Five Years Later

It is odd how much last night (and this morning) paralleled another time in my life.

The antiseptic smell hit my nose and instantly I could feel the bile rising in my throat. The harsh lighting made me feel like I was in the Twilight zone, and the stiff chairs kept me awake, not that I would be falling asleep anyway. 

On my mental calendar, I have April 29th blocked out. It is like the black Tuesday of our family. For some people April 29th is a birthday, the date Will and Kate got married, or International Dance day.

But April 29th for me is the day my dad died. Today's date marks five years.

Grief works in the funniest of ways. One moment you feel completely fine, and then the next moment you feel this enormous sense of loss, and a burning in your chest.

Losing someone too soon is a terrible reality. It reminds you of how short life is, and reinforces the principle that life isn't fair.

My dad was all things good and golden. I was the apple of his eye, and he was mine. He taught me how to ride a bike, to love sports, and all things music.

I can remember the day my parents told me about my dad's ALS. I was entering my junior year of high school, with boys to worry about and college in the distant future. My dad's illness forced me to grow up a lot quicker than I intended to.

Hospital stays became the norm. The antiseptic smell of one still makes me want to vomit. The unknown was a daily part of life, because my dad had a rapidly sped up time clock that wasn't stopping for anything.

Soon I learned about feeding tubes, BiPaP machines, walkers, and catheters. He became a prisoner in his own body, trapped by the cruelty that is ALS. It is a wretched disease to watch progress. You lose the ability to walk, to talk, and finally to breathe. 

While my dad lost all of these things, he did not lose his most important feature: his spirit.

In the years of teaching me how to ride a bike and learn the strike zone, my dad was also doing something else, something greater. He was teaching me how to live, and how to leave the world better than I found it. 

If you must know, Jim Ziegler tried to see the good in all people. He was gentle in his approach to humans, something I hope I can have. He loved intensely, and when he talked to you, you felt like you were the only person in the room. He found beauty in the simple things, like a Sunday afternoon baseball game accompanied with a cold beer and better company.

My daddy was the most encouraging soul I knew. He taught me that a little encouragement can go a long way. He saw that a simple thank you could transform someone's entire life. If he told you he loved you, he meant it. He was a lover of all things people, of the little ones and the big ones. He loved you for who you were, not what you had. 

Every part of my dad's life was profound. He lived. At the end of his life, he was only focused on one thing: making sure we would be okay.

My dad always said the best part of his life was the people who were in it. The neighbors he bonded with, the Sunday School kids he taught, the coworkers he worked with, and the family he lived with. We were all integral parts of his story, and he made sure that we knew that.

Death is awful. It sucker punches you. In the end, you only wish for one thing and that is more time. Not being able to call my dad sucks. Knowing he won't be there to cheer me on at graduation stings, and knowing he won't walk me down the aisle is a pain I will never fully get over.

But knowing who he was is what brings me peace. Knowing that my life is better because I had him as a father is something to rejoice over.

One of my favorite books is Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Oddly enough, I read this before my dad got ALS. In the book, Morrie suffers from ALS. His former student meets with him for many Tuesdays, to live life together and to tell stories. Morrie gives great advice, and I will leave you with one of his nuggets:

"So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” Mitch Albom

Be intentional. Love wildly. Say thank you. Write your stories down, and share them. And don't ever feel like you don't matter. You do.