Dad and Claudia 1968
Gussie and his screaming, first-born child- ME.

365 days ago today, well, 366 with leap year, my life was forever changed, and not for the better.

My best friend, my rock, my biggest fan…my father, was taken from me after a very long, painful and dignity-robbing struggle from complications of Parkinson’s Disease.  He deserved a better and more dignified end to his life and I spent a good 6 of the past 12 months very angry about that.

dad-allie-1998
My dad (here with Alessandra in 1998) played a huge part in my daughter’s upbringing- he was a doting grandfather just as he was a doting father. My loss is multiplied seeing it through her eyes.

So for me, it has been a long, difficult year to adjust to life without him. There have been a lot of things to learn.

  • I have had to learn to not pick up the phone every night out of habit to say good night to him.  Sometimes I still reach for it.
  • I have had to learn how to not expect to see him at his house when I visit my mother.  Sometimes I think I feel him there.
  • I have had to learn to acknowledge strange and inexplicable noises and occurrences in my home and say “hi Dad!”
  • I have had to adjust to not seeking out his advice when dealing with my two new stepsons- my dad was a stepson and his advice was always spot on and from the other point of view.
joey-and-dad
My dad’s parents divorced when he was very young and he saw his father on weekends.  He understood being a child of divorce.
  • I have had to learn how to indulge my daughters through their sadness while struggling with my own when they ask me questions about my dad, or look at photos and videos. I have had to learn to put their sadness before mine when they want to remember something about my father and to enjoy the memories instead of cry. I have had to allow them to look through the old photos and admire how handsome he was and remember how present he always was in their lives, even though we didn’t live around the corner from him anymore.
  • I have had to take consolation in little things like wearing his flannel hunting shirts and his Eagles jacket and his ever-present Italian horn to keep him close to me.
  • I have had to learn to talk to him out loud to make sure he can hear me and ask him for a sign to show me that he heard.  I have always gotten one.  You don’t believe? You don’t need to.  I do.
  • I have had to learn to open my mind in order to rely on a fantastic medium who allows me to communicate with my father through her gift. Each time I’ve talked to her, I felt more at peace knowing that he is exactly where he wants to be, surrounded by his family and his loyal dog- often on his boat.  The advice he gives me is always specific, and through her mediumship, he comforts me as if he were here.
  • I have had to learn that I need to be like a duck when people tell me their unsolicited opinion on the amount of weeks, months, etc. that are sufficient to end my grief. In reality, the sadness never goes away. The number of people offering advice on how long this process should take has been really mind-boggling. Grief abides by its own timetable. I would never be so presumptuous as to dictate someone’s mourning based on how long it takes me. So, instead of getting upset, I don’t talk about my awesome dad to these people- they don’t care anyway. I have learned to do what my father would always tell me- make like a duck and let it roll off my back.
  • I have had to learn to be stronger for my daughters, who, in short order, lost three grandparents, just two months apart each, and remind them that it’s ok to miss them and that it’s ok to cry when they need to.
  • I have had to learn to rely on my husband for emotional strength, something I don’t do well.  Having been through his own loss years ago and not having ever fully recovered from it, he helped me work through the stages of pain and reminds me all that time that one never gets “past” this loss, that my reality will simply change to to one without my father.
  •  I have had to learn to reach out to and reconnect with family members I have not seen in a while for no other reason than because life gets in the way.
  • I have had to mend some fences strictly because my father believed in not being on the outs with people close to you and I wanted to do right by what he taught me.
  • But most of all I have had to learn to be my father’s daughter.  The one he always told me he was proud of, the one he believed could do anything I set my mind to, the one he believed “gets stuff done,” the one brave enough to make changes in my life when change is due.  This is what he instilled in me.  This is what he counted on me to do. This is what he knew I could do, even when I didn’t know myself. Nobody believed in me as much as my dad, although my mom now carries that torch for him.  I promised him several things right before he passed away, and making improvements in my life the best I could was one of these things.

His passing has renewed my focus, and although I miss his advice terribly: the sound of his voice on the phone, his hugs and kisses and his corny jokes, his tempered silliness that always made me laugh and, of course, his antipasto at holiday dinners, I have used all that he wanted for me to push myself to try to become that person that would not disappoint him. So this year has been so hard to live without him, but also eye-opening for that very reason.

I hope I am making Gussie proud because it has turned into my priority- to become a better person for my husband, my children and my family, and a better teacher for my students.

 

graduation
Me and Gussie at my college graduation, 1990- the hair is outrageous, I know.

I love my father and I miss him every single day of my life. I know he knew I adored him and that he was my hero.  I have no regrets because I made sure he knew this was how I felt, even though he didn’t think that highly of himself. To me, there was no kinder, smarter, funnier man. He was the gold standard of dads.

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