The day I lost him.

I’m trying to cope with my grief, and in doing so I am writing out my journey. It’s cathartic for me and I am hoping that it will help clear my mind.

Friday February 27th 2015 10:30 am

“Steph, the Dr was just here. How fast can you fly home? Your father isn’t expected to last much longer and we need you to get here as fast as possible.”

I got the call. The one that you know is coming, but don’t want it to. I hung up the phone and my whole world had tilted on its axis. I was standing in our bedroom, clutching my phone screaming and crying and struggling to breathe. This was it, my father was dying for real this time and I had to go home.
I wasn’t rational, I went online to try and find a flight or a bus for that night. Flights were stupid expensive and there was no way I was going about this alone. I had Nick up my ass and in my face to go pack; he would book my ticket and meet me in Ontario.

No. No. No.

What I needed was for him to just go away for five minutes because my world had just spun horribly out of control and I needed to hold onto some semblance of such. He meant well, but it wasn’t what I needed right then and there.
I’d never flown before, which throws a lot of people off. However I didn’t have the luxury of travelling when I was a child and as an adult when you choose to be a Chef, you never have the time or the money simultaneously to go anywhere good.
It wasn’t enough that my father was dying; I also had to fly for the first time ever.

Fuck you universe. Seriously, fuck you.

Phone calls were made, tickets were bought, transportation arranged. I was flying to Toronto the following morning. I talked to my dad a few times that day. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that it was time. He sounded so jovial and happy. It was his last hurrah and he made it count.
I had gotten into the habit of calling my dad every morning in the past few weeks. Our conversations weren’t riveting in any means, mostly small talk and an excuse to say I love you, just in case. Every time we would hang up, my father would cry. He tried to hide it, but I always knew.
Saturday morning in the cab, it was early 6:30 am, I called my dad.

No one picked up.

The flood of guilt hit me like a truck. I thought that my father had died and I had missed it because I didn’t go home the night before. I could have but didn’t because I wasn’t ready to face it and a million other things.

Enter my second panic attack in the last 24 hours.

I sat in the cab, shaking the whole way, willing myself not to cry and freak out. We just managed to grab the airport shuttle from Lionel Groulx metro and halfway there, I tried my dad’s cell again. Marilyn (his caregiver) picked up. I stopped breathing, I thought he was gone forever and I never got to say good-bye. Turns out, she was about to call me.

Dad was still with us but he had a rough night. His all day/night crown royal bender had caught up with him. It affected his medication and he was in rough shape because of it. The Doctor had offered him something stronger to keep him comfortable but he refused.
Because of me.

He was suffering and in pain because of me. He wanted to be alert when I got there. He didn’t want to be out of it.
I didn’t find that out until later though.

We made it to the airport in plenty of time, my anxiety was all over the place and that got kicked up a few notches when it was time to board. Thank god I got assigned seating so that Nick and I could sit together. We flew Porter since they go right downtown. My cousin had offered to pick us up at the airport and I gratefully accepted.
Nick made a point to tell our flight attendant that it was my first flight. She politely inquired as to why I was flying that day. I debated lying, why ruin her day? She had a genuine smile. I found myself telling her the truth however. My father was dying and I was flying home to say good-bye. She didn’t miss a beat, and looked me in the eye and said “well I’m happy that we’re able to get you home quickly.” Me too I said. Thanks.

She was so kind. Our flight was short, just over an hour but I could see her looking at me from time to time since we were only in the second row from the cockpit. In spite of the circumstances, my anxiety and a million other things my first flight was one of the most wondrous things I have ever experienced. I was so fascinated to be soaring so high above the clouds. I can’t describe it, but it was awesome and for a moment I was able to forget my reason for flying in the first place.

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My cousin arrived just as we got out of the airport and we were making the final leg of our journey to my dad’s house in Cambridge.
I called my mom to see if she needed/wanted anything and she told me to hurry. That changed the mood exponentially. One minute we were driving along and the next the true realization really started to sink in. That’s the funny thing about shock, there are moments of clarity and moments when you are just stunned stupid.

I rushed to my dad’s bedside; he was in rough shape, shaking so badly. You could see that he was in pain and I just wanted to do anything I could to make it stop. I started bawling immediately, I tried not too. I wanted to be strong for my dad but I couldn’t stop crying. He knew I was there, he kept asking for a pen and a piece of paper. Which his caregiver refused, she said that there would be time to talk later. She would give him his meds to help slow down his erratic breathing and then we could talk. He insisted and I felt guilty because I didn’t speak up. Even if it was just a scribble, it would have been something. Yet I kept telling him that it was OK. The pained and panicked look on his face was more than I could take. He closed his eyes and seemed to relax a little.

