The Women by My Side in the Hospital as My Mother Lay Dying

113
113

In the period of time before my mother died, there were days and weeks and months where we felt isolated. We worked together navigating gurneys, wheelchairs, bad hospital food, and Medicaid hearings. There was so much to learn, too. So much to keep track of.

We always knew where it would end. She’d go; I’d stay. How it would end exactly? I figured I’d either get a 3 a.m. phone call from a nurse, or else have to make some horrible decision alone in the ER of our small town.

Mom told me last Christmas she was leaving soon. She knew it in her bones, she said. At 78, her brain was sharp and clear. I imagine that kind of knowing comes from the marrow.

Later, as summer came around, Mom went into denial. It was as if she’d never seen it coming, never said anything about it. She stopped eating, too. She wasn’t going to die, but she wasn’t going to eat anything. A paradox.

The hospice people said those contradictions are “part of the process.” I could anticipate more confusion as her life faded away, they said.

And then one night in August we were in her room. A cheap plastic essential oil diffuser on the table, and the air smelled of cloves. Lights flickered from the storm raging outside. Since I’d just seen “Stranger Things,” it was all a little eerie, creepy even.

Against this backdrop, my disabled, elderly mother had begun what they call “active dying.” It would take her three days to finish the process.

On Thursday night, as Mom labored to cross what they call “the veil,” we weren’t alone anymore.

Calls had gone out. A group of women gathered around us. There were nurses and nurse’s aides — past and present — and my friends from the city. There were people there I’d known for years. Others, like the hospice workers, were new. Young and old, straight and gay, white and brown, Christians and spiritual skeptics — we merged into one body. We told stories, listened to music and soothed Mom when she awoke in a panic, momentarily terrified by what was happening.

After years of emotional isolation, we weren’t alone anymore, me and Mom. We were part of something that felt bigger, more important.

I don’t remember if I ate anything that night. I know I took a few breaks with some of these women outside the nursing home’s porch. We watched rain drip from the roof and off the limbs of a massive oak. We talked about life and love. Inside Mom’s room, we poured cheap contraband tequila into small Styrofoam cups stolen off the medicine cart.

We stayed stone cold sober, though. How could we not? Death is sobering.

But as I learned that night, death can also be a kind of communion.

I miss my mother. But there are moments, too, when I miss the intimacy of that night, the simple humanity of it all.

And when I miss it, I feel it right down in my marrow.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock image by KatarzynaBialasiewicz

113
113
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

RELATED VIDEOS

Man with hand on forehead, looking down

Why We Shouldn’t Pretend to Be OK When We’re Grieving

1k
1k

Pretending is hard work for someone who is grieving. It costs vital energy and leaves you in no better place than before. You’re still sad and in despair. Holding up the mask of “I can handle this” spares someone else from the true reality of grief, a reality they might not yet know.

Putting on a mask is like makeup. It looks good but it’s only skin-deep. The reality underneath hasn’t changed. Your feelings of sadness, anger, missing and despair haven’t disappeared.

Many bereaved parents I work with speak about the relief to finally be able to speak frankly with someone who understands. I worked with people facing grief and loss prior to my personal date with death, and according to their feedback, I was able to be an amazing help. Honestly, looking back I don’t think I truly understood grief. Yes, I studied it and had a lot of practical experience, but the personal experience has brought a level of understanding that I didn’t have before.

Being let in to this vulnerable, lost and helpless space the soul enters upon having lost a child or another loved one enabled me to understand what was going on. Before my losses, I was like a foreigner, allowed to visit this land. I knew its customs and actively worked on integrating myself. Now, after my loss, I’ve become a citizen of this land; I’m part of the customs and rituals, rather than just speaking about them.

Your honest sharing of the truth can enable people to discover this land of grief and loss. Being authentic and vulnerable takes courage. It’s a risk, but without risk there is no chance for change. Openness brings change because it can change people’s perspective, even those who haven’t yet experienced death in their closest surroundings.

Be a light bearer, a silence breaker, a taboo shaker. Join me in speaking openly about the reality of grief after loss.

Thinkstock image by Jupiterimages

1k
1k
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Writing Love Messages in the Sand After the Loss of My Son

159
159

Every year on the 24th of February, we celebrate Happy Harry Day; a day when the sadness can (sometimes) be parked, and a little bit of joy can be allowed to seep through the cracks of a broken heart.

