Today is my birthday. I had planned on spoiling myself with a spa day, but instead I decided to spoil myself with time to write, which these days is truly a rare treat.
You may or may not have noticed that I’ve been off the blogging and writing radar since this summer.
The main reason for my absence is that a few months ago, I learned that my step-dad was going to be entering hospice due to complications from diabetes. Overnight, writing my goofy posts seemed trivial compared to the all the things our family was going through to adapt to the “new normal” of living our lives while we tried to accept the reality of the end of his.
In early September, I flew to Idaho to help my mom begin her new role as hospice caretaker to the love of her life. The closest comparison I can make is bringing home a newborn in terms of care requirements, attention needed, and sleep deprivation. My mom has always been my hero, but in the past two months she has been promoted to saint status.
The day I returned to Texas was the hardest of my life. It’s not every day that you say goodbye to someone you love, knowing for a fact that it’s the last time you will ever see them.
Once I was home, my mind was still in no place to write. My life now a roller coaster of volatile emotions, including the occasional mental breakdown, complete with screaming “F-ck!” at full volume at inanimate objects around the house.
I felt guilty for going out with friends and laughing and joking while my mom and brother were still back in Idaho providing full time care for my step dad. I felt an overwhelming sadness and helplessness imagining what he must be going through. I felt scared after coming to the realization that I’m now the grown up who is supposed to be able to make sense out of all of this for my kids when I couldn’t make sense of it for myself.
On October 2, my step-dad lost his long, painful battle with diabetes.
For anyone who has had a loved one in hospice or suffering from a disease which involves a long-goodbye, you know what a conflicting experience this is. Even though you know it’s coming, nothing can possibly prepare you for the surprise when it finally does.
I had been grieving his loss since the diagnosis. I had said goodbye a month before. We had lived our lives in a way where our love for each other was never a secret, so there were no regrets about, “I wish I had told him….”
My sadness over losing him was outweighed by the relief of knowing he was no longer in pain. There was also a morbid peace that came from being able to quiet the cycle of my mind constantly worrying about how and when he would die. He was gone and now it was time to heal.
The months before he died were so laser focused on his illness and treatment and the ‘sick’ version of my step-dad that I had come close to forgetting the hilarious, joking, flirting, fill the room with his energy (and loud voice) man I loved. Fortunately, ever since his funeral, I have entered a phase of re-remembering and allowing myself to not feel guilty about feeling joy because that’s all he ever wanted for everyone around him. Not to mention, watching someone you love face the end of their lives gives you a new sense of urgency about not wasting the precious moments of your own life.
It was around this time that the universe decided to drive this point home by literally putting it right in front of my face. When I was at the Texas Conference for Women, they had placed a giant version of Candy Chang’s “Before I die________” wall in the center of the convention center. I had read about the original version of this wall in downtown Austin and had even been asked to take part of a social media effort to spread the word about it by filling in the blank for myself months before.
When that original request came, in the the midst of hospice care and uncertainty, the wall had made me sad and even mad. How dare people fill in these blanks with dreams about trips to Europe and writing books while someone I loved was living in a constant state of “I wish I would have_______.”
But now, months later, staring at that wall in the convention center, I saw it with new eyes. I saw it through his eyes. I saw it with all the hopes and dreams that he had for my life instead of the regrets he may have had about his own. I saw it as all the wonderful things in life that I wish for my children.
He was a painter, a writer and was passionate about his hobbies. He would be so mad if he knew that I had put my love on writing on hold because I thought I was dishonoring him by writing my silly stories. After all, he was the silliest person I have ever known.
The conference that day had many valuable sessions on following your dreams and learning how to make the best use of your time so you have time to explore and pursue your passions. The central message that every session seemed to come back to was the idea of having a finite amount of time in this world and how most of us squander it by making decisions out of fear and wasting time doing things that simply fill hours instead of our spirits.
That day was a much needed kick in the butt to stop using my sadness as an excuse to waste those hours, especially when my sadness was over a man who cared so much about my happiness.
It’s in that spirit that I am finally filling out the blanks that had made me so angry just a few months ago.
I fill the blanks with excitement about the possibilities.
I fill the blanks with gratitude for the gift of another day.
I fill the blanks with the limitless hopes that a parent would wish for their own child.
I fill the blanks knowing they don’t mean a thing if I don’t take the steps to make them a reality.
How are you filling out your blanks?
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. For years I have watched first hand as this cruel disease slowly took my step dad’s mobility, his legs, and eventually, his life. Please visit The American Diabetes Association to learn more about how you can support research, raise awareness, reduce your risk or help a loved one suffering from this disease.
Once upon a time, Susanne Kerns was a Senior Account Director at an advertising agency working for two of the top brands in the world. Nine years ago she traded in her corporate life for a life as a stay at home mom, raising two of the best kids in the world. She started her blog, The Dusty Parachute as a way to dust off her online advertising skills and begin her job search. Instead, she now uses it as a way to spend lots of time on the computer so her kids think that mommy has a job.
Susanne’s essays have been featured in Scary Mommy, BonBon Break and Redbook and she is also a contributor in the books, It’s Really 10 Months, Special Delivery and Martinis & Motherhood – Tales of Wonder Woe & WTF?!
You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
- Come Check Out My New Place! SusanneKerns.com - May 23, 2017
- Don’t Miss “Touch a Truck” Austin! - May 11, 2017
- The Priceless Benefits of Having a Pen Pal - May 7, 2017
12 thoughts to ““Before I Die __________.””