I sat on his bed beside him, talking to him and stoking his hair. They had bathed my dad that day in anticipation of my visit. I remember how nice it smelled, it was comforting.

I was telling my dad about the flight and how magical it was to be soaring above the clouds. That was the last time he looked at me, knowing he was still conscious I told him about Nick and I getting married. Nick really wanted to ask my dad for his blessing but we got there too late and he wasn’t really able to communicate much.
At some point I grabbed my camera, I wanted one last picture with my dad. It as one of the most awkward images I have ever taken in my entire life. It’s now my most treasured possession.

Waiting for him to go was agony. I kept telling him that it was OK to go. My cousins said their good-byes, as did my mom. My aunt, who is a hospice nurse held his hand. Thank god for her. She knew it was almost time; we called my aunt and my sister. This was it, it was almost over. He looked so peaceful. My sister arrived and said whatever it was that she needed to say. Just as she finished saying I love you, he was gone.

On Feb 28th 2015 at 1:21 pm my father was finally called home.

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You don’t get to compare. An open letter to people who don’t know when to STFU.

I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning on Christmas eve talking to my mom. Naturally my recently-ish deceased father came up in conversation. My mom had commented that someone (she didn’t point fingers or name names) had commented that it would appear that *I* was taking my fathers death much harder than my sister was.

How dare you? How dare you compare my grief to anyone else? What is wrong with you?!? 

You don’t compare someone’s grief like you do car insurance quotes!

A wise friend of mine said to me (after my father had passed) don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve. She was right and while I am battling this grief stricken path, her advice keeps rolling around in my head as I silently give the finger to the ignorant.

Here’s the thing about grief: everyone deals with it differently. There’s no time frame, there’s no rhyme or reason, it just is.

I had a complicated relationship with my father at times. I didn’t expect his death to hit me this hard, but it did. Notwithstanding the fact that I already have OCD, anxiety and suffer from A-typical depression.

I didn’t ask for these things, they just happened.

After my father passed away, it was like a chain reaction. Several friends of mine also became a member of the club that no one wants to belong to; the I lost a parent club. It’s membership is pretty exclusive and no one wants to join. Unless you’ve walked down that path, you have no idea. Even if you have lost a parent, we each handle grief differently. While we are all walking on the same path, our journey is no where near the same.

I made a conscious effort to be more open about my grief. Not because I wanted anyone’s sympathy or pity. For me, it was a move towards solidarity. There was/is so many of us coping with the same shit. We all needed the support among the hurt and tears.  Saying it out loud is what makes it real. I wasn’t there for the last, difficult leg of my fathers illness. I was blissfully ignorant, tucked away in Montreal with my head buried in my school work. While I did offer to come home on numerous occasions, I was always refused. My father wanted me to pursue my education and he didn’t want his impending death to hinder that. Kicking ass and graduating with honors was the least I could do.

I missed out on everything.

I’ve had to learn to cope and to heal in my own way.

Except I’m new to this whole loosing a parent thing and I don’t fucking know how.

You know nothing of my feelings. You don’t get to comment. You don’t get to compare.

You don’t get to tell me how to grieve.  

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2015 wrap up

1003242_734298300034136_8194264915489910123_nIt’s been one hell of a year. I’m not sad to see it be over.

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?

Went to a bunch of cities that I had never been to. Graduated from university. Went camping with Nick (not the first time camping of course, just the first time together). Took my first flight.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I haven’t bothered with them in years.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My cousin’s girlfriend gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Yes. My father passed away on Feb 28th.

5. What countries did you visit?

Sadly I haven’t left Canada in a long, long time.

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?

Being able to communicate in French on a more functional level. Be more focused.

7. What dates from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

February 28th. The day my father passed away.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Graduating university with honors.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Not taking better care of myself.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Yes. My depression and anxiety have returned with a vengeance, but i’m doing what I can to be kind to myself.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

A signed print from my favorite artist.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Nick’s, that boy is nothing short of amazing.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

My sister.

14. Where did most of your money go?

School & my wedding.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Planning my wedding :)

16. What song will always remind you of 2015?

Hozier, take me to church.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?

I am mostly sadder, fatter and richer in a non monetary way.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Practicing my craft (photography), reading more, learning more.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Being distracted, housework.  Wasting time on things/people/places that didn’t really matter.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

I was in Ontario with my family & friends and it was awesome! I had an exceptional Christmas this year!

21. Did you fall in love in 2015?

Every single day. <3 Nick so very much

22. What was your favorite TV program?

Grey’s & The big bang theory

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Yes. I wouldn’t go far as to say hate but more despise I think would be appropriate.

24. What was the best book you read?

I haven’t read much this year that merits any mention.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Can’t say I have one of those.

26. What did you want and get?

Time with the people I love the most.

