to open my eyes and realize how precious life is.  No one is guaranteed tomorrow. My father’s illness and death are now a part of me.  Below are some valuable lessons I learned from my father’s journey.

  1. Never miss an opportunity to say “I love you” – as cliche as this sounds this should be your number one priority.  Not a day went by that I didn’t speak to my Dad and tell him I loved him.
  2. Share photos and memories – During the last few days of my father’s life I vividly remember sitting next to him browsing old photos, sharing fond memories.  We laughed, cried and laughed some more.  I had a great childhood and I made sure my Dad knew how grateful I was.
  3. Respect the dying person’s wishes – My Dad had all his senses, HE was in charge.
  4. Keep the peace – Listen it’s flat out obnoxious to walk into a dying person’s room and shoot your mouth off.  If the immediate family invites you in at the request of the dying person walk in, pay your respects and keep your comments to yourself.  Any discord in the environment will add to the load of the dying person.  Bickering causes unnecessary distress to the dying person and the immediate family.
  5. Your actions speak volumes – My Dad and I were the chatterboxes in our family.  The night my father was dying I lost my voice.  I just sat there holding his hand, praying.  For me, at that moment words were not needed.

In honor of my Dad, and countless patients like him it is imperative we take full advantage of the time we have for them and never take it for granted.

Life is a precious gift. Never miss an opportunity to embrace it and express your love.