My father’s death left a huge gap. I was just 18 when he passed and in the middle of my freshman year. Though I returned to school, I struggled to remain focused, suffering bouts of depression, frustration and barely repressed anger. I struggled to keep my emotions in check. It was hard to bottle up all that sadness and anger. I came home after freshman year and tried to stay positive by throwing myself into work and spending time with my younger brother. But my anger seeped out. One day, I snapped at my mother over something trivial. Instead of scolding or smacking me she turned to me and said, “Either take a break, go on vacation, get some rest or do something. But you need to figure this out and stop lashing out at people.” I was immediately embarrassed and her comments stung more than her slap could have. The result, I proactively sought grief counseling to better deal with my emotions. While it helped a bit, I didn’t feel I could readily share my feelings with anyone. One day I woke up and my heart was beating 10 times faster than normal. I thought I was having a heart attack. The doctors I saw examined me and chalked it up to stress and fatigue. I don’t think that they understood that I was a grief-stricken college student, but they wouldn’t have been able to prescribe anything for that.
Following my dad’s death I consciously abstained from over indulging in greasy, fatty foods. I hated doctors but would go see one if something were seriously affecting me. I wanted to ensure an undiagnosed disease wouldn’t sneak up on me. In hindsight, I wish that my father had seen a doctor more consistently and not when he got the flu or when he was too sick to work. I wish that I had tried to improve his eating habits. I wish that I had done anything to make a difference. Our birthdays were a day apart, so I was never able to fully enjoy them after he passed without thinking that we could no longer have joint celebrations. Mostly, I wish we’d all had more time together as a family.
Now I am a father myself. My son was born one week shy of me turning 38. My immediate and long-term thoughts/goals are to be around past my son’s 10th birthday. So I’ve put my money where my mouth is. I’ve changed my diet to bring my weight and cholesterol down. I make a concerted effort to get medical check-ups and seek medical attention when I get sick. I don’t bottle up my emotions nearly as much and I find ways to relieve stress. Smoking and booze — only for celebrations. My goal is to be here past 48 and to enjoy my son’s life so he won’t have to worry about “filling in” for me. I want him to enjoy his life and like any parent, I want him to be happy. Part of that involves me being around for a long time, so I’m working on making that a reality.