On February 22, it was my Dad's birthday. He would have been 71 years old. When he was in the last month of his life, he had a vision board in his hospital room with his goals on it. On his board he had written that he wanted to make it to his 65th birthday. Sadly, he passed away just 4 days before. My Dad had ALS, and we knew he was going to pass away, but his passing was still very traumatic for us all. He fought until his very last breath, as he was not ready to say good-bye, and we were not ready to let go either.
I read recently that once people pass away we always speak about them in the best way: "They were incredible and amazing." It's as if we say anything negative, we are dishonouring them. I think about this often, because I did the same for my Dad. The truth was, my Dad was not always easy to live with. He had a troubling past and it came out in his temper and in his drinking. We had a very strained relationship, and at times, we would go months without speaking. My relationship with my Dad was always a major point of pain for me, and something I battled with for almost 15 years.
In 2009 I was living in Calgary, and I decided I was going to start writing to my Dad. We became pen pals, as it was easier for me to communicate with him this way. We wrote what was going on in our lives, but we also shared our feelings and the mutual pain we felt towards each other. It was during this time that I forgave him for the incredible amount of hurt that I had felt over the years. The anger and pain did not just disappear, but it was the beginning of us building a new relationship.
In 2010, my Dad was told he had ALS. He explained to all of us what it entailed, but he also told us he could still live a long life. We researched and knew what was coming, but we were hopeful; especially because he still looked great. As he began to lose the ability to use his left arm, we were faced with the reality that he did in fact have ALS and that this was only going to get worse. Shortly after that, my husband, new baby, and I packed everything up and moved back to Nova Scotia.
My Dad and Manny, my oldest son, in 2010
Once we moved back home, we spent all the time we could with him. We had family meals, and weekend adventures. He played with his new grandson, and helped us in our new house on reno projects. Life seemed relatively normal, but his terminal disease loomed over us.
As he completely lost use of his left arm, and then his right arm, I began to help him more in his daily tasks. I had my second son by this time, and so we spent almost everyday with my Dad. I would go to his house, help him with anything he needed and just visit. He was trying to make peace with his diagnosis and what came after he left this world, and we had many chats about this.
My Mom and Dad with our second son, Jonah in 2012
My Dad was an incredible cook, and he had many recipes that I wanted to learn, so we began a legacy cooking project. My Dad couldn't use his arms anymore by this time, and wasn't walking well, so he would lay down in his bed and teach me how to bake bread or make his classic recipes. We called it Legacy Cooking. I still hold those recipes close to my heart, and for the first year after he passed away, I would bake bread constantly because it made me feel close to him.
Dad and I legacy cooking his famous carrot cake
During the last couple of years before he passed away, we became extremely close. We spent a lot of time talking about the past, about the future, and we shared our feelings. It was a healing time for both of us, and during his last few months I had never felt closer.
The last photo I had taken with my Dad, a few hours before he passed
After my Dad had passed away, it took me several years to process his disease and his passing. I missed him dearly and wished we could have cooked together one last time, or asked him for his wise advice. Although I would have done anything for him to be back, in many ways I was thankful for the time we had been given. The couple of years we had together was such a gift.
Our last family Christmas together, in our family jammies, 2012
I am not sure I would have moved home or spent so much time with him, if I didn't know he was dying. It's sad in many ways that that is the case, but it's true. ALS made me slow down and take the time to heal the wounds and just spend time with my Dad. It made me share parts of myself I never had, and tell him I love him several times a day. I have thought many, many times that his disease was a blessing and a curse. His terrible disease took him from me, but it also brought him home to me.
My Dad, 2012
Happy Birthday, Dad. I miss you and I love you. I hope you are spending your birthday dancing away.