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    The loss of my Dad: the gift in the grief

    The loss of my Dad: the gift in the grief

    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.




    New Family Discoveries

    New Family Discoveries

    When I was 8, my Dad pulled my siblings and I together and told us we had a half sister who was 14 and she was coming to live with us. As a young child, this was a shock, but also exciting. However, being so young, I didn't truly understand the story behind it all, and it took quite a bit of time for our family of 5 to process the fact that we were having a new family member move in. It was the beginning of my father sharing more about his past; which was both interesting and difficult. 

    My Dad was American and was born in 1948 into a military, Catholic family. He spent most of his life living in Charleston, South Carolina. When the Vietnam War began drafting soldiers, it was believed in his family that you went to war and fought for your country. My flat footed father was taught to walk with an arch, and then he enlisted. He was just over 18 years old and was shipped off with many soldiers to San Fransisco to await transport to Vietnam. It was during this time that my Father discovered another belief system: maybe war wasn't the answer. The anti-Vietnam protest movement resonated with him, and he joined in with the others at Berkley. 

    My Dad, 18 years old

    He rebelled from the War, which labelled him a Draft Dodger. This resulted in jail, where my Father continued to protest through words, and through a hunger strike. Towards the end of his hunger strike, he was admitted to a local hospital, where he connected with a priest from a local church. It was through their relationship and an underground movement that my Dad was brought to the Canadian border with a group others and fled into Canada.

    Yes, my Dad has quite the story...

    All of this was shared with us, once we learned about our half sister, Kyla. My Dad met Kyla's mom a couple of years after he came to Canada. They never married, but they did live together and they had Kyla, but separated before she was even born. My Dad didn't really have a relationship with Kyla's mom, until Kyla reached out and wanted to reconnect. Kyla came to Nova Scotia and lived with us for around 6 months, but she had her own Mom and family in BC and decided to return home.

    My Dad, age 26

    Around 3 weeks ago, I received a message from a stranger on FaceBook, who had a photo of my Dad, knew quite a bit about his draft dodging past, and stated that we were siblings. She told me that my Dad and her Mom had a short relationship shortly after he came to Canada and in 1970 she was born (he would have been 22 at the time). This was an incredible shock! Erzhi, my new half sister had finally done DNA testing and through Ancestry.Com had found my sister and I, and was looking to find my Dad. 

    We are all still trying to process this information, and make sense of it all, but it's has been pretty incredible. It inspired Kyla and I to reconnect after 25 years of not seeing each other, and not speaking much. We have plans to meet up with Erzhi in person in the near future, which will be pretty amazing. 

    Kyla and I, January 2019

    I am still trying to understand all of this, and wish so badly I could talk to my Dad about it all. I know family can be messy, complicated, and troubling; but it is also so beautiful. I have experienced so much loss in my life, but now I have two half siblings reaching out a hand, and I am ready to grab ahold and hold on tight.

    My Dad and I, 2009

    You never know how much your life with change one day, and that is all part of the journey and makes each of our stories so unique.

    I am looking forward to this new chapter, and this new definition of my word "home", with two reconnected half siblings.

    Much love,