a birthday.

Today is my dad’s birthday. He would have been 56. And yesterday was his Deathiversary. Yes, he died the day before his birthday…30 minutes before, actually. This first week of March is usually a rough week. Lots of memories.

My dad was first diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 1999, when I was 13 years old. It’s a death sentence. First he lost his speech (bulbar form), then he couldn’t walk, and by the end he was on a feeding tube completely dependent on care. It’s a truly horrific disease.

He entered Hospice in February of 2003…I don’t think I fully understood what that meant at the time. We missed a lot of school that month. We’d go and read to him, and I’d paint his toenails, and we’d watch TV together. I guess we just tried to surround him with love, while trying to maintain some sense of normalcy. I just can’t believe it’s been 10 years, even though it does feel like a lifetime ago. I was 16.

He was a great storyteller. He was a former Navy Seal (Frog Man), and a great lawyer (asbestos litigator). He loved the Green Bay Packers, and sports in general. He would read to us every night before bed, even when we were older…the books grew with us. He had a sense of humor. He loved going to movies (one of his favorites was The Fifth Element). He was my biggest fan at my soccer games. And he would play four-square with me in the driveway. He was a great dad.

We went on vacations to Mexico or Jamaica at least twice a year, and I am lucky to have amazing memories of both my parents. For that I am very grateful. But I just can’t help but feel cheated. I lost both my parents by the time I was 24.

Anyway, I was going through a bunch of pictures, and I found these gems. I loved reminiscing, even though it made me bawl like a baby (hubbs can vouch). These darn pregnancy hormones are getting the best of me today. Sheesh.

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Me & my dad, circa 2000.

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Mom, me, Dad, and my sister. Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica.

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Isn’t this epic? Awesome 70’s photo. I think it was his senior picture.

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Me as a newborn. September 1986.

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A Deathiversary

There are just some days when memories are so vivid. Some happy, some painful. Like today. A “deathiversary,” as I call it. The anniversary of either of my parent’s deaths is always hard. Always. I can’t help but feel like I was cheated, losing both parents by the time I was 24.

I was 16 when my dad died of a horrific disease known as Lou Gherig’s Disease (ALS) at age 45, and two years ago today, my mom died of multiple organ failure at age 54. In the following 4 months, I would lose my remaining 3 grandparents as well. Talk about a stressful year.

4 months before she died.

Anyhow, both my parents were amazing people, and I have nothing but fond memories of my childhood. Even though they’re gone, I know I’m lucky. I know they did their best to raise independent, intelligent, kind, creative, loving daughters. I’m so happy with my life and I’m proud of who I am today…I feel strongly that both my parents would be too, and that makes me smile. I’m incredibly fortunate to have had them in my life, even for a little while, and I know that.

My sister, Mom, Stepdad (Jeff), and myself at their wedding in 2006.

I was SO close with my mom. She was my default “call” on a long drive to talk. We talked every day. I knew her not only as a mother, but as a person…and I’m so grateful she was my mom. She was compassionate, caring, and always put herself first (to a fault). When I was a teenager, we had our differences, but who doesn’t? And nothing was unforgivable. She was my constant supporter, cheerleader, and best friend. She was hilarious and had a dirty, dirty mind (so funny to learn about your parents!). She was the strongest, most positive person I know, and she intentionally and consciously looked at life with a “glass half-full” attitude. And I will always admire her inner strength…she went through several battles in life that would have broken or scarred any other individual. She was a fighter. I love my family so much, and I’m so proud she was my mom.

Parasailing in Mexico 2009.

I remember after she died (both my parents, really), the worst part is feeling like life goes on. The world keeps spinning, even though your world has stopped. If you’ve ever lost someone close, I’m sure you know what I mean. The worst thing you can say to someone is: “I know how you feel.” It’s such a selfish thing to say! Everyone experiences things differently, so even if you lost a parent too, you cannot presume to know how I feel. Urgh. Never say that to anyone who has lost someone, please. Under any circumstances.

Anyhow, today on her “Deathiversary,” I think about that day two years ago. About how she was at home with hospice on a ventilator and the nurses knew it was coming. Her heartbeat slowed. Her breathing slowed. And we all held her hand as she took her last breath. I remember I felt an overwhelming sadness, and a sense of relief…she was no longer in pain. I still think of her all the time. It would be impossible to forget with the daily reminders…a mug I have from her sailing days in the ’70s, Dancing with the Stars, Andrea Bocelli, Santana, books she bought McKenzie. I find I have a hard time getting rid of things she got McKenzie. But that’s just it…I’ll always miss her. The world feels like it stops, but life goes on. And you just live, because you know they would want you to.

Mall of America, 2007.

On another note, my sister wrote this and it echos my sentiments exactly…it’s just beautiful and perfect:

Dear Mom,

I’m done being mad at the world because you’re gone. I’ve cried countless times in the past two years and will keep crying because I can’t hold your hand, because I can’t hear your laugh or encouraging words, because I don’t find paper towels in my clothes you borrowed, because you’re gone and I miss you every single day, but I won’t be mad. You were the best cheerleader in the world. You taught me about love, about holding my head high, about persistence, about determination, and about life. But I still need to keep telling myself I’m glad you’re gone. You’re not suffering. You’re not in pain…I love you mom. Always have. Always will. I hope I can be as amazing as you were. I hope I can be that cheerleader for [my daughter]. I hope I will turn into that voice in her head telling her to keep it up, to keep going, telling her she’s loved. I’m so sad that your gone, but refuse to say goodbye, and never will, so I’ll see you later.

I love you with all my heart and soul.

♥ Your Daughters

My mom holding Abbey (my niece) and Jeff holding McKenzie.