This year was the fourth Happy Harry day. I have to stretch my fingertips way back into 2013 to recall the last time the day was simply Harry’s birthday. We celebrated with a delicious meal at Strawberry Fare, including an embarrassing faux-pas on the part of the restaurant who wrote, “Happy 16th,” in chocolate around the edge of Harry’s plate, mixing my newly minted 18-year-old up with another diner.

The first Happy Harry Day was due to hit exactly three months after Harrys’ death by suicide. I experienced a considerable amount of trepidation as the date approached, not really sure how it would be possible for me to do anything other than sob over Harry’s grave, or hide away in a dark room counting down the minutes until midnight.

And then life intervened and made an already challenging day slide in towards the impossible. The father of my children died, three days before Harry’s birthday, the birthday that already found me in duck-and-cover mode.

What do you do when the impossible comes knocking at your door? How do you “celebrate” your forever 18-year-old son’s birthday without him for the first time, and the very next day fly to the funeral of the man who was the only other person in the world who felt the loss of Harry in the same way I did? When you have to pull it together, because no matter how impossible it felt for me, it was black-hole, void-like for my daughter? What do you do?

Like any other day, I simply had to take it one step at a time. I had to allow space and time in the impossible — to simply be — to give my mind and my heart and my soul time out from a pain that was too big to grasp. I calmed the waters of my grief, and called for a temporary lull in the crashing waves that wanted to steal away my breath.

I decided that we needed — desperately needed — Happy Harry Day. My daughter and I went out to the beach and wrote love messages in the sand for Harry on the day he was born. It was our courageous attempt to drown out the pain of the day he passed away.

And each year that rolls by, as time chugs along, we re-visit the beach and write our messages in the sand, washed clean by the incoming tide. Sometimes I stand there thinking about the waves that will sweep in and wash the beach clean again and swallow the love for another year. I never wait to see it happen though; I walk away, and I remember that on this day my miracle baby was born. And while life can be as mercurial as those messages written in sand, it can also offer incredible strength.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

159
159
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

8 Things I've Learned About Grief After Losing My Father

541
541

“Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.” Tyler Knott Gregson

Ten years ago, after the passing of my father, I suddenly found myself wading waist-deep in a pool of unanticipated grief and unfamiliar emotions. I use the word “wading” purposefully. I wasn’t swimming in it, as that would imply that I had acquired skill and could navigate this new locale for myself. I wasn’t drowning, as that would mean that I was becoming submerged on a gradual descent from the surface. I was neither sinking nor swimming, I was simply ​in it — a new stagnant ocean, and I wasn’t going anywhere. The shallow end of my pool housed sadness and shock. Disbelief, pain and that lingering hollow feeling that follows trauma were out by the diving board. It took longer than I’d care to admit for me to reach for the emotional “floaties” and even attempt to start treading. But with time, many boxes of tissues and numerous counseling sessions with Ben & Jerry, it happened.

Here, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned — and will always be learning — over the course of what I’d like to call my 10-year swimming lesson.

1. Healing is a longterm commitment to yourself.

It’s not like when you fall and scrape your knee and a few Band-Aids will leave you feeling good as new. Grief requires much more time to heal than a physical injury, and you need to give yourself grace throughout this process. Meet yourself where you’re at – wherever you are. For quite a while in the “beginning,” probably about the first five years, whenever someone would unknowingly ask about my dad I could feel my heart start to pound in my chest, my hands would shake and a tightness would take hold in my throat. My insides felt as though they had just evaporated and were simply not there anymore. I couldn’t make eye contact with the kind, well-intentioned person who thought they were simply being considerate when asking about my parents. I was sure the fact that I could barely speak the words even after five years, without sending myself into hypertension, might have seemed utterly ridiculous. But you know what? It isn’t ridiculous. Each of those people understood, many were remarkably comforting and empathic, and some of them had been there too. Give yourself the kindness along the way that others give you.

2. Words don’t make it better, but presence of loved ones and sincere understanding does.

A lot of people initially tell you to be strong, that time heals all wounds, or that your loved one is watching over you from a better place – and they genuinely mean well when they say it. At the time, you might think, “Be strong? I’m barely able to be upright and convert oxygen to CO2 right now. And who are you, Father Time?” But what I personally found most helpful in the immediacy after my dad’s passing were moments when someone said something to the effect of, “I love you, and you don’t have to be strong. I’ll be right here.” It’s the times I was embraced where I was at in my grief that I felt the most comforted, in whatever state that may have been. The only way to recover from grief is to work through it – over, under and around are not options. Just through. Sometimes, this means that you need someone to sit with you and let you say, “this sucks,” and hand you another spoonful of Nutella straight out of the jar.

