It’s been almost two years since I sat down and penned something for the blog. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say, but more that I haven’t had the energy. I’ve known since I wrote my Dad’s eulogy, that the next piece I would “need” to write would be about the experience of losing him and, frankly, each time that I sat down to put the thoughts into “action,” I just wasn’t ready. But, after a while, I realized that no matter how much time passed, I would never be ready to tell this story or share this experience in exactly the perfect way. So, best to just dive in…head first.
For as long as I can remember, my Dad and I shared frank, open conversations about death and dying. Quite honestly, I’ve always been fascinated by the process…and what, if anything, would be waiting for us on the other side. My Dad spent the early part of his professional life in the funeral business and my Mom was in healthcare, so the story of my life is chock full of experiences in and around hospitals and funeral homes. As a child, these places weren’t scary to me; instead they were a connection to my beloved P’s.
I don’t think it would be surprising to anyone to find out that during some of the darker moments in my cancer battle, I’ve given extensive time to thoughts about death and dying. Frankly, I’ve never been particularly worried about the process…other than the fact that I didn’t want to linger, because that would be hard on my family…and I didn’t want to experience pain, because that would be hard on me. Relatively speaking, I’ve been pretty practical about it. It would be what it would be…and I would handle it. No more…no less. But, that was when I was thinking about, and dealing with, the potential end of my own life. Not the life of someone I love.
I can say without the least bit of hesitation that when my parents had their car accident, I was in no way prepared to lose them. Not that I hadn’t thought or worried about it. As an only child, I’ve had a nagging fear of that loss since I was a little girl, but I usually didn’t let myself go “there.” And then…in a moment…on a beautiful November day, we were “there,” and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it; except… be grateful.
Yes…I said it…grateful.
As much as everyone wanted to believe that my Dad was going to get better, I knew in my heart, within a few of days of the accident, that we would ultimately be facing the end. Instead of choosing to stick my head in the sand and pretend that everything was going to be “ok,” I made a conscious choice about the roll that I was going to play in the end of his life. And, I have never regretted…for a second…a single decision that I made during those precious three months. I cherish the hours spent sitting by his beside (or lying in his bed cuddling with him). I am honored to have been able to take care of him and help ease my Mom’s load. And, I feel so incredibly blessed that one of the last things he felt and heard in this life, as he transitioned to the next, was my touch and my voice telling him how very much he was loved. I realize that not everyone gets these opportunities…and that sometimes those who do, don’t take advantage of them. But, I did…and, I am profoundly grateful to have been a part of Jay Saner’s life…and his death.
I miss my Dad more than you can possibly imagine. Seriously. Nothing feels the same since we lost him. And, with time, I’ve learned that, that’s ok. When someone touches your life in all the ways that he did mine, it shouldn’t be business as usual when he or she is gone. It shouldn’t be business as usual…but, as those left behind, we should still be IN business: the business of living.
In the early days after he passed, it was very difficult to do, or see, any of the things that I so closely associated with him and his life. My heart ached every time I saw a little girl with her Daddy, or I happened upon a KU basketball game on the television. When the phone in my office would ring, I felt as if I was being stabbed, because I knew there would no longer be the chance that I would hear that familiar voice on the other end of the line, “Hey, Suz…whatcha up to? Are you too busy for a chat with your old Dad?” And, even though I knew it made no sense, I spent hours standing in the exact spot in my living room where he took his last breath in an effort to feel him again. I tried, but nothing filled the hole in my heart left by his absence. So, I eventually stopped trying and just let it be.
I’ve learned since February 25, 2011, that life does indeed go on even when it doesn’t seem possible that it will…or can. That even in the face of unimaginable grief, things are still funny…and frustrating…and infuriating…and beautiful. That the sun still rises…and it still sets. That you can’t eat anything and everything that makes you “feel better” and still expect to fit into size 8 pants. And, that after a while, you can actually tell a story about the person you’ve lost and not have to stop mid-sentence and cry it out…at least once in a while.
The hole that Jay Saner left will always be there, but I don’t feel like I am going to fall into it every day like I once did. As much as I miss him, I am relishing the opportunity to get to know my Mom in a way that I never did when he was alive. I know it would make him happy to see how close we are now…especially after his front row seat to our relationship during my teenage years. I’ve actually laughed at the thought of him and my Grandma Booth sitting in heaven watching us and saying, “Did you ever think you’d see the day?!”
Above all, the experience of losing my Dad has taught me about the peace that comes with approaching life with a philosophy of “No Regrets!” I know that I didn’t do everything right when my Dad was dying. I didn’t, but I tried…and he confirmed for me, in one of the last conversations we shared, that he knew that. I cannot, nor would I, ask for more.
Someday, hopefully not too soon, it will be my time. Or, worse, it will be time to say goodbye to someone else I love. I realize that I may never again have the opportunity that I had with my Dad. And, that in the end, the precious time to say all that I want to say and do all that I want to do may be elusive. As a result, I’ve vowed to no longer wait for the perfect occasion to say, “…’thank you’…’I appreciate you’…’you make a difference in my life’…’I learned from you’…’You make me smile’…’I love you’…” and to do my very best to make sure that my actions are a true reflection of these feelings, as well. I don’t always get it right; but, again, I’m trying.
During a particularly difficult time, on one of the last days of my Dad’s life, he grabbed me, pulled me close, looked me in the eye and said in a clear, strong voice, “YOU…are… precious.” Given what he and I were dealing with at that particular moment, it amazed me that he found it in himself to speak, much less say something so meaningful. But, he did…because that’s who he was…and for that, and so much more, I am grateful.