It was a typical Monday. I rushed to get ready, rushed to day care, rushed to the office. It was one of those Mondays wherein a busy weekend bled into a busy weekday and coffee was everything. I had a new client in front of me and we started the typical new therapist/new client dance: Why are you here? How can I help? Tell me all about yourself. He was slightly nervous to be there, as everyone is when they meet their therapist for the first time. All typical. All to be expected.
Then the phone started ringing. ‘Doesn’t the front desk remember I don’t answer calls when I’m in session?’ It rang again. And again. And a note was slipped under the door that simply said, “Your husband is here and he says it’s an emergency.” Heart. Stopped.
This is the part where I entered a vortex where memories were crystallized and it all feels like yesterday. As I approached my husband in the waiting room, all he could manage to say was, “It’s your dad…”
The next thing I knew, my schedule was cleared for a week, I’m explaining to the receptionist and a suite mate that I just lost my dad and I’m driving behind my husband to pack, fetch our son, and hurry to get to my mom.
And I learned an important lesson on life.
Life will change in an unexpected instant.
My father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly from a pulmonary aneurysm mere hours before he was scheduled to be released from the hospital after a very successful surgery. No warning at all. He was there one minute, gone the next. Life can be sudden like that in many ways.
You can (and should) make plans, set goals, and be patient as your efforts slowly weave themselves into the pattern you plan for your life. However, as you practice patience and persistence never underestimate the power of a significant life event either curtailing you (or in some cases, positively propelling you) towards or away from those careful plans.
We will all inevitably have moments that are what I call “light switch events,” in that within the time it takes to flick a switch our lives are fundamentally altered into a before and after point of reference. My dad’s death is now one of mine. You either have had some of your own or it’s on the way. It’s important to have gratitude for periods of consistency in life. Try not to take routines for granted. At the same time, respect the unpredictability of life and ride the waves instead of fighting the inevitable tides. We all have to meet life on life’s terms – and life is by nature, unpredictable.
Eventually, I finally arrived at my mother’s house that evening. As expected she was filled with grief and somewhat stunned. In the first few days after he passed, I gently held her hand as we made decisions about the funeral, as we pulled together pictures, as we chatted over coffee about how lucky we were to have known and loved him. We had many conversations about the life he lived and who he was. There was a lot to talk about, as my dad was amazingly talented and equally successful. He achieved enormous feats and seemed to have super-human powers when it came to business and life in general. Regardless of all his tremendous successes, his business ventures and ‘wins’ were more of an after-thought in what we spoke about and remembered about him.
His success was noted, but we focused on his passion for living, and his love for others. Herein, came the next revelation about love:
Love is all that matters.
I have five siblings. In the days following his death we were all focused on how he loved us, and how he did everything for us. My mom wasn’t thinking about what he provided for her – it was the deep friendship she was mourning. One by one, his lifelong friends approached me and explained how they never had a more loyal and dedicated friend than my dad. Previous employees marveled at how he was like a second father to them, coaching and mentoring their success even when it meant their success moved them away from his own business.
Love, in all it’s forms, was the front runner in our minds, our hearts, and in our conversations. He was loved, he showed love back, and he loved life. This is how he was memorialized during the celebrations of his life.
After the funeral was over and the chaos turned to quiet, I had more time to reflect on my last moments with my dad. I thought about the little things, what we ate and what we did. How happy I was that I spent Easter weekend with him, and the last time I saw him. I thought about things he said. You see, all of us kids joked (and still do) about how my dad was our strongest supporter and biggest critic at the same time. He would often ‘tell us about ourselves’ in a way only a dad could do. As I reflected on my last day with him in person, I recalled a funny moment: We passed each other in the hallway of his house. He stopped me mid-stride, pointed at my chest, looked me directly in the eyes and simply stated, “You’re smart, you know.” Then he just kept walking in the opposite direction. At the time, it made me smile and laugh. It was quirky and cute.
In reflection, I see a profound lesson on relationships hidden in there:
Tell your loved ones how you feel genuinely, honestly, and lovingly. You never know if you will have another chance to.
Everyone in his life knew where they stood with him at all times (for better or for worse). He was transparent and open about his thoughts and feelings. He expressed gratitude, appreciation, and care. If he had something to clear with you, he did so openly and honestly. His compliments were truthful and meant something. He made a point to say what was on his mind, even if it was completely random, mid-stride, and in passing.
Because life is so unpredictable give compliments now. Why hesitate? Let people know how you feel. Acknowledge what they mean to you or what you are proud of. Tell your kids you love them often. Tell your spouse how wonderful they are. Treat your employees like family – you will feel more connected to spirit and to others by practicing love in this way, and trust me it will be remembered. Enjoy the ride of life. You can either be frozen by fear of change or be up for the journey. Either way, life is going to continue to be as unpredictable, challenging, and crazy-making. And above all, love fiercely. You will never regret it.