February 18th, 2014
Dear Dad, Thanks For Dying. Love, Sally
It was 1995. The year that the 49’ers won the Super Bowl. Claudia Shiffer was the best babe on the block, the quote “Houston we have a problem” was born, and teenagers around the globe were listening to Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill (I definitely was).
Drew Barrymore danced on a table for David Letterman, the George Forman grill was released, Match.com started, and Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” was a number one hit.
But for me, 1995 was possibly the worst year of my life.
It was Valentine’s Day, and I was spending the evening with the “love of my life who I’m totally sure we’re going to get married.”
Highschool freshman, John Howe (swoooooooooon). I remember he gave me a “Be Mine” necklace, and flowers and I thought I was the happiest girl in the world.
For a second.
Until I remembered that my dad was on his death bed.
8 months prior he had gotten into a bicycle accident. Ironically, by riding his broken bicycle to the bike shop to get it fixed. He lived on one of the steepest hills in town, and the breaks went out at the top of the hill. With no way to stop or slow down, he crashed into a wall at the end of the hill.
Leaving his entire body broken. For 8 months he was a vegetable. Unable to walk, eat, talk, move. He had to have this weird little suction thing for his mouth so he didn’t choke on his mucous every day.
This was heavy stuff for a 15 year old daddy’s girl to have to witness.
He was always living on the edge. Pushing the boundaries. Climbing mountains that were too high or running marathons that were too far for his fragile body.
“I’m fighting the reaper” he always used to say. And dinner conversations included things like “when I die…I’ll just be pushing up daisies.” I never really understood that meant until 1995.
It meant he’d be gone. Leaving no spirit behind. Just a body in the ground that flowers could grow on top of.
He feared old age and never thought he’d make it that far. Case in point.
And yet…even in his hospital bed, I never truly believed he would leave. I never actually thought that was going to be my life and my story. I knew in my heart he would get better. That he was just sick right now but it would be temporary. He’s a doctor after all, and they know a thing or two about healing.
So you can imagine the shock one morning while in the shower when my mom burst through the door and said, “you need to go over to your dads right now.”
It was the tone in her voice. This wasn’t going to get better.
I was staring my hope, my denial, my intentions straight in the face and I was about to lose. All the positive thinking in the world wasn’t going to stop what was just about to happen.
In what might have been the longest and most bizarre drive of my life, up the hill to my dad’s house where he decided to be in his last days, I was totally out of my head. It was surreal. Not happening.
Somehow the sun was still shining and the sky was still blue. The birds were still chirping. And I was about to face the hardest thing any of us have to face. At age 15. I had only months prior gotten my period. And met my first love. And entered high school. And became a cheerleader. This isn’t how the story is supposed to go.
And so I walked in the house. My mom not allowed to come with me because it would make my dad’s new wife uncomfortable (oh boo hoo). And down the long hallway that seemed to go on forever until it ended at mine and my sister’s bedroom.
That’s where he chose to breath his last breath. Among our white twin-sized brass childhood beds. And floral comforters. Sea foam green carpet and the big willow swaying outside the window in the Santa Ana breeze that I used to lay in my bed and stare at for hours..
The room was now crowded with a hospital bed smack dab in the center of the room. And people. All just looking at him. Some crying. Some curled up in a corner (Grandma). Some totally paralyzed (me). Some playing Enya trying to create the “death mood” (his wife). Some I’ve never even met (some rabbi since apparently he was to die an orthodox Jew…news to us).
And in such an awkward moment, we were all supposed to “say goodbye.” One by one. In front of everyone, with ENYA playing in the background.
My dad and I had always had a special bond. Saturday afternoons were spent together detailing his convertible, and then taking a drive top down to the ice cream parlor. We had a special day together (August 18, 1991) where every year we’d celebrate our special relationship.
So it wasn’t totally surprising to me that he picked me to be the one holding his hand when he let out his last breath.
His hand went from warm to cool right after I said goodbye. His eyes still closed, but the room was different. He was different. Just a body now. A heap of skin and bones.
And to this day it’s still so bizarre. Half of who made me is just a pile of dust and bones in a box somewhere in the hills of California. All that’s left is a headstone and some fading memories.
I’ve spent most of these 19 years since his death either forgetting about the whole thing, or mad and upset at how it has affected me.
“How dare you leave ME.”
“Why would you do this to ME.”
“This is so unfair. Did you not love me enough to stay?”
And for the first time ever, today, I imagined him as a spirit and as an energy. As more than a heap of bones that is just pushing up daisies. I imagined that he’s there, unable to communicate with me, with me just hating on the situation and being mad.
I know that this is my life. And somehow it was supposed to happen so I could learn something. But even knowing that it’s weird.
