Using Death as a Motivator
Death is a normal and natural part of life. While we don’t like to think about it often, death is something that each one of us must deal with many times throughout our life. The thought of someone close to us suddenly disappearing from our lives can be crippling. While it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, hopefully, for most of us, those that we lose will be those are in a better place because they’re no longer suffering from a medical ailment and it will be something that we’re expecting and have had an opportunity to plan for. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes we lose people unexpectedly.
While sharing a very personal story about losing a friend unexpectedly, Dan Perez asked:
“What if someone you cared for wasn’t going to wake up tomorrow morning and neither one of you knew it?”
This question alone, never mind the actual story Dan shared, made me flash back to losing my parents.
Finding Out by Reading An Obituary
When I was in middle school my parents divorced. Since it was my step-father who I had grown up with since my earliest memories, I lived with my mom after the divorce. I continued to have a great relationship with my dad and we hung out often.
Following the divorce, my dad remarried and unfortunately his new wife wasn’t so understanding of our relationship, mostly because he was “just” my step-father so after the divorce, he, technically, had no legal ties to me any longer. My dad and his new wife had a child together and this further drove a wedge between my father and I because of marital pressures to spend time with his “real” son.
A couple years had gone by and my father and I had barely talked due to these pressures. Then, one day in October, during my senior year in high school, my mother opened up the local newspaper and as she was flipping through the obituary section, she saw my father’s photo. My dad had passed away from cancer.
I never had a chance to say goodbye.
Saying “I Love You” One Last Time
We’ve all heard that you should always say “I love you” to our loved ones before saying goodbye, whether on the phone, in-person, or virtually. The thought goes that if you were to lose that person, your last words would be “I love you.”
While growing up my mother always suffered from an aggressive form of Lupus. Once my parents divorced it put all of the weight of dealing with my mom’s disease on me. Since my mom couldn’t work and was on disability, it meant that I had to work at a very young age just to support our household. It didn’t always work out and, unfortunately, I know what it’s like to be evicted with a sheriff standing at your door; living in a shelter; and visiting food pantries just to have some powdered milk.
Coming into my junior and senior years of high school my mother had been progressively more sick and was bed-ridden most of the time. No one knew how bad it was though.
On a sunny day in March of my senior year of high school, I was getting ready to leave my house to go hang out with a few friends. My mom and I hadn’t been getting along that well lately because I wanted the freedom that my friends had and, in some ways, regretted having to give up my life to support my mom. I walked out of my house, slamming the front door and there was some unsavory language exchanged between us.
While waiting outside for my friend to arrive, I paused, remembered that my mom and I had made a pact to always say “I love you” before leaving each other, and felt sad that we hadn’t had that last exchange. I walked back inside, said I was sorry and we each said “I love you” before my friend arrived and I headed out for the day.
Those were the last words I ever said to my mom. While I was out that day, her body shut down one organ at a time putting pressure on her heart and she died from a heart attack. I would later find her dead in her bed. She had passed away just five months after losing my dad.
Always Looking Over My Shoulder
It is hard losing someone close to you at any point in your life but losing both of your parents while your in high school can be devastating. It can lead you down dark and lonely paths. You have to make a decision in your life to either head down a path of destruction or to the experience as a driver and motivator to do better in life.
I decided that a path of destruction didn’t sound like much fun and that, instead, I would stand tall and fight through it.
Prior to my mother passing away, she had tried to prep me for it. Besides the many life lessons she tried teaching me, she told me that she would always look over my shoulder. Once I left for college, during my first semester, I got a tattoo on my right shoulder/back area of a blue rose (my mother’s favorite flower) with angel wings, clouds and my mom’s death date. This was my way of ensuring that my mother would always look over my shoulder and help guide me through life.
How That Experience Has Changed Me
From that point forward I have run as hard and as fast as possible for the rest of my life running through any wall that ever presented itself to me. Some have told me that it’s as if I have something to prove. For me, it’s that I never want to feel as though I have disappointed my parents. It is what drives me every day.
Besides deciding to juggle as many plates in the air as humanly possible at all times, the experience of losing my parents changed me in more ways than I can ever express. I’m sure that it has changed me in many ways that I won’t know until I have children, too.
But, what I do know is that it has caused me to appreciate life, live it to its fullest, and also to never end a conversation with a loved one, especially my wife, without saying “I love you.”
Thanks, Dan, for the motivation to write this post. It’s been a long time coming and an experience that I have hinted about and touched on lightly in previous posts but never dived into fully.
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Photo Credit: hugovk