Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Autism Answer: Lessons from my Dad; Accepting the Baton and Running with it.

Author's Note: Several years ago I was invited to share a guest post for a blog that explored living after a loved one has died. Linda Della Donna is the author of A Gift of Love: A Widow's Memoir and it was her Griefnet blog, which she has since abandoned. So I thought it would be fun to share that guest post here with you! When I wrote this post I didn't have a blog of my own, and now I do. When I wrote this post I had not yet published my book, now I have. That's pretty wonderful, all things considered!

Me and my dad

Lessons from My Dad: Accepting the Baton and Running with it

When we discovered that my dad had one year or less to live, I packed my kids into the car and we headed from Texas to California, where the majority of my family is, and where my dad wanted to spend most of his remaining time. I enrolled my boys in school once we got to Cali so that we would be enjoying life with as much normalcy as possible, not just sitting around and staring at my slowly deteriorating dad. We stayed with my mom (who was divorced from my father but remained his best friend) and so did my dad. 

Between my sister, mom, and I we all changed bandages, talked him through pain, laughed, cried, and explored fears together. When my dad went to Buffalo, NY for IL2 treatments in hopes of beating the cancer, my mom and I took turns going with him while my sister (who was pregnant with twins and could not fly) wrote the daily report and emailed all of my dad’s friends and family. For the last three months of his life my dad was in Canada with my two younger brothers and his other ex-wife, who then took care of him until he was admitted into hospice. My mom and sister (who had given birth to two lovely little ladies by then!) 
My sister, my dad, and one of the twins.
also went to Canada and truly did most of the taking care (sorry brothers!). Perhaps because they had been doing it for so long already, but probably because they are just stronger people. 

Before dad died he agreed with us that in lieu of a traditional funeral, he would be best remembered at a family gathering flowing with coffee and laughter. My dad’s happiest moments—and indeed he spent all other moments contriving such gatherings!—were when family was together, watching our children play and gabbing over never-ending cups of coffee. 

After my dad died I was going through my desk, which had been his, and found an outline to the book he wanted to write. Dad and I had often talked about the novels we wanted to write and why. 

We also shared justifications, fears and excuses for not writing. Finding dad’s outline did more than remind me that if I didn’t go ahead and begin the books, my ideas, and characters—whom I had come to love—would one day die with me. It also brought back how much time we had spent feeding our fears and justifying our justifications. I realized that we hadn’t been merely procrastinating, but had actually been creating a bigger and bigger mess to navigate when it came time to put pen to paper; or finger to keyboard. That ‘aha’ moment breathed life into a belief in myself, as well as the characters I had come to love, living in my mind waiting until I was ready to tell their story!

My dad’s death offered me another important insight. When dad learned he was going to die, he had some unresolved issues with old workmates and friends. Things he felt needed to be said if he wanted to leave this world unencumbered and with a light heart. Unfortunately, one of the people he wanted desperately to make peace with was unavailable, and so my dad did the best he could and made peace with himself. He was left feeling unsatisfied. Not because he hadn’t been forgiven by the other person, but because he hadn’t been able to express himself at all. This is a reminder to me that we should take care of these unresolved feelings as soon as we know that they are there. We’ve all made mistakes. We have all screwed somebody over or treated someone poorly. I think it’s a healthy exercise to make amends when there is life in our step and children we are being examples for. It isn’t so that we can be forgiven by others, but so that we can know we stepped up and accepted ourselves.

My dad procrastinated and lived with the desire to step up. I’ve decided to always step up, and live with the desire to run ahead! 

I was asked recently what I consider to be the greatest way to remember a loved one. I loved the question and the excuse to articulate an answer! I think the greatest way to remember a loved one is to love. Love life, love people, love desperation, love challenge, love music, love pain, love laughter. Love. The alternate is a fear of love. A fear of being hoodwinked, of loss, of good times turning bad. If death teaches us one thing it’s that good times sometimes do turn bad, we will lose and feel pain, so LOVE in the meantime! 

When I think of my dad I remember with a smile, and live with love. I think he’d like that!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

My mom and dad, bringing up a family together as the best of friends.

Please enjoy this film my mom made starring family, friends, and a myriad of amazing volunteers! Living with Lynette is an autism comedy starring crew, actors, and more with autism, bi-polar and even cancer. My dad was amazing in this! Happy laughing and loving!