The first Christmas without Dad
Honoring my Dad who gave me the gift of health & more!
Today would have been my Dad’s 77th birthday. He died on Dec. 3rd this year, just three weeks before Christmas and his birthday, and after a sudden bought with Meningitis followed by an official diagnosis of Lewy Body disease.
When I spent the day with my Dad on Aug. 5, he was seemingly strong and resilient, like always. Days later he was hospitalized in ICU with delirium and a dangerously high fever. He never really came back to us after that day and he never went back home. Dad spent the final months of his life in and out of the nursing home, hospital, memory care, and finally hospice. It was only four months from the time he got sick until we lost him.
As I turned on the computer this morning to write, I wasn’t sure what this blog had to do with health and well-being — or even if it would be published. But I knew I needed to write. I now realize the message is powerful — for me and perhaps for you — and it has almost everything to do with health and well-being.
We often read quotes or stories from others warning us to cherish every moment and every person in our lives because we never know when it will be the last. If you’re like me, these warnings might have minimal impact at the time. But the truth is, in the aftermath of a sudden loss, you’re not only left with your memories of that special person, but your own feelings about the relationship and its significance. And that can be a blessing or a burden. I am fortunate that for me, with my Dad, it was truly a blessing. We came full circle.
I didn’t know it earlier this month, but losing a parent puts you in a special club — one I hope most of you don’t experience for a long, long time. And for those that are already in the Club, you’ll instantly get it. I have supported and grieved with countless friends who have lost one or both parents, but until now, I truly didn’t comprehend how unsettling, disorienting, lonely, debilitating, and painful this kind of grief can be. I am now learning from my friends and fellow club members that the grief and loss will ebb and flow, taking you by surprise when you least expect it…most likely for the rest of your life. I’m not sure, but perhaps that’s a good thing. Or at least just part of fully experiencing life.
A friend recently told me that death and dying is about as rational as it gets. While intellectually I totally get that, the emotions are a bit too raw right now to fully process that perspective. And so today, I honor those emotions and celebrate my Dad on what would have been his 77th birthday.
Thank you Dad for the very best gift ever!
Some of my greatest attributes and lessons in life came from my Dad. Perhaps many of us can say that, but often we don’t recognize it until it’s too late. I feel incredibly fortunate that I not only recognized the incredible gift my Dad gave me in the ability to get healthy, but I was able to properly thank him before he left us.
There’s no question — I simply would not be the healthy, happy and whole person I am today without the qualities of stubbornness, strength, determination, fortitude, perseverance, and an incredibly strong work ethic that I got from Dad. He taught us to never, ever give up – on anything – ourselves, each other, or any dream that was important to us. It’s those qualities that I’ve carried with me when I’ve fought my toughest battles – and I always will.
My Dad had an often painful and difficult life. As a result, he was not always easy. In fact, he was often hard on us…urging us to do better, be stronger and give more. But he was never harder on us than he was on himself. I truly believe that my Dad raised me up so that I can stand on mountains (in my case, literally and figuratively). I can’t think of a greater legacy and I am forever grateful.
Dad had an incredibly big and loving heart, and I feel blessed to have inherited that from him. From his example, I learned empathy and compassion for others, particularly family, as well as for those struggling and less fortunate. My desire to change the world and make it a better place comes from him. He always cared and cared, and then cared some more — sometimes too much.
Dad’s heart was evident in the big stuff – like always showing up – and the little stuff. He was our biggest and perhaps loudest cheerleader in sports and other activities — even when we weren’t particularly good! Yes, he was known to yell at the refs a time or two defending our honor. He pushed us to participate and then he advocated for us in all our endeavors. He was an example of activism, working to make a difference in the communities in which he lived and worked. I know that my In the Equation work will forever honor that legacy.
Not a Valentine’s Day or Birthday went by without a Hallmark card and handwritten note from my Dad, no matter how old we were. He was a man who was not afraid to show emotion, something I admired and now look for in a partner. I wonder how many kids, grand kids, nieces and nephews he taught to drive a car, drive a tractor, turn a wrench, work hard and never, ever give up?
For me, these lessons were life-changing. My Dad ultimately gave me the attributes and helped me develop the skills needed to believe in myself and thus to change my health trajectory, as well as to pay it forward by helping others. Today, I honor him and that legacy. And although I am beyond sad that he is gone, I am forever smiling inside…for those incredible gifts will keep on giving.
Honoring my Dad just like he would have wanted…& expected
When I learned in early October of my Dad’s Lewy Body diagnosis, I was in my beloved Maine. At first I didn’t know what the disease was or really what it meant. When I learned of the wrath it could/would rage on a person, I remember feeling leveled. How could this man who was so strong and seemingly invincible be taken from us in this horrible way? Why would he have to die in a way that was likely to strip his dignity and pride in being strong and in control?
It was on the mountaintop in Maine that it struck me — the best way I could honor my Dad and exemplify all he stood for and the gifts he had given me was to “show up” for him. I made a decision then and there, to summon my strong and resilient self and to show up for him no matter how tough it was — just as he had done for me and countless others throughout his life.
“Showing up” meant traveling 70 miles each way almost every weekend for two months to memory care to spend time with him — to just “be” there and meet him wherever he was at the time. It meant doing chores via wheelchair as he directed me, just like he did when we were growing up on the farm. It meant feeding him when the Parkinson’s symptoms took over and he lost his appetite and could no longer steady a spoon. It meant trying to interest him in Minnesota Vikings games when he had lost the desire and focus. It meant crying with him and wiping his tears when he could for moments understand what was happening to him…telling him we’d all be okay. And, it meant spending those final days and nights with him in the hospital and hospice as he was readying to leave us on this earth, doing my best to love and comfort him all the way home.
It was beyond hard. So damn hard! And I am so grateful that in being there for him right to the end, I was able to make the circle of life complete. I have no regrets with my Dad. I know that he knew how very much I loved him and how grateful I was for the incredible gifts that gave me. Life-changing gifts.
Go rest high on that mountain, Dad
The night of my Dad’s funeral, my brother watched Red Marlow sing “Go Rest High on That Mountain.” He sent us the link and I cried like a baby…for my Dad and for us. I end this blog with that incredible song in memory of my beautiful Dad who gave me the gift of being able to climb mountains and stand at the top and shout – YES!, YES I can! I will honor my Dad’s memory by forever staying healthy, happy and strong. And, Dad, every time I stand on the mountaintop, you will be with me.
Go rest high on that mountain, Dad. Your work on earth is done. We’ve got this!
Holding you forever in our hearts,
Some other blogs relevant to the legacy of my Dad and the gift of strong:
- Grounded in gratitude (Nov. 2017)
- Finding my strong on the mountaintop (Oct. 2017)
- 2015: The year of finding and celebrating my strong (Dec. 2015)