Forty-nine years and three days. That’s how old my father was when he passed away from a massive heart attack at work a little over 22 years ago. I remember how old he seemed to me. What was left of his hair was gray and wiry. His big square-shaped 70’s glasses sat perfectly on his face. He had a big round beer belly, although he didn’t drink beer. On the very rare occasion that he did drink, his drink of choice was a Manhattan. He’d always have a cigarette in his hand, Marlboro Lights 100’s, I believe. He was a carton a week kinda man. Dad was always working and trying to find himself at the same time. He enjoyed photography and loved good ol’ classic rock-n-roll. He wasn’t a very loving or affectionate dad, but he loved us, and we knew that. He was quiet but witty and had a sense of humor that was an acquired taste. He’d still try that “pull my finger” move well into our teenage years. Looking back now, with years and wisdom under my belt, I can see a man who struggled to hold things together and provide for our family, a man who hid his unhappiness with his smile.
The day he passed, and the following days thereafter are now a blur. I remember getting a call at work from my mother to pick her up and take her to the hospital because dad was taken there by ambulance. My sister and uncle met us there. As they put mom, my sister, and me in the small closet-sized room, I knew something was seriously wrong. The doctor came in and let us know that he was gone. I remember the three of us breaking down, wailing, and crying, trying to comprehend how what was once an ordinary sunny day turned into a day that changed our lives forever. They took mom and me back to see him. His lifeless body was on the gurney, still intubated, and he had a tinge of blue around his ears. His glasses were gone. I don’t remember if my sister went back, honestly. I was too focused on the scope of the situation to notice anything around me. I do remember mom draping herself over top of his body sobbing and calling out his name, “Frank!” I don’t recall if I tried to hug him or touch him, maybe I laid my hand on his chest, but I do remember whispering in his ear, “I love you.”
Since that time, January 19, 2000, I have lived as if three days after my 49th birthday was my last day on earth. Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I see his face, but it doesn’t look old and withered. Although in the days before I go to get my hair colored, the graying around my temples and my widow’s peak frames my face just so, and I look just like my father. I see every detail of his face in mine. My nose and chin are an exact replica of his, and my smile favors his over my mother’s.
Over the last 22 years, I have done my best to live life to the fullest – doing whatever I can to experience and feel the best of what life has to offer. Checking bucket list items as I go just because “life is too short” and “you’ll never know when your last day on earth is.” Being grateful for every breath and trying to be present in every moment, although being present didn’t always happen. Embracing the dark gut-wrenching moments that create a deep pain that drops you to your knees and forces you to grow, expand, and evolve, as well as the beautiful moments that light up your heart and allow you to soar to the greatest heights. While life wasn’t perfect, and sometimes in my quest to do all the things, I failed to take time to just breathe and sit in stillness, I’ve embraced every minute of it.
We all know that our days are numbered, yet many of us still go through life in routine: wake up, eat, work, eat, sleep, repeat. We push off doing something we love or spending time with people we love because we have to “get this done first.” What’s so important about “this” that it takes away from something or someone you love? Why do we get into this survival mode of just making it to the next day without truly living through this day first? Why is it so hard for some people to break free of that cycle?
I sit here now the exact age that he was when he passed. He wasn’t old at all. I wonder, did he feel old? Or did he feel like he was just getting into the prime of his life, as I feel now? I’ve often said that dad’s passing was his greatest gift to me as it pushed me on a path that allowed me to live with purpose. As of today, I have been on earth as long as my dad was – 49 years and 3 days. That’s only 17,894 days. That’s not a long time if you ask me. And tomorrow, I will be living a day that dad didn’t get to live, day 17,895. And with that, I will continue to live life fully, with passion, with awe. And I will continue to be grateful for every breath. And I will continue to embrace all the dark and beautiful moments. But I will do much more of taking the time to sit in stillness and breathe. To be deeply present in every moment possible. To enjoy every minute of this wonderful life that I created. Because living is a beautiful thing. And life is a gift, and life is amazing.
Today I am 49 years and 3 days old. Tomorrow, wish me a happy birthday, as it will be the first day of the rest of my life.