27. What did you want and not get?

A miracle.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

Inside out and home.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 37 and had a small, yet fun gathering with family.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Not being in debt and having better mental health.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?

Yoga pants, hoodies and t-shirts.  I live for comfort.  Especially when I spend so much time taking pictures, editing and sitting in a classroom.

32. What kept you sane?

-My friends, most of my family. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them this year! I am so very fortunate to have such amazing people in my life!

-Photography.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

That’s not my style, I could care less about that sort of thing.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

The election.

35. Who did you miss?

Jason as always.  Nick when I’m on the road without him. My dad.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

I can’t pick just one, but I’ve met some really great people this year!

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.

That some people will stop at nothing to try and make you look bad.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play

And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues drawn
It’s always darkest before the dawn

And I’ve been a fool and I’ve been blind
I can never leave the past behind
I can see no way, I can see no way
I’m always dragging that horse around

The surreal life.

In May 2014 I took a massive leap of faith and applied for school at Concordia University. My end goal being a diploma in professional photography and a second one in Digital Photographic Imaging. I was tired of the culinary industry and had developed such a hatred for it, I wanted to move on. I was slated to begin towards the end of June.

On June 11th 2014 (about 2 weeks after making such a huge decision) I got word that my father was dying. On June 12th 2014 I had an amazing birthday and on June 13th 2014 I lost my job.

Funny how things can change so damn fast.  

You hear about stories like this all the time, they might fascinate you, appall you, inspire you or perhaps scare you. Which is all fine and well…

Until it actually happens to you.  

My first thought was to immediately drop out of school (before I had even started) and run home. Home being Ontario. I didn’t, I internally rationalized it by telling myself that my dad’s death sentence was quite new and he might have years to live. So why waste it, just in case. Either way, I was loosing my dad, it was really just a question of when. I figured that I would get myself a new job right away and just keep going to school part time and that would be that.

Except life never works out quite like you planned.

I never did get another job. No one wants to hire someone who’s been in my position and I can’t say I blame them. We (future husband and I) were broke, but we figured it out. I ended up going to school full time and completed my final course for digital photographic imaging (Photoshop) in October 2015. While I had technically graduated university, it hadn’t sunk in yet because I didn’t have my grades yet. So it was a fair assumption that I would pass, at the very least. I checked my final grades today and I almost fell out of my chair when I seen my final grade. It was/is the highest grade I have ever gotten in my entire life. Which was a surprise to me because that last class was a struggle. Once I got over the shock, I sat there and cried, so hard.

It was finally over and I had made it. Not unscathed by any means…

I’m pretty humble overall as a person. It’s one of my better qualities and no one likes that jerk who brags (sorry). This diploma represents so much more than my education overall. It’s a accumulation of:

  • Debt. So much debt. Which we have most paid off (YAY).
  • Grief. I lost my dad on February 28th 2015 and it hit me hard.
  • Battling through class when you’re waiting for ‘that call’.
  • It’s getting that call and hiding in an empty classroom bawling because you know that you’re going to loose your dad sooner rather than later and you’re helpless against it.
  • It’s having your mom text you and knowing that the following phone call most likely won’t be happy news.
  • It’s focusing every ounce of who you are and pouring your heart into final projects that can take up to 60+ hours.
  • It’s referencing your notes and realizing you missed something important.
  • Watching countless videos on YouTube because you can’t figure out how to do that thing.
  • It’s missing meals and quiet time with the man you love because you’re staring at a computer screen.
  • It’s trying to quiet the voice in your head because depression is an asshole that lies.
  • It’s trying to quell your anxiety because your deadlines are looming and why can’t you find inspiration already.
  • It’s late nights and early mornings.
  • It’s missing weddings and other occasions because you have to hand in your final(s).
  • Tension headaches and sore backs. Awful eating habits and so much more.

That’s not all though.

  • It’s the professors who rally around you and let you leave class so that you can text/call your family.
  • Those same professors also give you deadline extensions and/or present for you so that you can go home and bury your father.
  • It’s your boyfriend turned fiancee who never stops encouraging you, even when he resents that you spend more time with your computer than with him.
  • It’s the friends and the family who rally around you during your darkest time and encourage you to not give up and remind you why you started on this journey in the first place.
  • It’s all the really cool things you learned to do with images that you never even dreamed of.
  • It’s all the amazing and talented people you meet who become your friends.
  • It’s discovering a talent that you didn’t know you even had.
  • It’s being inspired by the guy who delivers your parcels in the afternoon.

It’s all that and more. I can’t wait to get my diploma so I can hang it in my home with so much pride. It’s been one hell of a journey and it still doesn’t feel real, but at the same time, it feels pretty amazing just the same.

So if you ever think that you can’t…

Trust me. You can.