Today I sit in my home office. It’s Father’s Day. I won’t lie, I’m glad that I’m taking the summer off from using social media. Then I don’t have to see all of the posts and pictures that remind me of today and the upcoming holidays and celebrations.
My morning started with the reality of what this holiday means for so many people around the country and beyond; what this holiday always meant to me growing up as a child and even for several years as an adult; and now what it means to me 17 years after the passing of my dad—the man who was my business associate, my workout partner, my coach—and will always be my father, my friend, and one of my guardian angels.
The State of Tolerable
The passing of a loved one never gets easier with time. As I always say, it only becomes more tolerable. As time progresses you merely learn how to navigate life’s waters, and how to steady yourself to an acceptable level when grief bubbles up at some of the most inopportune times. Some people never get to the state of tolerable. Some people are consumed by their grief. For them it is an actual loss, the person is gone and never to be recovered. I was raised to see the concept of death in a different light.
My dad instilled this transition in me as a small child, when his father, my Papa (pronounced “puh-paw”) passed away at the young age of 51 (I believe). Dad taught me the importance of grieving because of sadness that the person is not there to physically do and say the things that we had grown accustomed to experience with them, but never to grieve as though they are the body that we watched buried in the ground. Dad said that the body is merely a shell that we temporarily occupy and then when we pass away, we transition to our next level of existence. So he told me not to cry long at the grave sites of loved ones, because they are no longer there. Only their shells are there.
I now embrace the understanding of this next level as being our new assignment in life. We have one assignment while here and when we leave this shell that we call a body, we go on to our next assignment. We don’t just cease to exist. We begin anew, existing in a new realm and in a new way. I never complicate this visual with the bogged down details of whether or not we have the same look and body on this next level—that’s so human of us to focus on whether we will emerge in a younger, different, or better body than before our transition. That would then take us down the rabbit hole of questioning “then how would our loved ones find and recognize us in the next level, and how would we recognize them?” Even as a child I knew that that line of questioning would get me no place fast, except confused and missing the most important point—death is an illusion, it is a transitory phase, like the caterpillar that leaves the cocoon as butterfly.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still cry and grieve when someone I love is here one day and no longer here the next. It is traumatic because I always think and feel that we still didn’t have enough time together; there was still so much left that we did not do together and say to each other; and with that there is the guilt that tries to accumulate and stockpile to burden me with the woulda, shoulda, coulda that I clearly wasn’t concerned about before this person transitioned. It can be as delicate as a petal on a flower and as painful as the thorn on a rose stem. I have to be mindful of how I process the reality that the person I love is no longer physically available to me.
This year I’ve matured enough to realize that although on the outside I seemingly navigate this storm pretty well—and over the years I’ve even been told that I’m well-adjusted and many people have said that they admire my journey and fortitude—the truth is that I’m great at wearing a ‘mask’ for the sake of fragile outsiders who potentially would flee if they had to carry the weight of emotions that swirl around inside of me. So I put my best foot forward and ‘keep it moving’ as I like to say. As I’m currently reading the books “Option B” by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, “Failing Forward” by John C. Maxwell, and “Abundance Now” by Lisa Nichols, I’m seeing clearly that I need to stop caring so darn much about that mask and just allow myself to feel and be present, whenever and wherever that may be—in front of whomever happens to be around.
I’ve experienced a lot of death in my short 42-and-one-half years in this body—both real (the physical loss of a loved one) and other (the death of a marriage). And in both forms of death I haven’t fully grieved and experienced all of the levels of grief—not exhaustively. But I’m getting there, and I would rather be taking the progressive steps forward than just standing or sitting in doom gloom misery, waiting for life and healing to happen (which it never happens that way if you’re stuck and left wondering about this—you have to move or atrophy).
