Death is devastating. It leaves behind a trail of broken hearts and shattered dreams. All losses are significant. I consider myself blessed to have had such a strong bond with my father. The months following my father’s death have left me feeling as if I’m walking around with my heart torn open. My grief has slowly changed me, sending me on my own pursuit of happiness.
I was handed front row seats to watch my father bravely battle cancer for seven long years. The last four years of his life were horrific. When hospice began coming around, I was in full-blown denial. I told everyone hospice was to get him “back on his feet.” My heart could not accept what my brain already knew. My father was dying. I tried to imagine my life without my dad, but I couldn’t. It was just too painful, too difficult. The days leading up to my father’s death were emotional, agonizing and mentally exhausting.
My father tried his best to prepare our family for life without him. I spoke to my dad daily, often multiple times, each conversation ending with, “I love you more.” I visited weekly, and at each visit we held hands, cried and laughed as he made me promise to stay strong and enjoy life to the fullest. During one of our final father-daughter conversations, my dad looked me in the eyes and told me, “You will always be my baby, live your life and be kind. I will always be with you.”
Life without my dad has been difficult. It has been emotional. It has been devastating. It has also been a series of valuable lessons, all of which have changed me.
Below are three valuable lessons from my grief journey:
1. I’ve gotten my priorities straight.
My entire perspective on life has changed, it has matured. All the little annoyances of everyday life, those little things that would have once qualified as “the worst day ever,” immediately become irrelevant. People who are unkind, selfish, lack empathy, none of it matters to me. They are all just minor distractions, detours in my grief journey. My chaotic life has slowed down. I discovered the frivolousness of being in a hurry all the time. I have made an effort to “stop and smell the roses.” I call my grandma more often, I spend more time with my mom on the phone, I end each conversation with, “I love you.”
2. I love deeper.
After my dad died, saying goodbye to someone, to anyone I cared about was painful. I would carefully watch them fade away into the horizon. For the first few months, I was terrified of losing my mother. I am learning instead of letting my fear send me into a downward spiral of darkness and overwhelming sadness, to let go of my fear and focus my love on my loved ones. I send my mom flowers just because, I send my boyfriend a random “I love you” text, I reach out to friends more frequently, because I know how sacred life is. I have chosen to live each day like it’s my last and to treat each day for the blessing that it is.
3. I’ve learned how to appreciate life.
I watched my father fight to live. He was thankful for every moment he was given with his family. Regardless of how much pain and suffering he endured, he was always kind and grateful. When my father became gravely ill, I deliberately chose to stop anything that would quiet my mind. Yoga, pilates and meditation were all bad for me, or so I thought. I didn’t want to think about what was happening to my world. I wanted noise in my life. I kept myself busy.
Now that my father is gone, my favorite thing to do is to stop and enjoy the silence. Each morning I breathe in the love. I have consciously let go of anything that is toxic and causes anxiety. I take time each morning to breathe in the love of my dad and remember the kind, loving soul he was.
Stop, be still, take all it in. Life is a precious gift.
Perhaps our grief can have a positive impact on us. Together, as we grieve, we are evolving into extraordinary, empathetic creatures with true altruistic motivations. As we travel our grief journey, we are supporting each other while we strive to preserve our loved one’s legacy.
Grief lasts a lifetime, but our precious memories will live forever.
A version of this story originally appeared on The Huffington Post.