Anyone who has been with someone who is taking their last breath knows it changes you forever. However, I would never have guessed that through all the sadness, grief and devastation that death brings, I would be a better person because of it.
When my dad fell ill, I was in the thick of it: I was in my early 30s, working three jobs, living in New York City and having a great time doing it. What I didn’t realize is that I was spinning my wheels at a pace inevitably doomed for a crash. Life was very much about me, even if I told myself and others how great of a person or friend I was. I was genuine, but things were surface and never really got that deep. And that is how I floated along for years.
In one particularly selfish moment I remember a valued client telling me that she had just battled cancer. She was trying to express this insane journey she had just embarked on, but I had two other clients I was working on in my busy hair salon. I remember having the normal reaction of sympathy and compassion, but quickly moved on to whatever it was I had to do to keep my day rolling. It wasn’t till years later that I realized how insensitive I had been in that moment. Had I been paying attention, I would have realized she needed more from me in that moment. Not much more. But more than “OMG I am so sorry! Do you want a coffee or tea while you wait?”
That beloved client never came back to me. I failed as a human that day. My non-deliberate disinterest was truly hurtful. For that, I am sure. Sadly, I had very little understanding of cause and effect. Through social media I have followed her and she is healthy and thriving. This story is just an example of how not taking a moment to listen to someone because you are spinning around like a whirling dervish, can make another soul feel irrelevant. Unfortunately and embarrassingly, I am sure I having many of those moments. And it was shaping my character.
When my father fell ill, everything stopped. The next three months were spent riding the emotional roller coaster of the terminally ill. In the end I was exhausted and changed. I didn’t even know how I was changed yet but I knew I was different.
I went back to New York and tried to slip back into my old life but I couldn’t. It was at that point that I decided to take six months off. I quit my job, rented my apartment and moved to California. I needed to sleep, recover and revaluate. And that’s exactly what I did. I spent my days swimming in the ocean, taking naps, cooking healthy meals, taking scenic photos and just breathing. Six months quickly turned into a year and it was at that point I decided it was time to go back.
I stumbled for a while as I again tried to find my footing in NYC. The city seemed fast, and I seemed slow. I wondered if I could slip back into this place I called home. Eventually I was able to regain my momentum as a person, as a friend, and as a professional. However, noticeably I was bringing different energy to the table this go around. Through all the sadness of losing a parent, best friend and mentor, I had become a better person. I had slowed down. A lot.
Being the girl who could multi-task like a mofo, in a city that celebrated that behavior, was no longer the goal. I would now work hard, but not too hard. I took time to nourish my relationships with my amazing family and friends. I would take the time to listen and respond when people really need it, even when it was going to run me late or mess with my day. I decided not to tolerate bad behavior by people. Not by fighting back, but by not engaging or giving it any life. That alone has probably added years to my life. I smile a lot. I make my body a priority by being kind to it and giving it what it needs, when it needs it. These are all things I didn’t do or didn’t do well before the passing of my dad.
I think as I laid on my dad’s chest and listened to his last heart beat he somehow, in some way was able to give me one last gift:
Live a truer existence. Be grateful for time. Be gentle to your body mentally and physically. And to try and give the best of yourself to those deserving of it. All while managing your ‘not so good moments’, in case your head tries to creep up your ass again.
A friend asked me how I was doing a year after my dad’s death and I said I was doing great. She was surprised and seemed doubtful because, “I had been through so much.” I am one of the lucky ones to have seen through sadness. Maybe I wasn’t as funny or as charismatic as I once was, but I was happy. And I eventually got my funny back. And it was with a big side of compassion, gentleness, forgiveness, love and strength. I also was able to learn what the words accountability and generosity truly meant and apply it. This gift from my dad has made me a better professional, friend and girlfriend. I am able to bring more to the table as oppose to taking what I need.
As I sit here drinking my yummy coffee, in my homey apt, with my dog at my feet, after working a long busy week: a feeling of gratitude has overwhelmed me. I realize had I not changed my awareness, I would not be in this place. Not even close. Growth is essential. But not necessary. You can stay or you can move. I am thankful for everything my father has taught me. However, unknowingly, his last breath may have given me one last gift: helping me find my best self.
It is truly the silver lining.