The sad news about Valerie Harper diagnosis has me reflecting about my father. He also had brain cancer, however the time between his diagnosis and his passing was approximately eleven weeks. I don't know if we were profoundly lucky or if were really short-changed because of that compressed time-frame... probably a bit of both.
We did not know at the time that his prognosis was so precarious. We knew it was terminal but anticipated a year, maybe even two, and he -- and so we -- continued to have hope and make plans up until the very end: things like seeing Italy and sailing to Greece, or perhaps he might see me graduate or marry my then-boyfriend. Although we didn't get to realize any of those plans with him, we also didn't have to see him suffer for very long; we didn't have to wrestle with too many of the agonizing decisions family members have to make on behalf of their loved ones when they become incapacitated. It all just happened so quickly, blessings are oddly presented in times like that.
I was 22 years old, so it was a long time ago. It was well before I was married or had children, I was still a student and hadn't even entered the working world. I had no idea what I wanted to do or be, and in many ways his passing felt like I was starting from scratch... like I had to relearn how to have Thanksgiving dinner or shop for Christmas gifts, blow out my birthday candles -- would I even want birthday candles again? And then thinking about the things I'd yet to do: Could I imagine getting married one day if he wasn't walking me down the aisle, having children if he wasn't there to be a grandfather, going to Italy as we had planned?
I also found grief to be a strange thing. The less I ran from it and the more I was willing to accept and "just be" in the process, the stronger I became and my perspective started to change. I started to internalize this feeling of still being my fathers daughter in the present instead of adopting the past tense of "my father was" ... I still am, I am his living legacy. That matters. I started to feel his absence less and feel his presence within me more. This did take time though. Lots of time. It's still happening, in fact, almost sixteen years later. I think I cried consistently for the first year, probably two... whenever I needed to, and I still do sometimes. (I probably made my friends and family insane.)
Two years after my father died, I got married and I did walk down an aisle -- my father's best friend of fifty years escorted me -- he was the closest male human connection to my father. I did not do a father/daughter dance at the reception, I could not. Only one man can have that dance, and unfortunately he's been held-up.
I also had children, a daughter (now 12) and a son (now 9). They are delicious representations of everything that I am proud of -- and I know my Dad would agree and somewhere he is beaming. They are creative, musical, smart, compassionate, loving, determined (sometimes a little stubborn), funny and wise beyond their years.
My first marriage didn't work out exactly as planned, and that was sad. I grieved. I had already learned that grief is meant to be felt... and always is eventually. I cried when I needed to (usually in the bathroom so my kids didn't see), so I could go on to the next stage. Luckily for me that was a very good stage.
Eventually I got remarried to a man who was never married before when my kids were six and three, respectively. When planning our ceremony and reception, my fiancé (now husband) -- having heard the whole story -- didn't want me to have to walk down an aisle and deal with a "dance situation" so he opted for a very casual/yet lovely service that focused on the creation of our family and the celebration of our love with those we care about. It was perfect.
Along the way I also achieved some incredible professional success. I started working in an industry I long admired, got promoted along the way and won some awards. I've had amazing mentors who have been generous with their time and expertise, I've met thought-leaders... some of whom I now call friends; I've been asked to speak at events and work with organizations I find inspiring. I just started a new role at a company that I've also long admired and I'm incredibly excited at what the future holds. And no matter how much time passes, with every new success I desperately want to share it with my father. I want so much to make him proud, to see his joy in the same way I revel in the successes of my children and I know they beam when they know I am proud of them, so I make sure to heap on praise when it's founded.
But most of all, I'm certain one day I will get to have that dance with him, and he will say: "Cookie, sorry I got held up... may have this dance?"
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