Most people have at least one huge fear. A quick Facebook poll of friends yielded fears such as clowns, reptiles, tornadoes, drowning, suffocating, arachnids, failure, heights, loneliness, unemployment, plane crashes, strange men in creepy places, creepy men in strange places, and a Trump presidency.
I asked my friends because I wanted to see if anyone was like me. My greatest fear has always been losing my father.
When I was seven and became aware of what death was, I remember asking my dad to promise me he wouldn’t die. The idea that my first and best friend might die terrified me. Since he was my first and best friend and the only loving, accepting, stable parent I had, he was my everything.
Dad was a warrior. He took amazing care of himself. He lived clean and had the most self-discipline of anyone I ever met. He ran marathons. He had a Doctorate in Law. After he retired from the Veteran’s Administration working to help vets get benefits, he became a personal trainer to help others move toward health.
It came as a terrible shock to my entire family when, three years ago, he was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma Stage 4 brain tumor. I remember walking into that intensive care room where he was and crying to him, “Daddy, please don’t leave me.” Both of our hearts were breaking and I was positive that I would die with him. They gave him three months.
My warrior father lived a few days short of the three-YEAR anniversary of his diagnosis. Most of that time was quality time. We had celebrations, graduations and vacations together.
When I found this past January that his cancer was back and spreading, I braced myself for our mutual death. I desperately clung to family, friends, exes, anyone that I thought might be there to save me when that time came.
The day before he died, I went to see him. I held his trembling hand. I put it to my lips and kissed it. I spoke to him softly and stared into his eyes looking for any sign that he was still in there. I saw nothing but the need for him to transition. I also did the unthinkable: I silently released all of my claims on him.
The next morning, Mom called me to tell me that he left during the night. I laid with his body, crying my final tears into his chest before a military escort came to take him. I went home and holed up in my bedroom with my dogs and two adult kids. We binge-watched “Stranger Things” on Netflix all day.
The next morning, I woke up and realized that I made it through my first 24 hours without my dad – I didn’t die without him! I didn’t need anyone to help me get through that. I slept alone – I had no partner or girlfriend to hold me through the night or offer me words of comfort. The love and nurturing I had counted on had been starkly absent. Yet I survived and thrived.
The people that I had been clinging to for support when that terrible moment came had been removed from my life in order for me to see that I never needed them to begin with. My lesson: everything I need in my life is within me. My dad put it all there before he left. When I feel beaten down by life, his warrior blood in me allows me to rise, shake it off and move forward just like he always did.