No Regrets, Kid.

Today would have been my Dad’s 54th birthday.

Sometimes I think birthdays are the hardest days. This day is supposed to be all about him.

In my house, we never celebrated birthdays, as they were ‘just another day,’ and ‘overly marketed by corporations to sell things you don’t really need.’

Since he died, all I want to do is celebrate his birthday.

Go back in time, and give him some great birthday parties to remember.

Go buy him a really awesome laser scope or rain meter or something weird that only he could enjoy. Something to make him feel like he was remembered and special and show him how much he meant to me.

But we never had one of those birthdays for him, and we never will.

I think that’s the saddest part of all.

Even studying grief and death…it doesn’t make it any easier. It just gives you tools to better cope. I still find myself having the instinct and thought to give him a call sometimes and tell him something ridiculous–and then when I remember I can’t…

I lay in bed at night sometimes and all I can see is him laying lifeless and cold in a wooden box.

And the boots on his feet.

The boots he built his dream home with.

He had more plans for those boots.

When I look at my son I sometimes think how proud my Dad would be of him. How much he would absolutely love to get a warm little hug or see him walk and talk and experience new things.

Sometimes I manage to forget for a while, and then it all comes back even more vividly than before. You think you’re okay and that you’ve ‘moved on,’ but you haven’t and you never really will.

When someone you love dies, everything changes. Literally every single aspect of your life and mentality has changed forever. You will never be the same person again.

It’s like when the loved one leaves this world, they leave these little pieces of themselves behind for everyone that loved them. They stick to us and envelop us and help us along our own paths.

Sometimes it’s easy to celebrate life, make him proud, and be the most amazing person I can be.

Sometimes I get weak and sad and angry and don’t see the meaning of it at all.

But then I remember something he said to me when he was dying.

“No regrets, kid. No regrets.”

It’s hard not to live in the past and it’s even harder on days like today to keep your head up and simply move forward.

But that’s what he did. All the time.

I cry sometimes. I get angry sometimes.

I feel guilty for NOT feeling sad or angry enough sometimes.

It will be this way for a long time, this I know.

All I can do is follow the path his death has sent me on and try to be the best person I can be in the time I have here on this Earth. All I can do is try and live with no regrets.

So this year for your birthday, Dad, my present to you is a promise to live with no regrets–NOT reckless abandon, but an honest, good-hearted, kind and compassionate, learning, intelligent, regret-less life.

Instead of regrets, I will have lessons and learning experiences. I promise to take those experiences to heart, and not to waste any time on meaningless emotions and actions.

I promise to appreciate those around me, tell them I love them, earn and give respect.

I promise to make you proud and give the memories I was able to share with you to my son.

I promise to LIVE.

That’s what my Dad taught me.

I understand now, Dad. I understand so much more.

Happy birthday.

"Sundays too my father got up early 
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, 
then with cracked hands that ached 
from labor in the weekday weather made 
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. 

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. 
When the rooms were warm, he'd call, 
and slowly I would rise and dress, 
fearing the chronic angers of that house, 

Speaking indifferently to him, 
who had driven out the cold 
and polished my good shoes as well. 
What did I know, what did I know 
of love's austere and lonely offices?"  -- Those Winter Sundays
                                           Robert Hayden
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They say everything happens for a reason…

I never really knew or understood how life-changing it could be when a loved one dies. On May 21, 2011, I watched as my father took his last breaths at Saint Peter’s Hospital in Albany. It had only been five or six weeks since we found out he had stage four lung cancer, and by that time it had progressed to a point at which there was nothing more they could do. He spent his last 11 days alive in the hospital, and the last three of those on hospice care.

The pain I felt in my heart was overwhelming. Indescribable. Unless you have been in this same circumstance, you will never understand. To watch someone you love very much die right in front of you is hard enough—the things that happened in my life immediately following the most heart-breaking experience in my life made it even more overbearing.

