In 2007 my father died. A shocking “here one day, gone the next” kind of death and it shook me to my core. I began to think about my own mortality and that awakening taught me how to live my life.
Twelve years later, I’m still marveling at the legacy he left and applauding the lessons he instilled.
What did I learn?
#1 – Say Yes
Life for my father was about saying yes (or at least the desire to say yes). Life was about what was being offered, not what was missing. Yes meant ease and enjoyment. Yes meant excitement and learning. Yes meant go.
#2 – Read
Whether I was lost in the pages of a novel, a biography, history, or hidden behind the pages of a newspaper, my father instilled in me a love of reading. For years, my father would read a book, pass it onto me, and then the two of us would spend hours on the phone discussing the contents.
Our “superior intellect” would astound both of us… lol! I can’t tell you how many times we had revelations and world solving epiphanies. We were brilliant in each other’s eyes… I miss those conversations the most.
#3 – Discipline & Compassion Co-exist
When I was in high school, I got a job at a local retail store. I was also the typical messy teenager. Unlike my room today, which is open house ready, my high school bedroom was a disaster!
Make my bed? Why bother, I was just going to climb back in it within a few hours.
Pick up my clothes… ugh! That sounds sooo boring. Who cares if they’re dirty, I’ve much more important things to do with my time.
On one particular day, my dad had told me to clean my room. I don’t remember what I said, but suffice it to say, the order went undone. Who has time to clean rooms when you’ve grown up things to attend to like a part-time job?
As I stood behind the counter at work, a fellow employee came to me saying there was a man with flowers wanting to see me. A man? Flowers? What?
I came around the counter and made my way through the racks of clothes.
My father was waiting for me and he had in his hand a bunch of roses. He hugged me, kissed me on the cheek, and handed me the sweet bouquet. He didn’t say a word. The attached card said it all:
“I want you to know whether or not you clean your room, I love you.”
On the back of the card it said:
“But you still need to clean your room.”
The impact of his love coupled with his discipline left its desired effect. I never wondered whether my father loved me, nor did I ever doubt his desire for me to understand the importance of learning responsibilities.
#4 – Try New Things
“I don’t care if you end up not liking the taste, you need to at least agree to try new flavors.”
Translation: Don’t let fear stop you from growing.
#5 – Articulate Your Beliefs
“I don’t care what you end up believing, but you better be able to explain those beliefs.”
Translation: Understand why you stand where you stand.
#6 – Escape The Modern Trappings
My father could shop with the best of them. A clothes horse of sorts, my dad appreciated a well made pair of shoes and adored Italian suits. But at least once a year, the whole “fam damily” (a phrase used by my mother to describe the family whenever we all traveled together) would load up the Airstream and set off for the mountains of Wyoming. No phones, no television, no radio.
We had to haul our own water and spent hours around the campfire. We would pack our backpacks to the brim and hike deep into the woods for days on end. I didn’t care about my hair, my makeup, what I was wearing, or what was happening elsewhere on the planet. I used to kick off my heavy hiking boots and wade through the ice cold streams. I made s’mores ‘til my fingers stuck together. I explored the forest and connected with the deepest parts of me. My father taught me the subtle art of disconnecting.
#7 – Laugh & Have Fun
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized a large portion of my youth was centered around laughter. Whether we were watching a Mel Brooks movie or sitting around my grandparents television watching episodes of “Faulty Towers” or “Groucho Marx,” throwing your head back in laughter was a norm for me.
Life was serious enough. Laughter was fuel for a more positive outlook, an energy source that electrified the atmosphere. It was light hearted and I was drawn to those experiences. I have strong affirmations of growing up within this environment. The easy smile, the quick wit, the sunny side of life.
#8 – Death is a Part of Life
My father had diabetes and then later we learned he also had epilepsy.
Each time my father experienced a diabetic reaction, it would trigger an epileptic attack. For thirty years, my family watched out for my dad. We knew about glucose packs, insulin shots, and ambulance rides. I grew up knowing that every reaction could be his last.
When your phone rang at odd times of the night, you knew the drill.
“What happened? Which hospital? I’m on my way!”
For thirty years my father pulled himself through… until the day he didn’t.
I’ll never, ever forget the morning my sister called. It was early, too early for a regular call. In a place somewhere between asleep and awake, I answered.
I heard my sister say, “Dad had a reaction.”
My brain pushed to wake up. “Okay, which hospital?”
By now, I was sitting up in bed, already thinking about what clothes I was going to throw on. I told myself I would call into work on my way to the hospital.
“He didn’t make it.”
The words fell into my ears like anvils. Wait! What did my sister just say?
“He didn’t make it… Dad died.”
It was as though my sister was speaking a different language. The news was so horrific that my brain fought against the information. My father was dead.
For a year I shuffled through life. I was devastated. My dear sweet father was dead. I didn’t know how, nor did I want to know how to proceed without him.
Some days, I made it through without crying. Then one day 8 or 9 months into my grief I stood in front of my bathroom mirror, took a pair of scissors and cut my waist long hair clear up to my neck. I quietly braided the eighteen inches of hair and mailed it to Locks of Love. I couldn’t grieve anymore, I needed to let the healing begin.
I stopped focusing on the void left by my father’s death and began opening my eyes to what he had left behind—the legacy of him.
In time I understood the importance of what had transpired. My father’s death reminded me why it’s so important to live life in the now. To be purposeful in what we do each and every day.
I went from wanting to see him again to realizing those sacred moments with my loved one wasn’t some magical place I would arrive after death, but from every moment, every morsel we had together in life.
The true impact my father had on my life was carved out everyday between my birth and his death. I don’t have to see him again because he gave me everything I needed when he was here. I don’t need to talk to him again because we said all that needed to be said. I don’t need to spend eternity with him somewhere because he lives within me and my children and their children.
He lives in the lessons and the laughter and the love he shared.
My father’s death taught me grief is very real. My father’s death also taught me that at the end of grief, a beautiful transformation can take place. Because my father was intimate with death, his view was different. “Death is a part of life,” he used to tell me. He accepted this. Me, well it took me a little longer to ease into the acceptance.
In the end, losing my father was hard… staying lost in his death was harder.
John and Jackie Melfi are married swingers and in an open relationship. They were featured in an ABC News Nightline special report “Getting ‘Naughty in N’Awlins’: Inside a New Orleans Swingers Convention” and are the force behind the industry famous colette swingers clubs in Dallas, New Orleans, Houston, and Austin and the award-winning blog Openlove101.com with over 20 years of combined experience in open relationships and coaching thousands of couples.