I’m so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute to him that you’ve written here.
Thank you so much for your kind words and for taking the time to read it.
I hear you. Every. Single. Word. I can’t help but think he’d feel so honored by your post and happy to know that you’re finding reasons to laugh again. I’m sorry for the pain you’ve been carrying. I’ve missed your writing and look forward to reading more as you get back to happy.
Thank you so much – I so appreciate you reaching out and your encouraging words. I’m looking forward to getting back to writing too & I thank you for following along. Have a wonderful week.
This line gave me chills, “It’s not every day that you say goodbye to someone you love knowing for a fact that it’s the last time you will ever see them.” No, it’s not, and I’m so sorry for your loss. I also completely, completely related to this. “I felt scared after coming to the realization that I’m now the grown up who is supposed to be able to make sense out of all of this for my kids when I couldn’t make sense of it for myself.” Sometimes life can be so hard, but I’m glad you finally found the joy again and no longer feel guilty for living life or laughing or telling silly stories because I don’t really believe they are silly stories. I think they are ways for us to make sense out of the world even if they are told in a non-serious way.
I’m sorry it has taken me so long to respond. I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you taking the time to respond and share such comforting words. Writing this post was very healing and having such wonderful friends surround me with love and kindness in return has really helped give a boost on the road back to happiness. Thank you so much.
Oh Susanne – I had no idea. This hits all too close to home. I’m so sorry for your loss and your internal suffering. My brother has Type 1 Diabetes, a number of people on my Dad’s side have type II, my mom’s uncle just passed away recently of Type II and Matt’s father passed away at 55 from a heart attack but also suffered from all of the above due to Diabetes type II. My heart goes out to your family. I have to say, at my photography conference I had some of the same enlightenment having been in a creative rut and lack of joy. There were a lot of very inspirational speakers that also helped pull me out of my funk that while wasn’t as devastating as your situation, at the end of the day ultimately “filled in the blanks” too.
– Stop doing work or saying yes to things I’ll say “I wish I’d done more of that (insert something that makes me really unhappy/stressed doesn’t benefit me or my family),” so now I only do photography work I love, volunteer work that is fun and rewarding. Letting go of the guilt around that. A sermon at church (from Jen Hatmaker no less) reiterated this for me that serving should be in things that are your gift and makes you feel good, not burdened. This has taken forever for me to learn and also to just say no or sign up for more than I can handle.
– Be selective with my time and the people I spend it with such that I’m investing in the most important relationships.
– Find highlights and daily that I’ve now labeled “Cup of Joy” instead of focusing or on the frustrations.
– Taking time to to process before I respond.
Take care friend!
Thank you so much for your response. I absolutely love your list of life-rules and plan to borrow from them heavily. I’m currently trying to find the balance between ‘taking care of myself’ and still being charitable and generous with others. It’s so hard when there are only so many hours of the day. I’m going to start focusing on that “Cup of Joy” as well. Big hugs to you, my friend.
Dear Sweet Friend – I had no idea what you’ve been through this year. Having lost my (step) dad last year, I sit here in tears as I read, what has turned out to be, my FAVORITE piece you’ve ever written. I’m proud of you that you are moving through, in HONOR of your step-dad.
I’m hoping your writing is the kick in the behind I need. I thought I was past losing my (step) dad last yea and perhaps I am. Perhaps the fact that my baby boy, who has filled my entire heart to overflowing with love for 18 years, is leaving for college next year. I kept seeing it as the end of him living at home instead of being so excited for him that it’s the BEGINNING of his life as an adult. Being happy for him going off to college, meeting new friends, seeing things in a whole new way outside our family. Starting the road to having his own family one day. I’ll get there. I just need time to grieve for the baby boy he was and learn to celebrate the sweet, wonderful man he has become. And he IS wonderful!!! My (step) dad would be SO proud and his smile would be beaming, from ear to ear.
I’m so proud of you that you can see your step dads smile, hear his humor, know that he would want you to be happy. I love how your mom loves you and am SO thrilled for you that you respect, admire, love her so deeply. That’s also a gift for him. To know you, your brother & your mom all have each other.
While I am so sorry for your loss, I love how you choose to honor and celebrate his life. Again, THIS was my favorite of all your writings so far – sharing your heart. Thank you.
Angie – You always know the exact right thing to say. Thank you so much for your kind words and I’ll be sending all my warm thoughts to you during your hard days as your ‘baby boy’ goes off to college. Big hugs. xoxox
Susanne, I’m very sorry about your loss. My own father died on October 2, 1997. He was a diabetic. That’s only indirectly related to his death (he had a drinking problem), but it was a factor, for sure.
I didn’t have the long, drawn out time when I waited for him to go, but I do have a lot of fill in the blank moments that I missed out on when he was alive.
Ultimately, every life that has ended is honored by the ones that continue, exactly as you’ve said it. Survivors need to survive in a way that says, “I love living, and I know you’d want me to have joy.”
Happy birthday, first of all. And, second of all, I’m sure your stepdad would want it to be one of the happiest ever.
Nicole – Thank you so much for your note. I’m so sorry I’m late in responding – I was unfortunately sick for my birthday and got behind on replies.
I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. Although I’m grateful that I didn’t have a lot of blank moments in my relationship with my stepdad, I can’t say that’s the same with everyone in my life so I probably had some work to do there.
My stepdad was the most fun-loving, silly, joke-filled person I have ever known, so I have no doubt that he would want me to carry on telling as many silly stories as possible.
Thank you again for reading the post & for taking the time to share your experience. <3