I am one of many who didn’t get to say goodbye to someone they loved before they passed away. Today marks 8 years since my Dad departed this life. I was in flight from LA to NY when he took his last breath. Don’t think it didn’t haunt me, missing out on that last goodbye to my very first love: my Dad. If only I had taken an earlier flight. If only the cab driver had driven faster. If only Dad had hung on a few more hours. If only. The ‘if onlys’ fu%king kill us, don’t they? It wasn’t until about a year ago when the haunting stopped, and the gratitude began. Gratitude for the time I did get to spend with him, living.
Life is nothing short of interesting. One month before my Dad passed, I broke up with my then-boyfriend who was living with me at the time in Los Angeles. I told him that I would go stay with my folks in AZ while he finds another place to live. So off I went.
For the month of March, I was among cacti, desert sun, and my awesome parents. I didn’t realize then that this was the greatest gift (besides becoming a mom) that life would bestow upon me. During that month, my Dad wasn’t feeling well. He was weak, tired, and thin. He didn’t have much interest in food. Which, if you knew my Dad, the Italian from Brooklyn, he lived for food– and lots of it. My Dad was also a very quiet man, who didn’t really emote or reveal much. That month he did. I believe when someone is close to dying, they know it. They open up wholeheartedly. They share unheard stories. They reveal their truths. They talk about regrets. And they laugh. I had never heard my Dad laugh like he did in his last month here. We had deep, rich conversations about life– his life. Growing up in Brooklyn, leaving for the air force against his parents’ will, serving in the Korean War, partying with his crooner buddies at Birdland in NYC, meeting my Mom. He talked about the proud moments as a Dad, his stage of rebellion, regrets about untaken risks, and more. I felt like I was in the front row of the most fascinating history class, one where I actually knew the parties involved. He was an open book and I was an eager student.
After that month in AZ, I walked away feeling blessed, aware and awakened to this man I called Dad. I felt I knew more about him than most. And a month later, I spoke about what I learned in that 30-day history class when I delivered his eulogy. I know now that he told me those things so that I could share them with others. He wanted me to share the story he wasn’t vulnerable enough to tell. A story that others may not have experienced through conversations with him.
There is one conversation with my Dad that is gospel to me. I revisit this discussion often, and only shared it with my brother – and now with all of you. The story where he spoke about his regrets. They say this happens when you know your time is winding down. You look back on your life and spend time with the coulda, shoulda, woulda’s. He didn’t have many, but one that kept on coming forth in our discussions was fearing less, risking more, and lessening his grip on the outcome. He did a lot of this early in his life, but he felt as he got older he didn’t show up as boldly, that he settled on things he should have fought for. And I will never forget what he said to me with regard to fearlessly taking risks: “if you’re not nervous, kid, you’re standing still.” Wow. The kind of wow that gave me goosebumps all over and continues to do so. It has become my barometer every time life serves me up a risk-worthy opportunity. I hear him say those exact words and I forge ahead boldly.
SO, today, April 30th, eight years since he and I last spoke, I sit here haunt-less. I don’t beat myself up any longer for missing his last breath. In fact, I don’t mourn my Dad’s death any longer. Instead, I choose to celebrate his life. The life he so openly shared with me in those 30 hot-Phoenix days. For the past few years, Kellan and I celebrate his life the way he would have wanted us to: we pay him a visit, story tell, eat his favorite foods, drink wine, and take an afternoon nap. It makes him being gone easier in some respects. It actually makes me feel like I am doing right by him. Ya see, this is what my Dad would have wanted. My Dad never mourned the past. He didn’t give time or energy to what transpired yesteryear. So, on this day, we live life presently, mindfully, and wholeheartedly… much like he did his.
I love you, Dad.