What My Dad's Death Taught Me
I slipped through most of my childhood without too many heavy-hitting losses. And none in my immediate family. I was floating through life pretty unscathed by grief. And then my dad died.
Back in 2008, I took some time off from school so I was home during what was supposed to be my junior spring semester. I was working and volunteering and partying while trying to figure out my life. My dad had been ill for a couple years from what his doctors diagnosed as ulcerative colitis. It was rough watching him suffer.
I'll never forget Dad picking me up from my shift at work - me being completely wiped out from fake smiling at crazy customers all day - and him looking at me as I crawled into the front passenger seat of our family van and simply saying, "I have cancer."
That was it. No drama. No fireworks. Just straight like that.
He was super calm about it, so I followed his lead. I asked a few questions and then we rode the rest of the way home in silence. The doctors made it sound like a little surgery would solve everything. All would be well. He'd have to make some adjustments, but things would work out.
Then they discovered that the cancer had already spread and was inoperable. They gave my dad 2-3 months to live.
Shxt got real.
Fast forward through seven months of watching chemo slowly eat away at my 6'3" 280-lb dad...he fought and was here with us longer than the doctors estimated, but it was painful to see. During his last days in the hospital, he refused to take pain meds because they turned him into a zombie and he couldn't hold intelligible conversations while on them. He wanted to take in every one of his last moments. He held out until all of his siblilngs were able to drive or fly in to see him before he finally accepted pain meds.
Shortly after, I remember sitting around the bed with my family watching him lay there, his breath rattling and fighting its way through his barely parted lips. The end was close. I stood up and told my younger brother and sister to come with me, left the hospital and drove us to a nearby family friend's house to get away for a moment. An hour later, my mom called to tell me that Dad was gone.
My dad was a great father. He wanted the best for us and worked hard to take care of our family. He was smart and funny and had a ton of friends. He's the reason I geek out for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. But the thing that stuck out and bothered me the most after he passed, was that he left with a lot of shoulda-coulda-wouldas on the table. A lot of dreams unsought. A lot of abandoned goals.
And I knew I didn't want that for myself.
My dad passing away reminded me how finite life is. And how we have this timeline in our heads about how things will go, but we don't know shxt. Tomorrow isn't promised. Your next breath isn't promised. And I understood that more than ever.
Unfortunately there are times when thinking about this makes it even more difficult to act, to move, to DO something. But I've been getting better and better at shaking the fear off and taking steps to get closer to my dreams and my purpose. I've become more afraid of NOT trying than I am of failing.
It's been over eight years since my dad died, but for some reason this past year got the deepest reaction out of me. Everything felt so fresh like it had just happened. And the lessons I let slip through the cracks over the last few years resurfaced with a vengeance. My mind would race so badly that I'd go several nights without sleeping. I'd wake up in the middle of the night, thoughts just flooding my head.
"Jess, we gotta make moves. Time is slippin' away."
"We won't have enough time. We can't wait any longer."
"Jess, WHAT ARE WE DOING?"
I couldn't stop thinking about everything and that's probably why I'm just now sharing all of this so many years later. I was finally having a reaction.
My dad's death taught me the value of my life. It taught me that showing true gratitude for my life is reflected in how I choose to live it. I cannot be passive with the vision I have for my life. I have to be ruthless in going for the things I want and desire. I can't ignore that my life has a purpose.
And so I'm praying that how I'm living my life now is the manifestation of this lesson.