3. Don’t make it your elephant.

Other people probably need to talk about it, too. For a long time, neither my mom nor I wanted to push the other to talk. It was raw and sensitive, and both of us were feeling fragile and shaken. In these situations, I’ve found that it’s not that no one wants to talk about it; it’s often that no one wants to upset anyone else by talking about it. But please, oh please, grab that conversational life ring when it’s thrown out to you. Don’t try to go through it alone for fear that you or someone else might get emotional for a little while. Emotions are a natural part of our chemistry, intricately and uniquely woven into each one of us. They’re not something to be feared. It’s part of the process; we need our people to help build us back up when it’s too great of a task to pursue it on our own. In time and with baby steps, I’ve learned how to have these conversations more gracefully. I’ve learned that sitting with my vulnerabilities — as I’m ready to — and getting to know them is the key to growth. In the words of Dr. Brene Brown, “Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

4. The day doesn’t come when it “gets better.” But you do.

Not exactly the news you were hoping for, I know. But in all I’ve learned about grief over the years, this is perhaps one of the most important lessons I’ve come to understand. While having a conversation one day about life and the healing process with my mother — who is one of the strongest women I know — she looked at me with a sigh and after a contemplative pause, said this, “It doesn’t get better, and it never becomes OK. But ​you get better at how you carry it, and move forward from there.” It’s one inch at a ​time, then one day at a time, and then days become weeks and weeks become months, months become years. And somewhere in there, while it’s never perfect, a day comes when the fog starts to lift and clarity settles in its place, and you can pick your head up again and begin to move forward one little step at a time.

5. Little gifts come in the least expected packages.

I always smile at the sight of ​garbanzo beans, and I nearly cried when I found my recipe for baked ziti. Whenever I was being silly as a kid, my dad would say, “you’re full of garbanzo beans, kid!” To this day I don’t know why he said it – I suspect it was because the name sounded funny (and as a consequence, I grew up thinking that garbanzo beans were a figment of my dad’s imagination. You can imagine my shock upon first discovering them at the grocery store). My dad loved cooking but never wrote down a single thing, so I didn’t have any of his recipes for the longest time. One day this past summer, my grandmother surprised me with my dad’s recipe for baked ziti. It had turned up and she asked if I wanted it. I looked at the familiar handwriting on the slightly yellowed paper which was aptly titled, “Petey’s Zitis,” and began to feel a lump in my throat and the sting of a tear in my eyes. I never imagined finding myself so emotional over a pasta dish, and yet there I was. Both of these things are beautiful reminders of some of my most cherished memories and of his dearly missed personality. They are also a reminder that sometimes, even the happiest memories bring a few tears when they come to visit. One of the most useful things I’ve learned to do is allow those moments to be felt as both happy and sad, and acknowledge the value of each side of the coin even in the littlest of moments.

6. They’ll still be teaching you years after they’ve gone.

I came to value some of my most treasured experiences as such long after they took place. My dad told me when I was 11 or 12 that, “thank you,” is the best prayer you can say, that it makes the rough days a whole lot easier. It’s what he said when he woke up each morning, and when he went to bed each night. The lesson was completely lost on me at the time – but now, as an adult, I get it. I’m so, so thankful that he shared that with me while he could. Simply, “thank you,” is one of the most beautiful and pure prayers I could imagine, and perhaps the one that I utter the most frequently along with, “Please,” “Help me,” and occasionally, “WTH?” My dad taught me how to make pancakes when I was 6 (giving credit to Aunt Jemima where it’s due), which is certainly not a skill a 6-year-old necessarily needs in their repertoire – but the memories of my dad patiently showing me how to mix the batter without making a giant mess and pour it to make the perfect shape of my choosing became the springboard for my love of cooking for others. And little did I know that the morning we stood in his home office donning paint-splattered pajamas and admiring the creation we had just made on an empty wall with my watercolor paint set, will always stand out in my mind as the first example I was given of how beautiful it can be to throw the rule-book out the window and think outside the box.