Sometimes I look out the window to the Bridger mountains and imagine that he’d come visit me here and want to climb to the top. Or he’d want to go on a long backpacking trip and I’d be all annoyed at how long it was going to take (just like the time I sat down on the dirt at a trailhead in Mammoth, refusing to get up and walk).
I wonder if he’d be proud of me. Or if I’d be different if he were around. If I would have chosen a different career path. Or if he would have encouraged my adventurous, Wildheart spirit.
I mean he is the guy, after all, who wore a “Why Be Normal?” t-shirt on a regular basis. Short shorts and tall socks and 70’s Nike running shoes and a printed bowtie to work every day.
Today I’m searching for the parts of me that are also the parts of him. The silly, fun loving, entertaining, free-spirit with a knack for telling a good joke and making people feel comfortable.
I’m remembering how he used to drink Miller Lite out of a fancy glass but eat sardines out of the can. And the man who lived every day full out like it would be his last. Because he probably believed it would be.
He’s the original Wildheart. And today my Wildheart wants to connect with his. With the spirit of my dad Mark, I’m sending you all love from the top of my mountain.
And from here I want share with you five things I wish I would have known back then that would have probably made my life a lot easier now:
- Don’t control your tears
- Don’t be too cool for help
- Don’t shut out the people who love you most and who want to help you
- Don’t take it personally when people die…it isn’t about you
- Don’t close your heart no matter how much you’re hurting.
- There’s nothing you could have done differently to change the situation.
- Go out and keep living your life.
The daisies sure look nice from up here,
P.s. Has someone closed to you passed away? What emotions did/do you feel? How did you handle them? Leave a comment below.
P.p.s. I love you dad. Miss you.
Wow Sally. What a beautiful post and tribute to your dad. He sounds like a wonderful man, definitely a wildheart!
It’s too early to feel the feels Sally!!! ;) This article was so spot on and amazing.
The birds do keep chirping.
Hahah! Sorry lady. :) I knew you’d understand.
Cheers to the birdies.
Thanks so much for writing this completely open, honest, raw & vulnerable post. I appreciate your realness.
And I’m writing back because my mom died when I was six.
It’s only been over the past 3 years that I’ve actually been dealing with the buried emotions. And it’s funny, because reading your post, I was remembering that she was alive once and happy with my dad.
Because all I remember growing up is living with a stepmom I didn’t get along with and my dad’s relationship with her.
But there was a time when my mom & dad (who made me!) were happy together. So your post made me smile, thx for that.
And sometimes we don’t know why things happen, but I also think that her death helped to propel me on the path I’m on right now & sometimes I think she’s watching over me on a big fluffy cloud with a smile plastered on her face.
Cheers to your dad & my mom!
When I was 17 I lost my mother to final complications of battling a liver disease. Over the last 13 years I have had so many emotions, straight up PISSED, sadness, loneliness, normal anger, and disbelief.
I was mad at GOD for not saving his amazing Christian follower, for leaving me to start figuring out life so quickly on my own, and taking her from me.
I grieved a lot alone because of how my mother handled her illness by keeping the pain and struggles within our home walls. For a long time I felt like I had nothing to complain about because she didn’t, and nothing I was experiencing was as bad as her. I wasn’t dying and in extreme physical pain.
I have worked through so much of this over the years. I think a lot of it comes from the continued teachings she provides me even though she isn’t physically here. It also is with my maturity and gaining greater understanding of her past teachings while growing up.
I have also learned to let go of some of the anger and come to peace with it. I have always had a belief, “Everything in life happens for a good reason.” It took LOTS of years to swallow that pill in connection with my mother. I can now, which has helped me find some peace.
Everyday I miss her and would love to have a coffee, cocktail, or a meal with her. I know she is here and some years are easier than others on her anniversary. I feel your pain and sad to hear you are also part of the “Lost a Parent Young” Club. Know you are in good company and always here to shoot shit on this subject.
Below is the post I wrote about my mother’s death in a way for me to publicly discuss it. Check it out if you want to. I have not been good about that over the years but am trying to be better. She would have wanted it that way I believe.