So it’s taking me longer than I would hope but not as long as doing absolutely nothing. Besides, who actually places deadlines to grieving? Like, are there people out there that say, “I’m gonna get past this loss in one year and then bounce back and move forward“? Are there people who say, “Well since I was with this person for 8 years I will take 8 years to grieve and heal from the loss of our relationship“? I’m grateful to my dad and my mom for planting and nurturing the ‘seeds’ that have helped me to persevere through life’s storms and not get consumed by the extra stuff that so many people struggle to make sense of and move beyond.
One of My Best Friends
Growing up my mom and dad were more than parents to and for me. They were my first human best friends. No, I didn’t tell them everything. Yes, I lied to them and withheld vital information that would aid in their ability to make sound decisions about my welfare and wellbeing (because I just had to go to that party or night club in high school—that I knew I had no business attending). But let’s be real shall we? Are we 100 percent honest and transparent 100 percent of the time with our best friends? If you’re honest with yourself, you would admit that you sometimes shade the truth, usually to protect their feelings, and in doing so you aren’t telling them 100 percent of the truth. So with that, it’s reasonable to see and understand how the two people who helped to bring me into this world, who spent more time with me in my formative years than any other human, would also be seen through my eyes as my best friends.
I was an only child for 14 years and the first 9 years of my life was spent side-by-side with my parents, with rare sleepovers at a friend’s house, and occasional weekend sleepovers at my paternal aunt Debbie’s home (between ages 5-8). Usually, wherever you saw one or both of my parents you would find me. They were protective, as first-time parents, and they just didn’t feel comfortable leaving me with other adults. I later learned that many parents feel this overwhelming sense to regulate how much and to what extent their child spends with other people, especially other adults. As my mom explained, you feel less anxious when your child is old enough to communicate and articulate clearly their experiences and when necessary, explain grievances. So basically, until I was old enough and mature enough to communicate fully if and how someone hurt me or made me do or say something that I felt uncomfortable with, then my parents weren’t risking my exposure to other adults. It makes sense to me.
I have a strong bond with both of my parents. Seeing myself without them is an unimaginable pain that I chose not to embrace. I know that just as my dad transitioned at the age of 48 only 17 years ago (next month), that one day my mom will also transition. But my mom, sister, and I have been chatting with God for quite some time and mom still has another solid 40 years to go before we think that she’s done enough helping and nurturing in this current assignment. Yes, the three of us are being selfish, but we’re flawed and humans—so cut us some slack.
I try to hold on to memories of my dad so that he feels like he is still here, a phone call away. I try to remember his truisms, reminders, and other words of wisdom. I try to remember the fun times we had together. I try to remember the lessons learned and those that he taught me through his own ‘storms’. I admire my dad’s courage and conviction, and his transparency and vulnerability—it was beautiful in his personal life and at times used against him professionally—but he never stopped being who he was, and I admire that about him. Life would clobber the hell out of dad and somehow he would get back up, inch-by-inch and day-by-day—eventually on his feet, to try again. Dad was a dreamer and doer. He strongly believed in pushing oneself beyond our limits because what we saw as our limits were far far from where our actual breaking point would be.
Dad was serious about fitness, working out, and doing his best to take care of his body. I only wish that included health checkups at a doctor—but I wouldn’t impose my thinking about doctors and medicine upon my dad who stood firmly in his religious beliefs—and I won’t judge him for not knowing that he had what medical professionals would belief to be a heart condition, nor will I continue to carry around the burden of guilt that comes from personalizing (a term that I just learned in the book “Option B“) his death as somehow something that I could’ve prevented had I noticed signs one year earlier that could’ve led to a medical or dietary intervention, or that I could’ve prevented it if only I had been at his home that day when he collapsed—versus being on the phone with my mom’s sister.