7. Don’t let the dark put out the light.

I can’t sit here waxing poetic about the process of grieving and coping, and hopefully I haven’t been giving that impression. It isn’t pretty or poetic, and it’s not all reflecting on impromptu paint sessions and ziti recipes. In fact, it’s quite ugly and painful at times. And more than likely, some of the memories associated with it are ugly too. My dad was not well at the time of his passing, sudden as it was. He was sick. He was struggling with depression. His warm, loving energy and spark had been worn down, diminished. He confided in me one day that he felt useless, and he had been fighting an uphill battle to quit smoking for years. Despite how prevalent his hardships may have been towards the end of his life, it took me a long, long time to truly learn that they did not change the person he was to me. They didn’t change his gentle, clever, supportive nature as I remember it, and they don’t make him any less loving or kind. I may have to consciously keep the happy memories at the forefront of my mind; I may have to remind myself not to focus on remembering the version of him when he was sick and struggling to get through each day. But just because I have to prioritize my memories, it does not take anything away ​​from the good ones. The struggles and the ugliness of loss do not change the person you loved so dearly. The hard times are a part of the story and cannot be edited out, but they do not take away any of the things I loved most about my dad. Those things will stay with me and my family forever.

8. Know it wasn’t part of the plan.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been ​striving to have a close relationship with God and truly be connected and rooted in my faith. I never doubted the presence of God or His goodness. God and I were tight, until it came to losing my dad. Suddenly I couldn’t stop questioning my faith ​whenever I thought of my dad and how my family’s life was turned upside down on a seemingly normal Tuesday afternoon in eighth grade. Why did that happen? How could it have been part of His plan? How is it fair? How could He have allowed so much pain? These questions always left me feeling empty and rattled to the bone at the notion that maybe the God I trusted and loved possibly had a hand in something as traumatic and horrendous as this. It wasn’t until very recently I finally had an epiphany — He didn’t. It wasn’t part of the plan for my dad, for me, or for our family. It wasn’t ​what God intended for him. I believe it isn’t what God has in mind for a single soul that’s grieving someone close to their heart. What was the plan for me, then? Perhaps it is all of the healing that has occurred within the past 10 years for me, and all the healing that will keep forging on relentlessly from here. All of the growing, all of the learning, all of the strengthening, and the many people who have given me a helping hand and shown a kind, gentle heart. And every experience I’ve had since then in which I’ve been able to use my journey to help someone else cope with grief and loss in some small way. Even my decision to pursue a health profession and dedicate my career to serving others in a field that incorporates both physical and mental healthcare – to me that has God written all over it. I believe He is taking the pain of my grief and loss and molding it, shaping it carefully and tenderly over time to become a glowing, beautiful, freeing and life-giving thing for me. I believe He is teaching me how to swim.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Photodisc

541
541
TOPICS
, Listicle
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

A Letter to My Father One Year After His Death

228
228

Dear Dad,

It’s been one year and one month since you’re 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 it’s 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, believing it is you.

When I was young, you told me we grieve for ourselves because the deceased are in a better place. As a grown 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 angry my prayers were not answered.

When you died, my grief became so overwhelming and suffocating that on numerous occasions, I was convinced I was dying, too. My heart was so heavy and the pain was unbearable. You played a major role in my life, and now you’re 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 of pure, unconditional love. And now you’re gone.

I wonder, will I ever smile again?

I watched Mom selflessly care for you throughout your marriage, but with extra care the past seven years. 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 lit up with joy when Mom entered the room. You and Mom showed me what true, unconditional love looks like. Watching Mom mourn you is unbearable; there are times I’m certain I can hear the sounds of her heart breaking. 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 would be my anchors quickly became the holes in my lifeboat. I felt complete, utter disappointment. 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 can bring 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’re guiding me. You’re constantly showing me that love never dies. You speak to me through feathers and 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. A heartache I never knew was possible, and a mystery 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, but you’re still opening that door, comforting me. Sometimes it is gut-wrenching pain, like the other day when Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” came on in the store and I felt a faint brush on my cheek. I knew it was you, and I sobbed 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 ours 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 will 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

Follow this journey on Love is Infinite.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

228
228
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

My Last Day With My Father

43
43

“You have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and intrusive thoughts –”

Well duh. That sounds about right, given I fall apart the second my therapist walks into the room. I’m here at the behest of my therapist aunt (who would also soon pass), because she was worried about me. My father dying was just one loss, my second major one. And I was getting worried about me. On the outside I seemed okay, if not overly chipper. I’m fine! Totally great! How are yooouuu?

Inside? Inside I was reeling, trying to process all that had happened to me. To my life. One minute I was young, in love, getting married. I owned a successful business and was happy. Truly happy. I had health issues but was dealing with them. I had no intention of letting them slow me down or stop me from living my life. My fiance had mentioned he didn’t deal well with illness but I was totally up front and honest about my health. Full disclosure. I’m sick. My dad is sick. If he wanted to run, he had ample opportunity. But he stayed.