Dad died 5 years ago. My experience was quite different from yours, like 15 years older and more “mature” than yours. Regardless, I thought you might like my processing of his death a year later…
(February 3, 2010 at 12:37am)
do you know what the end is like?
it is quiet. it is peaceful. it’s scary and sad. it’s simultaneously hot and cold. triumphant yet devastating. there was rhythm to the chaos. it started quick and stretched out. there were sounds unlike any other you’ve ever heard. they were almost a beautiful sound, not at all scary or intimidating. they were deep, and they reached into the soul, perhaps both his and mine.
it is the moment when your body finally gets to rest truly. you have fought an uphill battle for years. we fight disease, injury, stress, time, emotions, nature, growth, other people, spirituality. we spend our entire life fighting. and then there comes this moment when the fight is over. the soul recognized this time and escaped this crazy world a few days earlier. our spirit really is smarter than our physical being. it is amazing. but in that moment when your body finally gets to surrender to the fight, there is this magical gasp that is full of relief and enlightenment. and in that moment, when all of the fighting subsides, life is defined in its truest form.
and i’m not sure if that was his experience or mine.
but he was as peaceful as the snow gently falling out side of the window. the fight was over. the room was quiet, and sad. yet his presence was stronger in that moment than it ever has been. and there was a sigh from the rest of us, in our realization that his tremendously courageous battle had come to a close.
and while we were robbed of experiences yet to come, he is with us more now than ever. much like the snow that falls from the sky, like the wind that blows the leaves around you, like the sunshine on a cold day… he is more present now than ever. and if you listen quietly, if you zone out the fight that you are currently in, you can feel him walking with you. you can hear him in your soul.
if you ever have the opportunity to stand next to a person of such great faith, love and honor as he walks boldly into the next life, rise to the occasion. for there is no better way to experience life, no better way to cherish life, no better way to truly understand life, than to be there as it ends.
You got a tear or two from me this time, Sally! Love you xoxo
Beautiful post. My dad died that same year on October 1, 1995. It was also a surreal moment for me. I am glad I was there. I actually felt a relief for a brief moment because he had suffered for so many years with a multitude of health issues. He is around me. I feel his presence. And, as a spiritual intuitive and medium, I talk to him and I know he hears me. Several miracles have occurred when I have prayed and asked for his assistance. So I know in my own personal life he is around. Although the body goes back to the earth, our spirits are eternal as I have come to know and believe. It gives me great comfort. However, I do miss the physical aspect of my dad. I feel that is what sometimes makes death difficult because we get attached to the physicalness of a person. I went for many years living in guilt after his death. Thank God I finally released all of those stories that were not the truth. He was my inspiration for starting my own business. I will never forget the day he told me…”if you ever want to make money, you have to work for yourself.” What wisdom! We are the creators of our wealth!
‘I’ve spent most of these 19 years since his death either forgetting about the whole thing, or mad and upset at how it has affected me.’
Welcome to the place of letting go,and living the life of the 7 rules you shared. Your brand and flavor of sharing is rare. Hope you are inspired by the love of all the other Wildhearts you have inspired. Like me! Jim
Sending you so much love — this makes me want to cry and be sad and feel fear and all of that — and it makes me so proud as always to be your friend. you are amazing. Love & miss you. Z
This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing. <3
That made me cry. I remember that day too and I remember wondering what you and Molly were going through. I can’t believe your mom didn’t get to say goodbye. Shame on you Francene… Shame on you for taking advantage of the kindness my family was so happy to give you and then being so cruel. Paulette was always are cousin. (sorry Sally, I’m the life coach with an attitude I guess. You can delete this.)
I am in awe of you and your sis and all you’ve done since that horrible day. Thank God for your amazing spirit and for a mom who obviously loves you both without condition.
What a beautiful post. Thanks for letting us into your (wild)heart!
Thanks so much for sharing. I too lost a my dad, suddenly around 10 years ago. At the time, I was in Ecuador on a year abroad with school- I remember speaking with him on the phone a few days before he passed, and then- gone. I travelled home in a flurry of tears and heartache- I was also a daddy’s girl.
Two weeks later, I found myself heading back to Ecuador. My mother had told me to go- she said my father would want me to honour my commitments and finish what I’d started (classic dad). She also told me that when I was leaving them at the airport, my father told her that he knew that this was the last time he’d see me. She shrugged it off, but he knew something we didn’t.
I remember getting in my host family’s car when I arrived back in Ecuador It was night and we were driving through the streets of Quito. I don’t remember much else, but I do remember the deepest sense of calm, a knowing that I was in the right place.
I’ve spent these years ignoring that he was ever gone, shutting out emotions. For awhile it was the easier option, until it wasn’t. Grief still hits like a title wave some days, but I’d rather be hit by waves and feel their power than nothing at all.
So cheers to you!
I loved your article. I connected with it in every way.
Am writing back because my passed a month ago. He was so similar to yours- free spirited, witty and a complete people’s person. I loved him dearly and I never had the chance to tell him so many things I would’ve otherwise wanted to. He died of a brain haemorrhage (I had to google the spelling). He was fine one day and within the next 18 hours he was gone. Am still dealing with it. I keep wondering why the hell could I not get a last moment with him. To tell him how much I loved him or maybe listen to him criticize my long hair. Am going to end this abruptly. Forgive me. I thank you though. I loved the read.