Reflections on Love, Loss, the Year Behind, and the Year Ahead

The end of 2015 was a difficult time for me.  The entire year was a struggle, but the end… The end was the worst.

As some of my followers know, in April of last year my stepfather, the man who raised me, had a heart attack.  Within 24 hours, he was moved from the hospital in Palatka, Florida that the EMTs delivered him to, to one in Jacksonville—he needed an emergency cardiac bypass.

dad3Forty-eight hours later, after a barrage of tests and scans, he was on the table, his chest open and his life in the hands of strangers.  That was when another surprise revealed itself: there was mass behind his sternum–a fist-sized, very well-entrenched mass… growing right into his aorta.

My seventy-plus year old father had been opened for a major surgery and now the doctors that we had thought were going to save his life could do nothing.  Sure, there had been risks involved with the procedure, as there were with anyone his age.  We weren’t entirely sure he would survive.  I wasn’t entirely sure he would survive, but I had come to terms with that.

How do you come to terms with the unfathomable?

The surgeons took a sample of the unfriendly invader, closed him up, and, after a few more days of observation and a fair number of tasteless meals that regularly put him into a fit of burger craving fervor, they sent him home.  And we all held our breath.

dad2No one could explain where the mass came from, or how it got where it got, but they could explain why, after chest x-ray after chest x-ray, they hadn’t found it earlier.  They weren’t looking for it.  A CT scan would have shown the lingering lymphoma squatting safe and cozy in its plundered sanctuary, but there had been no reason to do one.  God knows how long it had been there, there was no way to tell that, either, but—good news—it was highly treatable.

So, he began chemotherapy, and while he lost most of his hair immediately and was sick and miserable for two out of every three weeks, those stubborn extra pounds melted off and he was getting better.  One round—six months—of chemotherapy later, the mass was gone.

My dad had lived a miracle.  He had survived a massive heart attack, a surprise mass, chemotherapy, and the complications that come with it.  He thoroughly enjoyed telling people that a heart attack had saved his life and, though he was tired, he was happier than I had seen him in a long time.

And then, three weeks after his last round of chemotherapy, my dad suffered another heart attack, and this time there was no miracle.  On September 26th, 2015, he passed away.Dad1

My dad and I weren’t’ always on the best terms… There were times when we didn’t speak for entire years.  There were times when we disagreed.  There were even times when I couldn’t explain how I could hate someone so much and still love them, and then I remembered something he used to say when my sister got out of hand.

“I may love you, but I don’t like you very much right now.”

For the last six months, I have revisited those words uncountable times.  I loved my dad, but I didn’t always like him.  I loved 2015… but trust me, I did not like it.

Last year, I lost someone who meant more to me than the sum of his actions.  I lost someone who guided me down many paths, who taught me how to be me, and who, more often than not, was imperfect.

I also gained something.  I gained the wisdom to know that bad things happen, the people you trust can betray you, and no one is perfect—but that doesn’t mean you can’t love them, that you won’t mourn them, and that you have to cut them out of your lives.

A lot of things happened in 2015, the end of the year was hectic and I fell off the face of the internet for the while.  I stopped writing when it wasn’t necessary, and I gave up for a little while.  I had taken on a lot in the beginning of the year, and honestly, I dropped most of the balls I had thrown up into the air.

I am not ashamed to admit that I faltered and, at times, even failed, but I also learned.  I made it through 2015, and now I face 2016 with more modest goals and the knowledge that I don’t have to like everything, or everyone, that comes my way, but I have the capacity, and the will, to love both the people and the challenges in my life.