We immediately moved back into my mother’s two-family home to try and help her with some expenses, and to just be there for her. She quickly found that, with taxes coming up soon and his final expenses (he had no life insurance) she wasn’t going to be able to afford the mortgage. She put the house on the market, and it sold in five days. They wanted to close by the end of the month, so we had about three weeks to vacate the premises. The last day before we had to be out, I went downstairs into my mother’s apartment to say goodbye to our cat who we had for about eight years (he was staying with the house per the new buyer’s request), and I had a realization. My whole family was now gone. Everyone. Growing up, it was my Mother, Father, The Dog, The Cat, and I. Our dog had died in February, my Father in May, now the cat was gone, and my Mother was moving away. My entire family was gone. I had taken them for granted for so long, and now they were all gone. I could still call my mother on the phone, but they days of her being close by were no more. Now it would be weeks – even months between seeing her

We found out later that week that it would be my husband’s last day at work. He worked for a subcontractor for DirecTV, and they were bought out by a larger corporation. Almost everyone that worked there was out of a job, including him. So, along with everything else that was going on in our lives, now this. We had no money saved up to move into a new apartment, and with him losing his job we really had nowhere left to go. We called my husband’s parents and asked if we could stay at their home for an undisclosed length of time. They have a nice home, with two extra bedrooms, so I suppose it worked out fine.

Now, here we are a month and a half later, living in a home with five people and six cats. They already had four cats—Fuzzy, Cleo, Lucy and Flash, and we have our two—Clamps and Tiny Dancer. I have never before in my life had allergies to any animal. However, living in a house with six cats, I have developed the itchiest eyes I have ever had, along with a nose that at times runs like a water faucet.

I feel awful. We are a married 25-year-old couple with no savings, a one-year-old child, and two cats. We are such bums. Living in a house with this many living creatures just does NOT feel natural. I’m not sure how the Amish do it. I know it seems more economical to all live together and conserve things, but not at the expense of my privacy. My husband and I have had our own household for almost eight years. At first, I must admit it was nice to have dinner on the table at 6 o’clock every night, and have the dishes done, and not have to clean much but at a certain point I want to cook my own dinners again. I wish I could be using my dishes, and sitting on my brand new furniture. We were so unprepared for all of this.

I am currently in the process of taking control of my life. A month after my father died, I decided to enroll in school. He had always told me to go to school and do something with myself, and after what I had saw and heard from him over the last week or so of his life, I knew I did NOT want to waste ANY MORE of my life…ever. If something that quick and drastic could happen to someone like him, then it could happen to anyone. Even me. I looked at my family’s situation and knew I couldn’t depend on anyone to change it. Not my mother, not even my husband. I knew I couldn’t complain about something I wasn’t willing to take action on. I took on a second, part-time job at Stewart’s and eventually quit my full time job to work there only. Working two jobs and going to school full time, along with having a family was too much for me, so I decided that one part time job was enough. School needs to be my number one priority if I’m ever going to get my family out of the situation we’re in.

My husband recently heard of a good job opportunity, so he’s in the process of interviewing for that, and applying to other companies in the area. Hopefully he will get something soon (UPDATE- He got that job!). For now, I suppose things worked out all right. We are all still alive (for now), my mother is happy in her new life, I am on a career path that will make me very fulfilled (and rich, hopefully), my husband is able to stay home with the baby so we can avoid day care costs, and we are all okay. We’re also saving up some money and most important of all – I now have direction. Something I never had before. I know where we are, and I know where we need to be.

I would have to say that my father dying changed my entire life. It hurts me very much to think that he is gone, but in a way, it made me a better person. I now have an appreciation for life that I never had before. I have purpose and direction and a will to succeed. It’s hard to think of my father’s death as a positive experience, but when I think of all the knowledge and power that I received from having gone through that, I can’t say it was bad. If it was going to happen anyway, I am so glad that I took what I could from it and gained what I did. I feel and know he would be proud of me right now even though we are living with my husband’s parents. All he ever wanted was for me to work hard to reach my full potential, and I never did before. It feels satisfying to know that I am doing everything I possibly can to make my life turn into what I want it to be, while I still can.