I’m sure I’ve learned many things from my dad throughout my life, but the lessons that are most clear and feel like the most important are the ones he has taught me in the days since he passed away.
1. Make the most of time spent with your loved ones, because you never know how much you have left. When I visited my dad in February, part of me knew it would be the last time I saw him, but I was in denial. I didn’t take the opportunity to tell him all the things I wanted to because I knew that by acknowledging the fact that he was dying I would have to deal with it, and I wasn’t ready. I was too scared to speak the words in my heart, and I took for granted the fact that I would see him again. I don’t believe in living with guilt and regret, but I’ll always wish that I had spoken up during our last visit and taken that opportunity to tell him everything I wanted him to know.
2. Never judge others because they’re not doing what you think they should be. They’re probably doing the best they can, just like you are. We as humans tend to be judgmental, and I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else – probably even more so. As my dad began getting sicker, I was so frustrated with him for not dealing with his health the way I thought he should. I was literally mad at him. Thankfully I was able to keep it to myself (mostly) and it didn’t drive a wedge in between us, but looking back I’m ashamed of myself for many of these thoughts. I wasn’t in his head, and I didn’t know how he was feeling or what he was thinking. I know now that he did the best he could: he fought to stay alive as long as possible and ultimately that’s all that matters. I also spent a lot of my younger life disapproving of my dad’s lifestyle but with the wisdom of age comes the realization that it truly does take all kinds, and just because he lived his life differently than I lived mine doesn’t make him wrong. Other than his failing health, my dad actually had a pretty great life! For more than a decade he’s been married to a wonderful woman and had so many amazing friends. I was lucky enough to meet some of his friends and in-laws last week and I don’t have the words to tell you how kind and giving and loving these people were towards me! I love them all for what they did for my father, and now for Patti and my brother and I, and I consider them all to be family.
3. Always keep your heart open. My dad was a big ol’ guy, and had the heart to match. If you needed help, he was there. He put his own life on hold many times to help others, and was always willing to lend a helping hand to those who needed it. He was very generous with his family, friends and neighbors and I really hope this is a trait that will live on in me. In all of us, really! If everyone did just a little more to help those around us, think of what a difference that would make.
4. It’s never too late to change for the better. My dad went through many phases of his life, and they weren’t all positive. I don’t feel like I’m dishonoring his memory by saying this, because he would’ve been the first to tell you that he made some huge mistakes. The thing is, though, rather than sitting around and regretting his mistakes, he changed his life! He dedicated himself to becoming a better person, and I believe he was successful. He had a wonderful marriage, he become closer to his children and his extended family, and he was truly happy. I think this is a wonderful lesson, as we all have things about ourselves that we could improve (see #2! Although my dad would probably have told you that I’m perfect just the way I am )
5. You’ll never regret the things you did, but you might regret the things you didn’t. When my step-mom Patti called to tell me my father was in the hospital, I tried to decide if I should jump on a plane. I kept rationalizing that this wasn’t the first time he had been hospitalized and he always ended up back home. In the time I spent trying to make up my mind, my dad lost consciousness and then I thought maybe I should wait until he woke up… but he never woke up again. Looking back, I wish I had flown to Florida to be with him. Even if I had arrived after he was unconscious, I still could’ve sat by his bed and held his hand. I know if my dad were reading this right now he’d tell me that he wouldn’t have wanted me to see him that way and that I shouldn’t worry about it, but when I think about the cost of a plane ticket versus a few more hours with my dad it seems obvious that I should’ve gone. This isn’t something I feel guilty about, but I’ll always wish that I had gone.
6. Family is the most important thing there is. My dad was estranged from his own parents when they passed away suddenly, and I know he never completely got over that. He also went through long phases of estrangement from some of his siblings but rebuilding those relationships was a huge part of his later years. He came from a large catholic family and had 6 brothers and sisters, and he really did try to bring everyone back together, and was mostly successful. And as sad as his death was for all of us, it was wonderful to see so many of my aunts and cousins last week! I reconnected with people I hadn’t seen in 20 years, and I believe in my heart that those connections will hold this time. That will be my father’s legacy: Bringing our family back together.
There are so many other family members that I’ve reconnected with who were camera shy (I’m looking at you, Aunt Wendy!!), and just because they’re not pictured here doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re wonderful, cause I do. And speaking of wonderful, can I just say how great everyone was about feeding me during all this!? Shavonne went right to the kitchen and started cutting up raw veggies for me, her husband James was always on hand to open my bottle of wine, Juanita adapted her pasta salad recipe to make it vegan, and Patti and Laura smoked a ton of veggies for me! And don’t even get me started on how willing Donna was to keep my glass full of gin… The point I’m making is, my family is fantastic and I’m so grateful to have reconnected with them.
I’d say I wish my dad had been there to see it, but I’m pretty sure he was.