They say everything can change in the blink of an eye. For me, it was more like everything changed in the space between heartbeats, because that space which is usually un-noticeable and quiet, becomes very loud when the next heartbeat fails to come.
Eleven years ago today, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. Well, that's not entirely true, some details are now blurred. I no longer remember the exact time he left this world. I can't remember who was standing where around his hospital bed when he drew his last breath and his heart beat its last time. And although I do remember that I felt my heart explode into a bazillion pieces, I can't actually remember what that felt like.
I remember so many emotions: strength, anger, fear, disbelief, shock, worry, responsibility, loneliness, sadness, guilt, love, probably the entire gamut of human emotions was coursing through my body.
I remember the house full of people who loved him and so much "stuff" that had to be done.
I remember the fog I was in, acting more from instinct than from consciousness.
I remember walking through a grocery store, feeling utterly alone and being so angry because for the others in the store, life was just life, and for me, my world had ended. That was one of the hardest parts. You still have to buy groceries, do laundry, go to work, pay your bills, live - but how?
I remember waking up the next morning (not sure I even slept) shocked that I had survived one night with him gone.
then a day
then 2 days
I remember after one week and one month, thinking I survived, I can do this.
Each landmark was more shocking than the last because that night, 11 years ago, I didn't know I could even breath with him gone, wasn't even sure I wanted to.
What plagued me often in these last eleven years, and especially, in the beginning, was guilt. what right did I have to be happy? to have fun? to laugh? - really to live when he couldn't?
How could I be happy when he wasn't here to share it with me?
I became very responsible and serious trying to take over for him. In hindsight, it's funny because although my dad was very responsible, he was also always smiling and positive.
I know most little girls grow up thinking that their dad is the best, the most amazing special man - and I was no exception.
My dad had such a beautiful presence about him. Whenever he walked into a room, you could feel the lightness. Kids were always attracted to him and he made everyone he came into contact with feel special - from his family to his staff to strangers on the street. He was just that amazing kind of a person.
I feel so privileged to have been his daughter.
When I was young, we'd play catch while he was grilling dinner. I helped garden and cut the lawn. He taught me how to drive a tractor and tried to teach me how to pull a trailer (one lesson I never got the hang of. I can still jackknife a trailer like a pro). That thought makes me smile - every time I jackknifed the trailer, he'd have to come to fix it for me. He helped me fix a lot of things.
He loved to dance and eat ice cream. He loved people. He loved life.
I don't really remember the sound of his voice but I remember it was full of love, understanding, encouragement, and sometimes, thankfully very few, disappointment.
I remember as an adult, how happy he sounded whenever I called him. I could literally hear his smile through the phone.
I remember at his funeral, the line of people standing outside in the snow and cold for 2.5 hours to pay their last respects. The stories they told us of what he had done for them and the impact he made on the lives of so many. It was overwhelming how one man, my dad, could have such a deep impact on the lives of so many people.
I always pretended that I was just like my dad. I definitely look like him but looks are only skin deep. I have a far way to go to be the truly amazing person my dad was.
I believe in spirits and I believe my dad is still here with me, watching over me. I don't know where this belief came from or if it's something I just took on because the alternative is not acceptable in any way.
Even with this belief of my dad watching over me, I still was plagued with the guilt of living full out. Yes, it had eased over the years and I started my wildlife photography travel again about 6 years after he passed and I found some joy in different areas of my life but it hasn't fully lifted.
Not to long ago, I was shown something so obvious that I had missed (I will forever be grateful). Since I believed so strongly that my dad was here in spirit, watching over me, wasn't I hurting him by not enjoying my life to the fullest? Would my dad want to see his daughter still in pain and suffering or would it ease his soul to see me happy and embracing life and embrace who I was meant to be?
My heart that exploded into a gazillion pieces eleven years ago is slowly coming back together to be whole.
The lessons that took me 11 years to learn (and still learning):
1. life can change in small ways and big ways in the space between a heartbeat so make sure all your spaces are full of beautiful things and those that bring you joy
2. not living to your fullest is punishing you and everyone around you and everyone you care about - so wake up, get up, and live
3. time doesn't heal wounds. It dims the memories and pain but it's up to you to adjust to your new circumstances and the sooner you do the more you can live
4. no one benefits from you playing small - so don't. Your departed loved ones do not want to see you suffer - they want to see you live, so go dancing, build a snowman, play on the beach, chase your dreams and live happily
5. even though I've met so many wonderful people over these eleven years that will never get to know my dad, they can get to know a little of him through me.
6. I get to be me, the me I want to be, not the me that I think others want me to be because in truth, that's what they want for me too (thank you Bob Proctor)
Every day, my dad is with me in my heart and mind. I respect him immensely so my new question is what would dad do? I take it under advisement and then do it my way (which usually has some of dad's way built in).
If you are lucky enough to have a parent, grandparents, or loved ones in your life, be grateful and take time while they're still here to share your life with them and share in their life too!
So dad, for you, for me: last year I went Kayaking, white water rafting, and tried downhill biking. I made a snow angel, played in the ocean, and salsa lessons start next week. I'm treking for snow leopards and seeing Komodo dragons. Snorkeling in the Galapagos and watching the elephants. I'm finding my way back to my creative side and I'm living.
I have so many beautiful pictures of my dad, but since this is a public post, I didn't post pictures with anyone else.