His death, officially listed as complications of Type II Diabetes a few months shy of birthday 56, is a cautionary tale. A textbook example of what can happen when you don’t take personal responsibility for your own health every day. He took that responsibility too late in his life. My Dad was an organ donor. The day after he walked on I got a call from a woman who told me they were able to harvest some of his back tissue and skin to help others. That’s it. Just his back. He had used up everything else himself. He was ready to go.
His life is an example, too. Of working every day to stay true to yourself and being brave enough to change course when things are not what they should be. He was by no means perfect but he wanted to be a good person who made the lives of others better. He cried when he was happy and when he was sad.
My Dad’s best quality was that he always heard me when we talked. That’s what I miss the most. My Dad could hear what I said and what I didn’t say and he would see when something I was trying to keep to myself needed to come out. He was encouraging and when I did good things, no matter how small, he was proud. There are a lot of things about my Dad that I don’t want to be as a parent. But I hope I’m as good a listener to my son as my Dad was for me.
I imagine often what my Dad would say to me now. And I’ve dreamed of what he would have said to me in the earliest days after I separated my pelvis. (I did not have those dreams until after I had my surgery). I want to share some of these things here:
“You are good. You did not bring this on yourself.”
There have been times when I have thought all of this was my fault. Even though I had no reason to think so and I wasn’t aware that diastasis symphysis pubis existed at the time of my labor, I sometimes wonder now if I should have asked about how things were going, if our labor experience was “normal” and if having the baby crowned but unable to move for so long was a danger to him or to me. Should I have asked for a C-section? Would it have made a difference?
My Dad would not have let me think that way. He would have stopped it right away and said something very close to: “You are good. You did not bring this on yourself.” And he would have told me that “Everything happens for a reason and you will learn what that reason is when you are ready.”
I would have believed him.
“This experience is going to help you. You might not see it now, but it is.”
My Dad is the reason I look for the silver lining in any situation. He was always trying to make the best out of a bad situation. He could make a dollar stretch in the grocery store farther than anyone else I have ever known and when things were dark for him he turned to his creativity.
I’m not sure exactly how he would have said it, but he would have been the most amazing cheerleader during my time in the wheelchair and even beforehand when I called my primary care doctor and begged the nurse for an orthopedic referral, and every hard day. He would have helped me look for the ways I was growing, learning about myself and getting stronger. And he would be doing it now as I progress through EMDR.
“Be the best you everyday.”
My Dad suffered a back injury on the job that eventually kept him out of work. Later, he went on kidney dialysis because of his diabetes. He knew pain and the sadness that comes with it. But he didn’t lose his true self in that pain. I remember a conversation I had with him on our last in person visit. (If I had only known!) I asked him how he felt about life (because he said he could tell how happy I was with my fiancé) and he said he was “OK because I’m still being my best me everyday.”
What amazing clarity. I thought of that conversation again recently and I am going to make it part of my approach to this healing. It’s OK to have a bad day as long as I am pushing to be the best me I can possibly be every minute of that day. If that means I need to cry something out – or write, or draw, or scream it out – then that’s what I will do. If it means I need to laugh or be by myself, that’s OK, too.
And lastly, I think he would tell me something about how this experience will bring me closer to my guys, that we will all come to appreciate how and why we need each other.
On this point, I’m not sure I would have believed him. But I would like to. My mom got sick in 1993. It took several years before she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. By 1996, my Dad had moved out and my parents were getting a divorce. To this day, I believe in my heart that my Dad left because of what my mom’s illness had done to her. Her physical self and her spirit changed a lot in those three years and I think my father decided that wasn’t the life he wanted. (I have not asked my mom about this and when I did ask my Dad he was vague and uncharacteristically defensive. I took that as a yes.)
It might have been the best thing for him, even for our family. But it has left me with an irrepressible fear that the same thing could happen to my family. (Yes, I am working on this in therapy.) The fear is unfair to my husband, who is regularly reassuring me that he isn’t going anywhere and we are in this together. And it is unfair to me, too, often making me feel that I need to be careful about what I say so I don’t do something that would push him away.
Because my Dad would hear me, and ask questions, he would know this fear and do everything in his power to help me (and help and my husband help me) move past it. He would build me up and be so proud of how I am taking the responsibility I need to to get well. Yoga, workouts at the gym and plant-strong eating are all steps in the right direction. He would praise my dedication (he could be really over the top sometimes) and make absolutely sure that I believed all the hard work of getting well is worth it every second.
I wrote this post so I can come back and read it, hearing my Dad’s voice in my head. He would have been so sorry for the pain and so thrilled at the recovery. I hope you all have someone like him in your corner.