Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. ~ Anonymous
A year ago on April 10, 2011, I received the call that I never wanted to receive, one that I was not prepared for. My dad had a heart attack and he didn’t make it. I remember that call like it was yesterday. I was speechless at first. Then I said it could not be true. I had just spoken to him two hours before. But yes, it was true. Even a year later, it is hard for me to comprehend. I’m crying as I type this because the pain is still so fresh.
For me personally, this was especially tough because I had never lost anyone close to me before. I didn’t know how to deal with it. My dad was not only my father but my friend, my confidante and my hangout partner. For me, this was the worst day of my life. And I was beside myself. I didn’t know how to deal. While I was standing still, the world around me continued. Time kept going.
Death changes a person. It puts life in perspective. It forces you to reexamine life. You are really shown that life is indeed short and not guaranteed. We get into this groove where we take life for granted. How many times have you said, “Oh, I’ll just do that tomorrow.” Honestly, none of us knows if we even have a tomorrow. So we have to enjoy the NOW.
My dad always looked forward to his retirement, which to him was the finale of his life. He could finally relax and travel with his wife, my step-mom. They could eventually move to South Carolina, live on a farm and spend their days gardening and relaxing. However, he never got to that finale. He passed away while at work, as a Greyhound driver, while on his way to Syracuse. He saved 24 lives that day on the bus by pulling over the moment he didn’t feel well. He died on the side of the road on the New Jersey Turnpike, sitting on the ground, leaning on the bus.
So how do you deal with the worst day of your life? Simply, one day at a time. All we can do is the best that we can, one day at a time. When you look at it that way, it is not as overwhelming. You will be amazed at your own strength. I know many people were in awe of how I managed to deliver my dad’s eulogy at his funeral and get through that whole service without falling apart. But I did.
I have days where I feel like my heart is being ripped from my chest. Many times, out of habit, I have grabbed my phone, ready to dial his number and then I remember that he is gone. It took me nine months to be able to look at a picture of him for longer than 5 seconds. But as each day passes, it got a little easier to accomplish these things. I just wake up every morning and make the choice to live my day out to its fullest.
Now don't get me wrong. The pain is still there. It'll probably never go away. I will never be the same. But honestly, living my life one day at a time helps me to cope. It heals me a little each day. I'm not standing still, dwelling on him being gone. I am working towards accepting that he is gone but doing so one day at a time so that it doesn't overwhelm me to the point that I will just break down.
You have to remember that even when you are standing still (like I mentioned above), life still goes on. And it can pass you by if you keep standing still. If you do that, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and any other life you touch. We all touch a life, whether we do it intentionally or not. And when you come to the end of your journey, your life will reflect who you were. Your life is your story. You write the chapters with the steps you take on your journey, every decision you make and how you choose to live your life.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. And you will emerge from that dark tunnel, stronger than before. You have to. Because you still have a life to live. And having a life to live is such a gift. Every day you make the choice on how you live your life. You choose to get out of bed. You choose to go outside. You choose to live. I usually reflect for a little bit when I wake up in the morning. I think of the day ahead and make a decision to get some things done, be productive and also treat myself to some little things that make me happy. It could be taking a walk on the boardwalk or having a mocha iced coffee. The little things can add up to big things and they help in boosting your spirit as you cope with the pain.
Even if you don’t get out of bed, you are still alive. This is what was on my mind those first few mornings after my dad passed away. I did not want to get out of bed. But no matter how hard I tried, God was telling me that I have to live. Now if I wanted to live it from under my blankets, that was my choice. But did I want to be known as someone who just stayed in bed and did not live life to its fullest? No, I did not.
My step-mom said something to me when she called me on the 1-yr anniversary. She said one of the most important lessons she learned from my dad’s death is to stop focusing on the finale of our lives and instead enjoy the journey while we’re striving to get there. She and my dad had planned to go to Europe within the next few years. It was my dad’s dream to see Europe.
This reminded me of how happy and interested he was to hear of my own travel tales. He was so proud that his little girl was brave enough to travel the world most of the time by herself. He saw places through my eyes and stories. One of the greatest things that gave him joy was seeing me live my life to the fullest. I think it inspired him to want to see the world. It really saddens me that he did not get to see Europe because he was too focused on his finale and not fully enjoying his journey.
In order for me to honor my dad and his memory, I have to live the best life I can. We should all strive for that. We should all make great stories to tell and inspire. We need to enjoy our journey. And we should all try to deal with the forks in the road, the monkey wrenches thrown our way and the worst days of our lives...one day at a time.
I love you, Daddy. Thank you for being YOU.
November 10, 1949 – April 10, 2011