Neither of those scenarios are fully plausible, especially not the latter—since the coroner, and later cardiologists that I spoke with, explained that I could’ve been sitting next to him and not been able to revive him. It was an immediate transition. But I still carry this burden around for the past 17 years and this will be my final year of carrying around that guilt. I know that it hurts him to know that I am. It reminds me of what he used to tell me as a child, “when you continue to cry over the passing of a loved one you hurt them, because they want to console you but they can’t be there, and to watch you cry makes them want to cry” (or something to that effect). So I know that the guilt I carry around tied to my dad’s transition hurts him and since that’s the last thing that I want to do, I’m going to release myself of that burden and embrace instead the truth that God reassigned him, and it is not and never will be my place to determine how and when time is relevant, or question when, where, and why God does something.
Dad was excellence-driven but not obsessed with perfectionism. He would chastise me when I would fall into the perfectionism trap. He would remind me that it didn’t matter how long it took for me to accomplish something, just get it done—don’t be concerned with society’s standards and the obsessiveness tied to dates—such as graduating from college in four years knowing that course scheduling will probably result in you not finishing until year five. I remember dad saying to me, “who gives a crap if it’s gonna take another year, will you be a college graduate? Isn’t that what’s more important? Or is the ability to say you finished in four years what’s most important to you? If so, that’s stupid, and you haven’t learned s*** during these four years“.
Dad broke me out of my perfectionism bubble. Whenever I would type a document for work or school he would stop me from editing in real-time. He said, “you waste too much time editing on-the-spot, just type what’s in your head, and edit after you’re done. If you stop to edit you may mess up your train of thought…” I still find myself editing on-the-spot. I’ve done so countless times in this post alone. I know that he was right but I’m still in many ways the foolish youngster who has to find out the hard way.
Dad’s mindset was and is similar to the famous quote by Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, who said, “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late“. There’s a mindset to entrepreneurs where there’s a common thread that interconnects these great visionaries and risk takers—they just do it; they press their foot on the throttle; they don’t wait for best when good enough is or potentially can be far greater than anything else out there; they don’t spend long periods of time contemplating; they consider the worse-case scenario and then proceed accordingly; they don’t let failure to derail them, they simply get back up and try something else. Or as John C. Maxwell wrote in his book Failing Forward, they learn to “fail forward and turn mistakes into stepping stones for success“.
How I Plan to Celebrate Him
On July 30th it will mark 17 years since my dad transitioned. I choose not to mourn him on that day. Just like I’m choosing to shake off this weight and not mourn him today. Nor will I mourn him on his birthday, July 3rd. I’m choosing to celebrate him through my remembrance and through my actions. I will walk the walk not merely talk about it, not make excuses for why I’m not where I know I should be, but just get up each day and work my present like it’s my future—I will reverse engineer the heck out of my life—with the finish line of the first race in sight. I will train and protect my mind, body, spirit, and soul in all of the ways that are necessary for me to thrive.
I will embrace the words in this art piece that he had commissioned for me, remembering that always and forever I will be his daughter, his girl, his Sunshine. I will take dad’s words, his tough love principles, his disciplined work ethic, the examples that I learned from his successes and failures, and I will combine this with what I’m learning about myself through the books I’ve read and those that I’m currently reading, and I will apply these truths to my life.
I can put one foot in front of the other and walk directly up to my fears and keep walking through them, one-by-one, as I accomplish goals and reach dreams that have been far beyond my grasp these past several years— by “Failing Forward“, like John C. Maxwell explains in his book, by running at and kicking the crap out of “Option B” as described by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, by claiming my “Abundance Now” life, like Lisa Nichols, to “Believe Bigger“, like my dear friend Marshawn Evans Daniels wrote in her book, by standing firm and declaring my “I AM” like Joel Osteen taught in his book, and “Overcoming Hurts and Anger” as brilliantly and humbly shared by Dr. Dwight L. Carlson.
By fulfilling my dreams and reaching my goals I will in turn help to further build upon my dad’s legacy. He didn’t have sons so it’s up to his two daughters to carry the baton and successfully hand it off to the next generation.
Message to Dad
Even in my failing I know that you are proud of me dad. That makes me proud and it gives me the added boost to keep pressing forward despite the circumstances!
I love you so very much and I’m grateful to have to you watching over me. Thank you!