My father had kidney cancer and had a kidney removed. I remember coming home to see him the day he got the “all clear” call from his doctor. I ran over and gave him a big hug, but had this awful feeling of,”Not yet. This isn’t over yet.” Those thoughts haunted me. I tried to push them out of my mind to focus on the positive things, like my upcoming nuptials, honeymoon in Hawaii, and living in the city (always my dream) with my new husband.

But with the wedding only one month away, I could see my father struggling. He looked thin, gaunt, awful. He was always this larger than life Irishman, so much fun to be around. Dragged down by the chemo he had lost his taste for beer. Beer! He seemed exhausted. I took him to what would be his last doctor appointment.

If ever in my life I wanted a “do over,” this day would be it. I came from the city to pick up my Dad on Long Island. I was all chatty, excited about getting married. I’m sure I was a total bore at this point but he always humored me. We walked into the doctor’s office; it was crowded so they took my Dad right in so he could sit and wait in a receptionists chair behind the counter. I waved at him from across the room and said, “I guess I’ll go get us some food and come back in a few, OK Dad?” He smiled and waved goodbye.

When I came back to the office not long after, he came out so fast he nearly fell down the steps. I grabbed his shoulders to steady him and he looked terrified. I’ll never, not ever forget the look in his eyes. He kept mumbling they said the chemo wasn’t working. Over and over again. I wasn’t hearing it. Couldn’t hear it. So I reminded him, “Don’t worry! You’ve had to try different chemos along the way, they’ll find another one that’ll work. Here, have a burger. They forgot the fries! Can you even believe they forgot the damn fries?”

We stood there in the parking lot for what felt like forever. And he stared at me in the strangest way. Now I understand that as a father, he knew I couldn’t hear what he was trying to say. I was the youngest. His baby. I adored him so so much. His mind was probably reeling not only with this devastating news, but also trying to figure out how to protect me from what I was clearly not ready to hear. So he took the burger and off we went, heading home. I dropped him off, told him a few funny stories, gave him a kiss and said, “I love you and I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Late that night I got a call from my mother. Dad was in a coma. She said to come quick to the hospital to say goodbye. I don’t even remember the drive out, but I’ll never forget seeing him. How fragile he looked. How his body wracked with every breath, lifting his chest off the bed towards the end. I just sat with him stunned with grief. He died a few hours later.

Three weeks before my wedding.

I was fairly stoic throughout and I don’t remember crying that much. I always felt like the glue, the comic relief in my family. My mother needed me now and I knew I couldn’t fall apart.

But what exactly did they say to him that last Doctor’s appointment?

For whatever reason I was fixated on that detail, so after the funeral I found the courage to call their office. After a very awkward delivery, I finally stammered out who I was and what I wanted from them. I just needed to know. It was all I thought about. Finally I was given an answer. The nurse cried as she told me, and I appreciate the humanity she showed, because she did not want to be having this conversation with me.

The doctor told my father he wasn’t responding to the chemo, and that he had sepsis. It wasn’t looking good and he needed to get his affairs in order. All my father cared about and asked was, “Will I be here for my daughters wedding in three weeks?”

They said no, they were so sorry.

That’s when he ran out of the room, down the stairs and into me. Me. Standing there holding fast food and smiling like an idiot. His mind must’ve been racing as he tried to tell me. But he didn’t.

The kindness he showed me that day when he realized I was not ready to listen has stayed with me all these years.

As difficult as that day and time was in my life, there is one good thing that came out of it. When it came to feelings and emotional conversations, I was one who would typically clam up. I’d avoid a funeral or wake afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing to the bereaved. I’d avoid a difficult phone call to a friend going through a tough time. Partly because I truly didn’t want to say something wrong or bring up bad feelings making people feel worse (which I now know is impossible, you don’t “forget” a recent death, divorce, etc.) but mostly I feel I was being selfish. Plain and simple. I didn’t like being uncomfortable so avoided it.

Not anymore.

I learned — as cliche as this sounds — you only get one chance to say goodbye. When someone is sick and dying, I no longer avoid them. I go. I spend time with them. I know I’ll never get that chance again, and time is precious.

When a friend is going through a painful divorce, I sit and listen and help them move or call a lawyer. Whatever they need.

My fathers death — as tragic as it was for me — made me a better person. A person he would be proud of. A person I am finally proud to be.

 We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

 

43
43
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

7,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.